Tag Archives: Cosette

Cosette is Separated from Another Parent

By the time Jean Valjean rescues Cosette from the Thénardiers, she no longer remembers her mother. (She was about two when they last saw each other.) By the time she’s grown, she’s blocked out the trauma of those years so thoroughly that she’s forgotten that Valjean isn’t her real father.

This comes up when Valjean, drawing on his experience as a mayor, lays out a false paper trail giving her a legitimate family history (all dead) so she can legally marry. The money he had stashed away is presented as an inheritance from one of these dead relatives, setting her and Marius up for life.

It’s telling that he doesn’t fabricate this history in a way that makes him officially her father, but instead claims that he’s her uncle. (The nuns didn’t pay much attention to which Fauchelevent was Cosette’s father.)

In part it might be too easily disproven. Even if no one is looking for him anymore, he’s still a fugitive, and Thénardier at least is still out there. On the off chance he is found out, she’s insulated by being his ward and niece instead of his daughter. He even goes so far as to fake an injury so that he can’t sign her marriage certificate, so that there’s no risk of it being invalidated.

But he’s also already preparing to leave, and this makes it cleaner.

Also worth noting: the money he’s stashed away helps smooth over “a few peculiarities here and there” in the legalities. That’s not something Fantine would have had access to if she’d tried to pose as a widow back in Montrieul-sur-Mer and keep Cosette with her.

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The Bubble Bursts

Marius is still crashing at Courfeyrac’s place, but Courfeyrac has noticed the change in him: “My dear fellow, you give me the impression right now of being on the moon, in the realm of dreams, in a state of delusion, whose capital is Soap-Bubble City. Now, be a good chap – what’s her name?:

In fact, Cosette and Marius are so wrapped up in their nightly secret meetings that they don’t notice a freaking cholera epidemic. Now that’s focused!

After six weeks of secret rendezvous, Marius’ possessiveness has gotten creepy. And he’s angry at Cosette when she tells him that they’re moving away. It’s hard to tell whether the “return to reality” is the narrator’s rebuke for him being possessive at all, or for it being too soon. Hugo was progressive for his time, but still sexist.

There is absurd comedy in the idea that he stands motionless with his face against a tree for two hours trying to process the fact that Cosette’s moving…but he doesn’t notice that she’s been sobbing. He still cares more for the ideal than the person.

And neither of them notices the drama going on outside the gate, where Éponine stands up to Patron-Minette all by herself. It’s inspiring. She switches tactics rapidly, trying first to distract them, then to convince them it’s not worth the effort, and finally threatening to expose them. They threaten her of course, but she gives this amazing speech about how she’s not scared of them, because she’s already lived through worse. And they walk away, grumbling.

But it’s also profoundly sad. It only works because she has nothing left to lose, and they can’t afford the risk that she might scream.

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Marius: Stalker

The flirting in the Luxembourg gardens is funny, even today. But Marius sneaking into Cosette’s garden to watch her from the shadows? That doesn’t hold up so well.

This is part of what makes it so hard to stop stalking: the behavior has been tolerated and treated as romantic in so many stories that tell men it’s okay, expected, even wanted — instead of telling them it’s creepy as hell.

The chapter from Cosette’s point of view actually does present it as scary. Valjean’s away and a stranger is prowling around her garden. When he gets back, he stands guard for a few nights until he identifies a chimney that matches the shadow she saw. But it doesn’t explain the footsteps she heard. Toussaint expounds about about how awful it would be to be murdered in that isolated house (especially since killers’ knives probably aren’t sharp enough to cut cleanly — which is darkly funny in its exaggeration, to the audience at least), but don’t worry, she locks the windows tight!

…But in the end, it’s all okay, because it’s Marius. 🙄

To Hugo’s credit, he doesn’t try to claim Cosette was wrong or silly to have been afraid:

  • She doesn’t know he’s a suitor, not an attacker, and even if she did know that…
  • She doesn’t know he’d go home if rejected instead of turning angry and possibly harming her.
  • She doesn’t know he’s the guy she’s had her eye on since last year.

And Marius isn’t trying to overcome Cosette’s resistance, but the circumstances that have kept them from actually meeting for the past year.

But there are ways to work up the nerve to say hello to your crush that don’t make her fear for her safety.

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Now Arriving at Rue Plumet

We finally do get back to Jean Valjean and Cosette, and in a strange turn of events, the narrator names them on the first page!

The Rue Plumet house has a secret entrance on the other side of the block. I’m trying to remember how this comes back later, other than by keeping them hidden along with the decoy apartments, one of which Valjean abandoned after Marius found it, and one of which he’ll go to later on after the robbery attempt here.

Cosette has finally grown into her childhood nickname, with the “voice of a lark.” Back then, in Montfermeil, the name was ironic, because “poor Alouette never sang.”

It’s not often that Les Misérables backtracks over the same scene from a new point of view, but it’s a good thing it does when showing Cosette’s side of her long distance flirting with Marius. It shows us that it really is two sided and not all in Marius’ head.

Here’s an odd POV case: When Theodule (Marius’ cousin) catches Cosette’s eye, the narrator doesn’t stick with what Cosette knows, he jumps over to Theodule, names him, then jumps over to Marius to clarify the timeline, then back to Cosette.

Some quick googling on the history of PTSD suggests it has long been observed in soldiers and veterans, though often attributed to either physical injury or character failings. It doesn’t seem to have been understood more broadly until the late 20th century, certainly not in 1862. Even so, Valjean clearly experiences a PTSD flashback when he and Cosette see a chain gang leaving Paris for years of hard labor in prison.

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Rescuing Cosette

Waterloo turns out to have been critical for the Thénardiers’ inn: Looting corpses got them seed money to start it, and “rescuing” Pontmercy got them a story for their sign.

The woodcut of Little Cosette drastically understates how badly she’s treated by the Thénardiers. So do all the movie versions I’ve seen, and the musical.

Cosette overhears Thénardier saying he thinks her mother is dead, and starts singing “My mother’s dead” over and over to the toy sword she’s swaddled and rocking as a makeshift doll. 😢

That said, it still amuses me that she sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs. Thénardier probably cooked the owls from Beauxbatons.

Describing the dismal neighborhood of the Gorbeau tenement where Valjean and Cosette live when they first reach Paris, Hugo remarks that monotonous architecture oppresses the mind. There’s actual science backing him up now.

Javert is very cautious during the chase through the Paris streets, because for most of it, he still isn’t 100% sure the man he’s following is Jean Valjean. Until he gets a good look at his face, Javert takes pains to just follow, and avoid making a false arrest (and getting fired).

Once he’s sure it’s him, and he’s blocked all the exits and is certain Valjean can’t escape, Javert starts having fun with the hunt. Ironically, this is what gives his quarry time to climb the wall with Cosette.

“…thinking he could play cat-and-mouse with a lion.”

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