Tag Archives: Romance

Part 27: Over the Edge

After the Argot digression, the action in Les Misérables returns to the Rue Plumet, where Victor Hugo goes to great lengths to insist that there’s no action going on between Marius and Cosette. Now that they’ve met face to face and shared that one kiss, they don’t even think about going further than holding hands over the next few weeks as they meet secretly in the garden. It’s this sublime meeting of souls, all staring and talking (and I think I mentioned, Marius really rambles when he’s worked up) and nothing physical going on. (The funny thing is, later on Grantaire hears that Marius is seeing a girl, and his drunken, half-joking speculation on the nature of their meetings turns out to be right on the money.)

At one point Cosette tells him, “You know, my real name is Euphrasia.”* Because Marius hasn’t had enough confusion about her name. She explains Cosette is just a silly nickname, and “Do you like Euphrasia?” I can just imagine her looking at him with big puppy-dog eyes at that point. When Marius stammers that he likes it, but likes Cosette better… “Then so do I.” 🙄

It’s never entirely clear how much of her past Cosette remembers, or how much of her background she knows. Whether Fantine passed this knowledge on to Valjean, or she remembered being called Euphrasia before the Thénardiers took her in, it seems to have stuck.

They did not ask where this was taking them; they felt that they had arrived. It is one of the strange demands of mankind that love must take them somewhere.

Cosette, as before, hides everything.

Marius wanders about in a daze, because that’s what he does. At one point Courfeyrac remarks to him, “My dear fellow, you seem to me these days to be living on the moon, in the kingdom of dreams of which the capital is the City of Soap-Bubble. Be a good chap and tell me her name.”

*It’s actually Euphrasie, according to earlier chapters (and the original French). Surprisingly, the different spelling appears in the print book too, meaning it was changed in the translation, not in the Kindle scan.

Éponine Steps Up

Éponine at the GateIt’s worth remembering that in the book, Marius and Éponine aren’t friends, but casual acquaintances at best. Forgetful and ungrateful, he doesn’t give her a second thought once she shows him to Cosette’s home. But she’s been following him around the whole time, basically stalking him, and at the point when Thénardier and Patron-Minette show up to rob the house, she’s there.

As in the show, Thénardier doesn’t recognize her daughter (just as he didn’t recognize his son earlier).

Éponine’s pretty awesome in this scene. She tries to disarm her father emotionally by turning it into a reunion (he has just broken out of prison), and when that fails — Babet actually says “This is getting silly” — she starts reminding them that she’s already checked the place out, and when that fails…

She doesn’t scream. She doesn’t have to. She just threatens to. They threaten her back, and she just laughs at them. “My God, do you think I’m scared? I’m used to starving in summer and freezing in winter. You poor fools…” After delivering an awesome speech she just sits down and refuses to move, until Brujon, known for never backing down from anything (and also writing poetry and songs), decides it’s not worth the risk, and they leave.

There’s a remark about the “key to the grating,” which will make more sense later.

Beginning of the End

After about six weeks, one day Cosette is unhappy because her father says they need to leave. Dramatically it works better for it to be a direct response to the attack. Marius has a plan, and scratches his address on the wall in case something happens. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything that could go wrong in his reunion with his now-91-year-old grandfather (it’s been four years) does go wrong. They both want to reconcile, but neither is quite sure how to go about it, and get off on the wrong foot, saying the wrong things. Finally, Marius asks permission to marry Cosette so her father can’t take her away — apparently the age of consent was 25 at the time. Gillenormand refuses, and worse, tells him to make her his mistress. Marius is so insulted he walks out, promising never to return.

Incidentally, M. Gillenormand dresses in a style so many decades out of fashion that he would be stared at on the street, but his daughter always makes sure he wears a cloak when they leave the house.

“I’m bound to say that the only kind of sans-culottes I’ve ever cared for are the ones in skirts.” Of course.

Imminent Collapse

Valjean’s decision to leave the country has more to do with the growing political unrest in Paris, and the resulting police presence. But when he finds an address scratched on the garden wall, and some shadowy figure (Éponine, playing puppet master) drops him a note saying “Clear out,” he moves the household to the remaining decoy apartment.

