Tag Archives: Madeleine

Javert vs. the One Who Got Away

I’ve got to say, Javert showing up at Fantine’s hospital bed to arrest Valjean is one of the most infuriating things he does. The casual cruelty he dishes out, not even caring that it kills her, because he’s so happy that he was right about “M. Madeleine.”

Javert cares about order, hierarchy, authority. He doesn’t care about people. Anyone on top of the heap he figures deserves to be there, and vice versa. That’s why “Madeleine” throws him for such a loop, why he’s so vengeful in arresting him, why he becomes determined to find him.

Until the mayor pulls rank on him over the arrest of some prostitute, Valjean is just some side project to Javert. From that point on, Valjean/Madeleine is priority #1 until he’s identified and finally arrested.

Then he’s forgotten. A finished project.

Until he escapes again, and he becomes The One That Got Away.

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Great chapter title for the trial: “Where Convictions Take Shape.”

Donougher’s choice is much better than “Place of Decision” (Denny) or “A Place Where Convictions Are In Process Of Formation” (Hapgood).

Yeah, one day I need to read the 1887 translation. If I dare…

Recidivism is the biggest issue here. More than being a fugitive, it’s the belief that Valjean has returned to his criminal ways and will keep doing so that concerns the court.

The prosecutor at Champmathieu’s trial denounces M. Madeleine’s “insanity” & demands the trial continue & convict the “real Jean Valjean.” The rest of the court, however, has been convinced & clears Champmathieu in minutes. But the prosecutor still needs a Jean Valjean.

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A Few Thoughts on the Mysterious Monsieur Madeleine

Surely “Pere Madeleine” must have invented a first name, even if no one was on first name basis with him. I don’t think it’s ever mentioned.

He enjoys reading (or at least does so out of habit), while Javert hates books, but reads because he feels like he ought to.

He’s also a crack-shot, but “never killed a harmless animal. He never shot a small bird.” … like a lark, for instance?

Heh… Hugo describes animals as “the visible spectres of our souls.” Not as literally as in His Dark Materials, of course…

Javert does try to help with the cart accident, by sending someone for a jack. (Of course they’ve got one.) Also, the way no one will help until Madeleine lifts the cart, but everyone suddenly rushes in afterward, fits with behavior like diffusion of responsibility.

Valjean has little reason to fear Javert more than any other inspector at this point. Javert’s new, or might as well be. Sure, some of the hints he drops are a bit worrying, but Valjean doesn’t recognize Javert (he was one of many guards passing through Toulon), and has no reason to think Javert might recognize him. It’s not personal. Yet.

Fantine & Javert are both thrown for a loop by Madeleine’s intervention. She deludes herself into thinking Javert had a change of heart & thanks him effusively. He’s frozen in place until she starts to walk out of the police station.

I still love the way Madeleine quotes regulations & pulls rank to get Javert to release Fantine. It comes back to bite him, of course, but it’s still very satisfying.

What, no endnotes on reference to Homer, Milton or Dante? That really points out who’s still well-known!

Valjean’s nightmare still reminds me of the land of the dead in the Earthsea books. More so now. I find myself thinking of Le Guin, and Ged, and Tehanu, being true to oneself, and tearing down the wall that trapped souls in the Dry Lands.

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Fantine: Alternate Possibilities

Fantine tells Mme Thénardier that she’s a widow. If Valjean could invent a new ID and go years undiscovered, could she have invented a dead husband and kept Cosette with her? How detailed were records in small-town France at the time? Sure, “Madeleine” arrives under special circumstances that distract officials from checking his ID, but would they have bothered to check the papers of a young mother and child? And if she was living openly as a widow, would the town busybodies have cared as much to dig up the truth? It’s her mooning over a secret, and her constant correspondence, that call her to their attention.

Maybe the factory wouldn’t have hired her. Maybe town officials would have seen through the story. Maybe the busybodies would have been just as motivated, or more, to dig up the truth, and she would have had to go through everything with Cosette traumatized alongside her.

