Tag Archives: Enjolras

On The Barricade

I finished reading the final battle on the barricade a little after noon on June 6. It happens…a bit after noon on June 6. That was kind of weird.

I don’t have a lot new to say about it compared to last time. Just a few notes.

The digression to the 1848 barricades is shorter than I remember. I also really like contrast between the chaotic, throw-everything-on-the-street barricade and the perfectly engineered stone wall with silent snipers.

Enjolras, after a scouting mission determines that no help is coming and they’re all going to die, gives a stirring speech about the glorious future their deaths will usher in. He’s painfully optimistic about the 20th century.

Combeferre’s story about the starving orphan whose autopsy he attended is one of the hardest things to read in a book full of people experiencing horrible things. (Every stage and movie adaptation I’ve seen downplays how awful things are for the characters.)

Here’s a rare case where I like Denny’s translation over Donougher’s. Regarding Valjean’s pattern of shooting helmets instead of heads, Combeferre says he “does good deeds with a gun” (Donougher), which doesn’t get the same idea across as saying that he “does kindness with bullets” (Denny).

Most of the named characters die in lists. Bullet points, if you will. Only a few get individual send-offs: Mabeuf, Éponine and Gavroche. They hear Jean Prouvaire being executed after he’s captured. And at the end, Enjoras and Grantaire face a firing squad together.

There’s a lot of philosophical commentary about urban warfare, civil war, revolutions that have or don’t have the support of the populace, and how revolutions are sometimes necessary in preserving the long-term life of society over the short-term life of the individual. It’s presented as supporting material for the June Rebellion. But it’s the other way around.

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Hitting the Fan

There’s a gripping description of Paris under siege as Marius walks from the streets where shops are open, to where shops are closed, to where a nervous crowd mingles, to the army staging area, to the dark, silent, empty streets controlled by the insurgency. Then, steps away from the barricade, he stops, sits down, and spends several pages of internal monologue trying to decide whether he’s doing the right thing. It’s weird, but it doesn’t seem as long this time through.

Speaking of people sitting and not acting: Pere Mabeuf has basically gone catatonic, staring at the floor all evening until he hears Enjolras shout for help restoring the fallen flag. He mechanically walks out, grabs the flag, climbs up…and is promptly shot and killed. It’s one of many cases where Hugo stops showing us the inner workings of a character’s mind and only shows him from the outside. We can only guess: Is he thinking clearly, but in despair? Is his inner turmoil as complex as Marius’ a few pages earlier? Or is he simply acting on autopilot?

Once Mabeuf’s body is carried inside (after Enjolras uses him as an inspiration symbol), everything happens fast:

  • Multiple casualties among named characters
  • The barricade is almost taken
  • Marius arrives, guns blazing
  • Gavroche discovers (in the worst way possible) that Javert hadn’t loaded his gun
  • Marius saves both Gavroche’s and Courfeyrac’s lives (for a few hours, anyway)
  • Éponine throws herself in front of a bullet aimed at Marius
  • Marius drives off the attackers by threatening to blow up the barricade, with everyone on it, himself included.

All of this happens in a space of a couple of minutes.

And then the waiting sets in again.

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Getting Schooled

I’ve mentioned that Donougher’s translation preserves a lot more of Hugo’s wordplay than Denny’s. Here’s a pun that Denny couldn’t get rid of: the Friends of the ABC (abaissé). It’s literally the whole point of the name.

Just as each main character or group represents a part of society, each of the major students represents a part of revolution: Enjolras is purpose, Combeferre wisdom, Jean Prouvere the artist, Feuilly the world perspective (well, the broader European perspective anyway), Courfeyrac the center of the group, Bahorel the fighter, and so on.

There’s a lot of humor and, again, wordplay. Grantaire is nicknamed “Grand R” (capital R). Bossuet’s bad luck is described in great detail, as is Joly’s hypochondria, Feuilly’s obsession with the first Partition of Poland as the root of all the world’s ills, and the story of Lesgle/L’Aigle/Lègle/Lesguelles/Bossuet’s many names. (I don’t think “legal eagle” is a thing in French, which is a pity, because it would add another layer of puns to the law student’s name.)

I’ve said it before, but Grantaire is totally a hipster, before hipsters were uncool.

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Revisiting the Movie Musical After Re-Reading the Novel

Les Misérables: Little CosetteSince it was seeing the movie last year that got me started on this project, I thought I’d watch Les Misérables again after I’d finished re-reading the whole novel and see how my impressions differed from my initial review.

I liked it a lot better this time through, in part because I knew what to expect, and in part because when you watch it at home, on TV, it’s less overwhelming when the entire screen is a close-up on the face of someone who’s in utter despair. Seeing it the first time in the theater, the first twenty minutes or so just tear you apart emotionally. Seeing it at home, there’s a little distance. It’s less effective, but it’s more bearable.

The movie is still stunning visually, whether it’s the sweeping vistas of Jean Valjean walking across France, or throngs filling the streets of 1830s Paris. I also liked a lot of the simpler visual choices, such as the moment where Jean Valjean casually sits down while telling Cosette not to ask questions about the past, and the candlesticks are right there, or when a tormented Valjean’s face appears half-lit, half in shadow.

