Tag Archives: Mabeuf

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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Two Old Men in Decline

Pere Mabeuf’s final days are a slow slide into deprivation and despair. He sells the printing plates, the furniture, and finally moves onto his prized books for food. In the end he sells the last of them for medicine for Mere Plutarque…who probably won’t outlast him very long. With nothing left, he walks outside… and keeps walking.

M. Gillenormand is physically as comfortable as one could expect to be at 91 in 1832, but the man who arranged things so that Marius’ father would die before meeting his son again, is now afraid he’ll die before Marius returns. I suppose I should be sympathetic, but he earned that.

And the reunion, when it happens, doesn’t go well. At all. It’s interesting to see most of it from Gillenormand’s perspective, and the mismatch between what he wants to say and what he actually says. But even if he’d managed to get off on the right foot, I suspect their different outlooks would have gotten in the way. (Marius wants permission to marry Cosette so they can stay together. Gillenormand thinks he’s too young to tie himself down and not solvent enough to support a family, so why not just keep her as his mistress? What? His pure Cosette? How dare he!)

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Mugging Fail

I love this scene: Montparnasse tries to rob Jean Valjean, but gets trounced and lectured to instead. And Gavroche picks the would-be-mugger’s pocket, leaving the coins for Mabeuf, whose hedge he’s hiding in.

It’s got quick reversals, irony, and over-the-top coincidence.

“Who was this old gent? The reader has probably guessed.” But Gavroche doesn’t know him, and he’s the viewpoint character for the scene, so the narrator dances around his name instead of giving it.

Incidentally, Gavroche is trying to steal apples – which is what Champmathieu was arrested for. Back in that chapter it was mentioned that it could be excused of a boy, but not a grown man.

These last few chapters bring back two looks at Valjean’s years as a prisoner: The chain gang being taken to prison, and his scare-em-straight tale to Montparnasse. The story has moved on, structurally…but of course Valjean isn’t allowed to move on. That’s the whole point of his arc, that society won’t let him just be, and always sees him as an ex-convict.

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Aftermath of an Ambush

Things aren’t going too well for anyone after the extortion attempt. Marius is too depressed to work (not trauma so much as pining for the girl who turns out not to be Ursule after all), and is only able to muster up enough energy to daydream, which turns into a vicious cycle. Most of the gang and all of the Thénardier family have been arrested, not that it stops them from planning for future burglaries. Javert’s annoyed that he missed the bigger prize (and that Batman, I mean Claquesous, has escaped). Éponine and Azelma have at least been let free for lack of evidence, but they’re on their own. We also check in on Mabeuf, who’s been slipping deeper into poverty.

There’s a great scene where Mabeuf is struggling to draw water from his well. Éponine shows up out of nowhere, handles the bucket for him, and waters his garden. It’s a tiny scene, but I really like the reversal and callback to Valjean meeting Cosette.

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Two Old Men

Pere Mabeuf: Kindly, his only political philosophy is “book-ism.” He can’t imagine why people would bother hating each other over such trivialities as political opinions when there are so many fascinating plants and books they could be exploring instead. Sadly, his hyper-focus causes him to miss the signs that his financial situation is deteriorating.

He’s really an underappreciated character.

M. Gillenormand (Marius’ grandfather): after reading the morning news, he rants about kids these days, their sloppy dressing, entitlement, disrespect for political systems that were good enough back in his day, disparages their masculinity, makes racist comparisons, and declares all news media a scourge.

It’s presented as ridiculous. And it is.

But it’s also depressing in how familiar it is, more than 150 years later. Not just that an old man is angrily shouting at the news, but that it’s what you’d expect from an old man shouting at the news today.

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