Tag Archives: Trial

Convictions

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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The Crimes of Jean Valjean

For the record: Jean Valjean did in fact commit breaking and entering, two burglaries (though one victim refused to press charges), at least four prison escapes, highway robbery (technically), parole violation, faking his own death, trespassing, and identity fraud.

Javert isn’t chasing an innocent man on false evidence.

Valjean’s role isn’t to show persecution of the innocent, but of the redeemable. It’s to show that the justice system is excessively harsh. His time in prison for a minor crime makes him a worse person, actively turns him into a danger to society. Worse: the system actively undermines his efforts to reform and redeem himself afterward. In a humane justice system, he would have left prison years earlier, and been able to make his way again. Though it probably would have still been too late for most of his sister’s children.

Also worth noting: Javert isn’t trying to uncover Valjean’s crimes, or prove them. They’re well-established by the time he gets involved. Javert just wants to catch the guy so the system can grind him down again…because that’s what “law and order” means to Javert: punishing those who defy authority.

Update: On a related note, this tweet by @beesmygod provides a little perspective:

https://twitter.com/beesmygod/status/1006318305227857920

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Part 6: 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.”

Hospital

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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