Marius is so dejected that he spends the rest of the day wandering around Paris, not even noticing that a revolt is starting around him. At one point he ends up in the river without realizing it. Finally he returns to the Rue Plumet for their evening rendezvous, and Cosette’s gone. But a shadowy figure whispers that his friends are waiting for him at the barricade. Oddly enough, that boy’s voice sounds sort of like Éponine’s rasp. Could it be? Naaah.

Finally, we return to M. Mabeuf, whose slow descent into poverty has reached the bottom. He turned in the windfall of Valjean’s purse (which Gavroche had lifted from Montparnasse) to lost and found. The man who loved books more than anything has had to sell them, one by one, even the plates for the book he wrote (not that anyone has wanted to buy a copy in years). With no furniture to speak of, no other possessions worth selling, and deep in debt, his housekeeper/companion Mére Plutarque falls ill. He sells his last book and leaves her the money. The next day, he hears that there’s fighting in town, and starts walking.

What else is he going to do?

Pages covered: 844-882. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

Part 24: Creeping Around the Garden

I’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about a failed mugging, or read on!

Variations of the HeartThe musical condenses an extremely long courtship between Marius and Cosette into the cliched (but much easier to stage when you’ve got other story to tell) love-at-first-sight moment. In the book, they have months of flirting across the park in summer, then lose sight of each other, then almost meet just before the attempted robbery in February, then nothing for several more months.

Cosette is actually starting to move on, having given up on ever seeing Marius again, and this handsome soldier in the nearby barracks starts spending his break time in view of the garden. This time it’s not so much love at first glance as “Hellooooo Nurse!” though when his fellow officers tell him he should flirt with her, he says with great modesty (or not) “Do you really think I’ve time to stare at all the girls who stare at me?”

Because this is Les Misérables, and coincidences abound, the soldier is Théodule Gillenormand. Yes, Marius’ cousin. Katie suggests that maybe Hugo got tired of introducing new characters. If so, it certainly took him a while.

Then things get spooky.

A chimney that beats a retreat when about to be found out.Cosette doesn’t scare easily. Years with Valjean and at the convent have counteracted the anxiety of her childhood, allowing the “gipsy blood in her veins” (I wonder if this was a standard phrase at the time, or if Hugo is adding a bit to her background) and her adventurous nature to reassert itself. Hugo compares her to a lark. For something I didn’t remember at all from the first read-through, that nickname keeps recurring an awful lot.

One night that spring, Cosette hears footsteps in the garden. She goes to the shutters to peek out, but no one’s there. Another night she’s out in the moonlit garden, and sees the shadow of a man wearing a hat, walking a few paces behind her. She looks around, but again no one’s there…and when she looks back, the shadow has vanished as well.

She figures she’s hallucinating, but twice in as many days? “Most disturbing, it could not have been a ghost. Ghosts do not wear round hats.”

The next night she awakens and hears footsteps in the garden. She looks out, and there’s a man with a cudgel! Oh, wait…it’s her father standing guard. *whew!*

After a couple of nights on patrol, Jean Valjean wakes her up to point out a chimney shadow that looks rather like that of a man wearing a round hat, and Cosette is so relieved that she doesn’t think about things like whether the shadow quite lined up with where she saw it, or the position of the moon three days later, or “singular behaviour of a chimney that beats a retreat when it is in danger of being caught.” (I just love that line.)

Their housekeeper Toussaint is somewhat less reassuring, remarking that “We could be murdered in our beds before you could say knife, especially with Monsieur not sleeping in the villa.” Gee, thanks. (On the plus side, Hugo notes that she has a stammer, but declines to write it in dialect. “We dislike the musical notation of an infirmity.”)

A few nights later, a stone appears while she’s walking around the garden, completely freaking her out. The next morning, convinced she’s imagined it, she goes out. The stone’s still there, but in the daylight she’s more curious than afraid, and finds the envelope with a notebook filled with musings of love. Pages and pages of it.

The Book of Love

“God is behind all things, but all things conceal God. Objects are black and human creatures are opaque. To love a person is to render them transparent.” I think this may have inspired the line, “To love another person is to see the face of God” from the musical.

“Lacking this, or lacking air, we suffocate.” So, I guess Marius is saying that love is like oxygen.

She finishes the letter just as Theodule wanders by again, and not only thinks him “odious,” but wishes she could throw something at him. All her feelings for Marius are rekindled fully. Interestingly, Hugo compares it to the bread messages tossed over the walls by prison inmates.