Singing/Performance

As far as singing style goes, I think they made the right choice for the movie. As I said in my first review, musical theater is a blend of singing and acting (and often dancing), not singing that happens to have people in costume, and while stage acting relies heavily on body language so that the whole audience can see, movie acting is able to pull in close-up…and that’s exactly what they did. “I Dreamed a Dream” is a beautiful song. The way Anne Hathaway sings it here isn’t pretty, but it’s utterly devastating and perfect for the film, and if she had sung it with proper technique, it would have been completely wrong.

The approach doesn’t make for the best soundtrack, but I think it makes for a better movie. At least, it does for this movie.

Russell Crowe still grates as Javert, but not as much. In fact, there are some scenes where he’s fantastic. When he’s just being a policeman, and when the music is moving too fast for him to worry about trying to sing, he’s great. On the other hand, his first meeting with “M. Madeleine” is hard to listen to, and “Stars” just falls flat.

Still not entirely thrilled with the Thénardiers, but I did rather like teaching Éponine the ropes during “Master of the House.”

Adaptation: Novel, Stage Play, Movie

I was really impressed by how much this is an adaptation of both the stage musical and the novel. There are so many details, so many moments, so many character bits and story beats, that aren’t in the show but are drawn from the book.

Almost every story change pulls something from the novel: The convent of course, but also Marius threatening to blow up the barricade, Éponine concealing Cosette’s note, Gavroche delivering Marius’ note instead of Éponine, Javert admitting to Madeleine that he’d falsely denounced him. Javert even interviews the Thénardiers about Valjean and Cosette, though in the book the trail’s a lot colder by the time he gets there.

I like that they brought in Javert’s turmoil over having falsely accused the mayor (or thinking he did), because it’s an important character moment that informs his suicide years later. I don’t think it worked as well onscreen as it could have, though.

I’m more ambivalent toward Marius and the powder-keg. It works better if you already have the sense that he actually wants to die, rather than simply not minding if he does. It also works better if you understand that the attack was moments away from overrunning the barricade, which doesn’t come through onscreen.

I found myself trying to identify the students other than Marius, Enjolras, and Grantaire. I couldn’t. The book describes them individually (though once you get to the barricade, their personalities matter less than their presence), but in the show, they might as well be a chorus, and that’s still true in the film.

Cutting from Éponine’s death straight to Gavroche’s reaction at the end of “A Little Fall of Rain” really got to me. In this version of the story he probably doesn’t even know she’s his sister.

One problem I had this time through which I don’t think has ever bothered me about the show until now is the same thing that bothered me about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: After the move to Paris, everything happens at once. In the novel, a year passes between Marius and Cosette first noticing each other and the night of the barricades. There’s flirting from a distance, then seeking each other out, then finally a few magical weeks of secret meetings. Love at first sight is certainly easier to tell, but it’s harder to sell the characters’ most difficult choices…such as the powder-keg.

Musical Changes

Les Misérables Blu-Ray.Even now, I’m still on the fence about the musical and lyrical changes. Most of the changed lyrics are just to add exposition or fit a different setting. Some work better than others, but a lot of this type of change is in the recitative. The songs move so fast and are almost half-spoken, so they’re already a bit awkward. In a way, the changes that aren’t there for this reason stand out a bit more. Though I must admit that “Would you weep, Cosette, if I were to fall” sounds more natural than “…should Marius fall.”

The movie is about 20 minutes shorter than the original Broadway version, so a lot of introductions and connecting bits have been cut. And a few whole songs. Some I don’t mind, but I’m still mad that they cut the middle verses of “A Little Fall of Rain” and especially “Castle on a Cloud.” (I know, the 25th anniversary staging did the same thing, and it’s annoying there too.) The song’s barely a minute and a half to begin with. The twenty seconds saved here could have been regained tightening up one of the scenes they added.

Marius’ grandfather, while an interesting character in the book, doesn’t really add much to this version of the story. His existence serves to explain why they’re able to afford a nice wedding, and adds a bit of a class dynamic within the students, but he’s onscreen so little that I wonder why they bothered. As for that class dynamic, several of the other students are rich, too…including Enjolras. Saying “a game for a rich young boy to play” is rather disingenuous on his part.

“Suddenly,” like Javert’s confession to Madeleine, is a case where the character moment matters — it matters quite a lot in the book, as Valjean had reached another crossroads in life, and becoming a surrogate father not only filled the hole in his heart but kept him on the right path. But I sort of feel like it’s too early — it needs to be a few days in, at least, though I know there’s no good way to fit it anywhere else. And whenever it gets stuck in my head, it inevitably turns into either “Somewhere That’s Green” or “Someone Else’s Story.”