There’s some similarity between Javert and the moral guardian who denounces Fantine in that they both think they’re doing the right thing to persecute her. But Javert comes across as less deluded, because even though he put the blame on the wrong person, at least there was a fight involved. Fantine wasn’t harming anyone by hiring a letter-writer on a regular basis.

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Get Me To The Courthouse On Time

Les Miserables featuring a bookmarkAfter his night of inner debate, Valjean rushes out of town to reach the court trying his double. He still hasn’t decided what to do, but he needs to be there just in case.

At this point, Victor Hugo stops to describe the country postal system.

Just kidding. He only takes a couple of paragraphs before a postal cart racing down the road crashes into Valjean’s cart. At his next stop, someone notices the wheel’s busted and won’t last the rest of the journey, and he spends several pages talking with the local wheelwright about how soon it can be fixed, can he hire another conveyance, can he just ride, etc.

What a relief! I tried to go to the trial, but the wheel broke and I can’t get on the road till tomorrow! I can’t turn myself in, but it’s not my fault!

At this point someone overhears the conversation who can rent him a gig. Noooooo!

And now the road’s closed for repairs. Valjean making it to the trial is like Hurley getting to the airport to catch Flight 815.

Interlude: Fantine

It’s weird to read about Fantine dying of consumption while you and your small child are both coughing loudly due to a bad cold. Actually I don’t think the book specifically says which extended respiratory disease she has, but it’s at least a good bet. (On checking, I found that Wikipedia has an article on Tuberculosis in popular culture.)

Fantine actually does sing a lullaby she used to sing to Cosette in her final hours.

M. Madeleine visits Fantine every afternoon at 3:00. On learning that he’s left town, the nuns fear the shock will kill her. Instead, she’s deliriously happy — why else would he have left town except to fetch Cosette!

Another of those things that don’t quite come across in the musical: At this point it’s been five years since Fantine last saw Cosette. She was two at the time, and now she’s seven. Cosette barely remembers her mother at all, and Fantine only remembers her daughter as an infant.

Trial Edition

M. Madeleine, Mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, has to pull rank to get into the packed courtroom, which is already in session.

Would you believe these facts about not-Valjean’s trial?

  • The hotshot prosecutor is a tough guy who always “gets his man” (in the translator’s words). Also, he writes poetry.
  • The “gentleman” who had Fantine arrested is on the jury.
  • There’s a bit of theater criticism (Racine’s Phaedra) in the closing arguments.
  • Valjean’s hair turns white in the courtroom while he’s watching the proceedings.

The original form of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” ended with “…or Death.” According to Wikipedia, the last bit was dropped due to association with the Terror.

No one believes M. Madeleine when he finally outs himself as Jean Valjean. The presiding judge asks if there’s a doctor present. He convinces them by rattling off details about the three fellow convicts who had identified the other man and are still in court as witnesses. Even so, everyone’s too shocked to make a move to arrest him (Javert has already left), so he walks out, saying essentially “You know where to find me.”


The next chapter is seriously titled “In which mirror Monsieur Madeleine examines his hair.” Sometimes I think S. Morgenstern was a real author, and his name was Victor Hugo.

Valjean returns to Fantine’s bedside to find that her condition is markedly improved by her belief that she’ll see Cosette soon. He and the doctor spend several pages trying to explain why she can’t see Cosette right now without telling Fantine that he hasn’t brought her.

Then Javert walks in.

Victor Hugo couldn’t have Fantine say “Oh, merde!” back in 1862, but you know she was thinking it. [Edit: well, actually…]

You can tell Javert is seething with inner turmoil because the button on his collar is a little off.

The shock of Javert’s cruelty when he arrests Valjean is what finally kills Fantine. But hey, he was right about Valjean, so he’s perfectly happy in his I-think-I’m-an-avenging-angel-with-a-flaming-sword-of-righteousness way.

Javert actually puts Valjean in the town jail. He breaks out. The nun who never lies covers his escape, sacrificing her honesty for his freedom.

And that wraps up the first part of the book! Next up is Part Two: Cosette, which starts with the battle of Waterloo.

Pages covered this week: 225-275. You might also be interested in my review of the movie. Continue to Part 7: Waterloo.

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