That night, Marius finally steps out of the shadows, and the two of them are reunited. Or, perhaps we should say, united, because they’ve never actually spoken until this moment. Marius starts babbling, going on for several minutes asking if she’s read the book, telling her that he’s been coming to watch her at night, but don’t worry, no one sees him, he just looks at her windows and walks very quietly to avoid disturbing her (stalker warning!), and oh no I’m rambling, “am I annoying you?” Yes, he’s afraid he’s doing everything all wrong…

At long last, nearly a year after they first noticed each other, they meet, speak, embrace, kiss…and learn each others’ names. Whoa!

Next up: Gavroche’s strange encounters with his family.

Pages covered: 797-811. Images by Jeanniot and Lynd Ward from two unidentified editions of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

Part 22: Meanwhile, Back at the Rue Plumet…

The Mysterious House on the Rue PlumetI’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about the Marius, Eponine and the gang after the robbery, or read on!

It’s been about 250 pages since we last saw anything from Jean Valjean’s or Cosette’s point of view, when they entered the convent. We’ve seen them through Marius’ eyes only.

Now we finally come back to their perspective, picking up with Valjean’s decision to leave the convent. Basically, he was so happy there that it troubled his conscience (sort of like the first Matrix being paradise, but humans wouldn’t accept it), and it came down to whether he would be right to steer Cosette into the life of a nun without letting her experience the world outside and all its possibility first so that she could make an informed choice.

Well, not quite. If comes down to the fact that he’s afraid if he did that, she’d come to resent him, and that’s the final straw.

So he finds that house in the Rue Plumet, set well back from the street behind a huge, overgrown garden, with a secret entrance to the grounds running between the neighborhood’s walls that lets out in another part of town entirely (it was built for someone who wanted to visit his mistress in secret). “Only the birds had observed this curiosity, which doubtless was the subject of much interested speculation among the sparrows and finches of a century ago.”

He also rents two apartments elsewhere in Paris, to cover his tracks and provide a bolt-hole. That explains how they move so quickly when Marius follows them home: they’re at one of the decoy apartments at the time.

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Part 21: Just a Lark

The Lark's FieldI’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about the revolutionary mood of 1832 Paris, or read on!

Marius is utterly despondent after witnessing the attempted robbery. Cosette’s gone again, and he still doesn’t know her name — in fact, it’s worse, because he thought he knew it, but it turns out he doesn’t after all. He had to choose between his true love’s father and the man who saved his own father, and learn that the latter was vile and repulsive. Even now he can’t bring himself to testify against Thénardier, and actually sends him money in prison (even though he has to borrow it from Courfeyrac). He’s also stopped working and fallen into a vicious circle.

I love this scanning error in the Kindle edition: “It is her own thoughts that are reaching meh!”

Marius fails at telepathy.

At one point he wanders into a picturesque field that “because the place is worth seeing no one visits it.” But it’s called the Field of the Lark, and since he’s learned Cosette’s old nickname, he seizes on it as a sign. So from then on, whenever he gives up staring at the blank piece of paper he’s supposed to be writing on, he goes there.

Aftermath of a Robbery

You’d think Javert would be pleased at having captured most of the gang, but he’s troubled by one loss: “The prospective victim who escapes is even more suspect than the prospective murderer.” He’s already forgotten Marius except as “that little nincompoop of a lawyer who had probably been scared out of his wits.”

Montparnasse and Éponine apparently have…something going on. He escaped capture because he left early, “more in a mood to amuse himself with the daughter than play hired assassin for the father.” In a later chapter, he’s described as “perhaps [Thénardier’s] unofficial son-in-law.” It’s not clear how far it goes, though he’s more interested than she is. In any case, it’s odd that Hugo dances around this, considering how frank he is about, for instance, Fantine’s relationship with Tholomyes.

Remember how I joked that Claquesous was a vampire? He escapes on the way to prison, mystifying the police escort. “He had simply vanished like a puff of smoke, handcuffed though he was.” Yeah, vampire. Or maybe Batman. (Javert wonders if he’s a double agent, though of course he disapproves of the practice.)

Of course, they don’t let a “trifle” like being in prison keep them from running their criminal enterprise. They send messages back and forth between prison yards and out of the prison hidden inside lumps of bread, tossed over the wall. One of them gets wind of a likely house to rob in the Rue Plumet (sound familiar?), contacts Magnon (M. Gillenormand’s former servant from 200 pages ago!), who sends Éponine to check it out. Éponine takes one look at it, and sends back a coded message about a biscuit, meaning it’s not worth the effort. But she knows someone else very interested in the inhabitants of that house.