Overall

I do like the movie better on second viewing. I can’t think of anything I’ve actually reversed my opinion on, but there were a lot of aspects that were jarring the first time through just for being different, and listening to the soundtrack a few times and watching the film again (I still can’t believe it took me this long) has helped settle those out a bit into what I thought worked and what didn’t. And strangely enough, re-reading the book has enhanced the experience. There’s only one element I can think of that really bothered me specifically because of the novel, and that’s the timeframe.

I still wish they hadn’t been quite so merciless with the cuts, though. I wonder if there’s any possibility for an extended edition?

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Part 33: Last Stand at the Barricade

The barricade, and the wider insurrection it’s a part of, is doomed. We get another philosophical chapter, as Hugo contrasts the revolt which has the support of the populace with the revolt that doesn’t. Even if the revolution is noble in purpose, “One cannot goad people into moving faster than they are prepared to go.”

“Victory, if it is in accord with progress, deserves the applause of mankind; but an heroic defeat deserves one’s heartfelt sympathy.”

Nice: “We say to them: ‘You are robbing Hell of its pavements!’ To which they might reply: ‘That is why our barricade is built of good intentions.’”

Every once in a while, Hugo reminds the reader that, however socially progressive he might be, he still has his own blind spots. He wants society to stop exploiting women, but doesn’t want to fully enfranchise them. Here he comments on the need for civilization, and revolution, to have artists…but that “a civilizing race must be a masculine race.” It’s a bit jarring, even when you consider how imbalanced the cast is in both size and agency.

“The modern ideal finds its prototype in art and its method in science.”

“…in this play which centres upon a social outcast, and of which the real title is, Progress.” Well, it’s certainly easier to spell.

Page 1048: Hugo lays out the main theme of the whole book in a single paragraph.

The book which the reader now holds in his hands, from one end to the other, as a whole and in its details, whatever gaps, exceptions, or weaknesses it may contain, treats of the advance from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsity to truth, from darkness to daylight, from blind appetite to conscience, from decay to life, from bestiality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from limbo to God. Matter itself is the starting-point, and the point of arrival is the soul. Hydra at the beginning, an angel at the end.

Fall of the Barricade

It’s still broad daylight when the army makes its full attack. Waves of soldiers attack, are repulsed, attack again. The army has a huge advantage in numbers, weaponry, and having actually eaten in the last day, but the barricade has the advantage of position…and being manned by idealists.

Enjolras is keeping himself out of sight while trying to keep track of the entire battle, while Marius “I want to die” Pontmercy sets himself up as a target.

“The defenders’ ammunition was running low, but not their sarcasm.” Bossuet asks what Courfeyrac did with his hat. “It was taken off by a cannon-ball.” Combeferre remarks of those who said they would join but didn’t, “There are people who observe the rules of honour as we do the stars, from a very long way off.”

After several waves of attacks, most of the defenders are killed, and the barricade is breached. Marius and Enjolras are the last of the students/leaders to survive, Marius drenched in blood from head and shoulder wounds, Enjolras remarkably unscathed because someone’s always there to hand him a new weapon when he needs one.

The last few rebels fall back to the tavern, Enjolras covering them alone while Marius collapses from loss of blood. They’re so focused on breaking into the tavern that no one notices Valjean carrying Marius off.

By the time the soldiers breach the door, the rebels have all retreated to the upper floor and cut down the staircase. Paving stones, the last few bullets, and finally those wine bottles serve as weapons.

Last Stand

Enjolras and Grantaire at the Firing SquadThe soldiers climb up to the second floor, where they find Enjolras standing there, alone, surrounded by his dead comrades, saying, “Shoot me!” Come at me, bro!

One of the soldiers lowers his musket, remarking that he’s too pretty to kill. “I feel as though I’d be shooting a flower.”

Grantaire has slept through the whole battle in a drunken stupor, and awakens in the silence. Realizing what’s happened, he interrupts the firing squad, walks over to Enjolras, and says, “Might as well kill two birds with one stone.” Then he turns to Enjolras: “If you don’t mind.”

The man dedicated to the ideals of the movement, and the man who rejected them all but idolized their leader, die together. While I think Hugo was going more for rebuffed hero worship here, I can definitely see a parallel between Marius/Éponine and Enjolras/Grantaire.

A few minutes later, the soldiers take the last few holdouts in the attic and cellar, and it’s all over.

Trapped

Valjean has spent his time tending to the wounded, shoring up the barricade, and other support jobs, not willing to take part in the fighting. This makes his request to be the one to execute Javert stand out even more than it would otherwise.

We start to see into his head again as he tries to figure out how to escape with the unconscious Marius, calling back to the chase through Paris years before, but we still have no sense of why he’s there, except that it involves Marius. The epiphany portrayed in “Bring Him Home” takes place entirely off the page, and it’s not clear when he reached the decision to rescue him, or even whether it was made deliberately or on the spur of the moment.

It’s strange that, because of the staging of the show, I can’t help but picture this as happening at night, when it’s actually early in the afternoon.

As the battle rages inside the tavern, offering a few minutes of cover, Valjean desperately looks for a way out, finally spotting an iron grate in the street. Into the sewers!

Pages 1041-1060, concluding the epic “War Within Four Walls” chapter. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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