Lost and Found

It takes Éponine a while to track Marius down. First she locates his old friend Père Mabeuf, the gardener and book-lover who knew his father. He’s fallen on hard times, and gotten old besides. The girl helps the old man draw water from the well, an interesting reversal of Valjean and Cosette’s first meeting.

He calls her an angel. “‘I’m no angel,’ she replied. ‘I’m the devil, but it’s all the same to me.’” Her self-image needs some help.

After he answers her question about Marius, he turns around and she’s gone. Later that night as he’s drifting off to sleep, he wonders if she was a goblin. Or maybe she’s Batman. She’s certainly got the voice.

Though since she finds Marius at the Rivière des Gobelins, maybe Mabeuf was right.

Since Marius has last seen Éponine, she’s been worked over by both poverty and puberty. It’s a bit awkward, and it’s kind of surprising that Marius even notices. She starts rambling about this that and the other thing, while he answers her occasional questions with monosyllables.

She mentions that Mabeuf called him a baron. “You can’t be a baron. Barons are old. They go and sit in the Luxembourg, on the sunny side of the château, and read the Quotidienne at a sou a copy.” I guess this trope is older than I thought.

When she finally tells him “I’ve got the address,” he’s suddenly ecstatic. And Éponine? “She withdrew her hand and said in a tone of sadness that would have wrung the heart of any beholder, but of which Marius in his flurry was quite unconscious: ‘Oh, how excited you are!’”

Next: Catching up at the Rue Plumet

My commentaries seem to be covering smaller and smaller chunks of text. I don’t know how much is the story getting denser, how much is the greater presence of interesting characters, how much has to do with it being so much easier to highlight a passage and come back to it later instead of commenting as I read, and how much is just seeing more connections because I’ve read more of the story so far.

Pages covered: 739-755. Image by Lynd Ward from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

Part 17: Stealth Courtship

Marius struts past Jan Valjean and CosetteI’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about Marius and the job market, or read on.

At last, Marius and Cosette meet! Well, sort of. Long-distance flirting is all they can manage, and they still haven’t spoken a word to each other after weeks.

After pages and pages of reading about Marius Pontmercy, we finally get a description of him. Though I could do without reading about his “sensitive nostrils.” (It could be worse; in the 1887 translation you can get on Project Gutenberg, they’re “passionate nostrils.”)

Girls stare at Marius, but he thinks they’re laughing at his shabby clothes, so he becomes very shy and avoids them. Courfeyrac starts calling him Monsieur l’abbé.

I remember this quote sticking in my head the first time through the book: “His feeling for his father had by degrees become a religion and like all religions had receded to the background of his mind.”

Marius notices Jean Valjean and Cosette frequenting the same park as him for over a year, but pays them no mind until he stops going for a while, then comes back and she’s hit puberty. Even then, he doesn’t really notice until one day Marius’ and Cosette’s eyes meet. *ZAP!*

Suddenly he’s very self-conscious. The next day, he starts wearing his best clothes when going to the park, making sure he gets seen by her, and then starts thinking, huh, maybe the gentleman might think I’m acting a little odd.

One day they walk by his bench, and she glances at him. He’s overcome…but also worried because his boots are dusty and he’s sure she must have noticed.

They steal glances at each other, flirting from a distance. Marius starts hiding behind trees and statues so that he and Cosette can see each other but Valjean can’t see him. About this time Valjean starts getting suspicious and starts changing their routine to see if Marius will follow.

One time Valjean drops his handkerchief. Marius finds it, convinced that it must be hers, and concludes that the initials U.F. mean her name is Ursula. Throughout the whole section, we only have Courfeyrac’s nicknames for them: Monsieur Leblanc (because of his hair) and Mademoisele Lanoire (because she usually wears black, or did when she was younger).

The couple’s first quarrel: arguing through glances over the fact that the wind lifted up her skirt and exposed her leg. Someone could have seen! No one did, but someone could have!

Marius is new to dating (if you can call it that), and aside from their subtle flirtations in the park, he’s basically stalking her. Finally Valjean catches him at their house, and they stop going to the park. Within a week they’ve moved. Brilliant plan, Marius.

Next up: The Paris Underworld.

Pages covered: 603-618. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.