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Les Misérables
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Side-Reads > 2/03 Les Miserables, Volume I, Books VI and VII (Part I, Books VI and VII), SPOILERS ARE ALLOWED FOR THIS SECTION ONLY

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) And we are dealing with a truly big chunk this week. Book VI is quite manageable, but Book VII incorporates emotional, spiritual, and physical struggles of M. Madelaine. At the same time, the book is absorbing me more and more.

Here are some questions to deliberate.

1. What is the function of M. Javert in the novel? Does he act as a foil character? Does he make M. Madelaine act in a way that might affect the plot line?

2. Fantine is dangerously ill. Do you think she is being punished by Fate/God/gods for being a fallen woman. Why hasn't she be granted a pardon of sorts by seeing her daughter Cosette?

3. Can you relate to the emotional struggle that M. Madelaine underwent in his rooms? Did he actually have a choice? Do you agree with the choice he makes? Will be more reasonable to stay and try to alleviate the sufferings of other people.

4. Why do you think Hugo put M. Madelaine in the situation of Hobson's choice (no choice)? As we can see, any decision by M. Madelaine will be detrimental for some other people.

5. M. Madelaine, always a kind and genteel man, is rude and aggressive toward the boy who helped him to find the old carriage. It is the second time when is rude with young boys, the first case, if you remember, is with Petit Gervais. Do you think this act will have any repercussions?

6. Is M. Madelaine a Christ-like figure? Is he M. Bienvenue's best disciple?

7. For the first time in this novel, we are actually given an insight into a character's mind. Do you think M. Madelaine's mind is a good choice in the story where the narrator is omniscient and sees everything?


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments I absolutely loved the moral and spiritual struggle Valjean faced as he fought to get to that courthouse. He literally did everything in his power to get there, and I completely understanding his (momentary) feeling of relief when he feels as though God has let him off the hook. He makes sure there is no way he can say he didn't try. But those moments when he is debating over whether to turn that door handle were so powerful! I can imagine anyone thinking that way, wavering between those choices, the good that can be done if he lets the man take the fall for him but the life that will be ruined if he doesn't speak up. Such a difficult choice to make! Such a human struggle.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments The line that jumped out at me when he was debating in his room about what to do and thought, "he could only enter into sanctity in the eyes of God, by returning into infamy in the eyes of men!"


Zulfiya (ztrotter) The moral and spiritual struggle was mind-boggling in its sheer emotional power and the way it was narrated. It is not an easy choice between good and bad, Evil and Good. It is the choice that involves the demise of other people, and responsibility is what makes this choice painfully hard and nearly impossible. I am still not sure M. Madelaine's choice is the right one.

The line that still gnaws me is the line that Javert said in the conversation with M. Madelaine, 'It is easy to be kind, but it is hard to be just'. And can stimulate another discussion here - is justice always the right thing? Is kindness more powerful than justice?


Anne | 137 comments I've finished this section, and I really enjoyed it. I'll try to get my thoughts together and respond tomorrow. One of my pets suddenly took ill yesterday and died today, so I'm not able to focus well enough to take part in the discussion right now.


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Linda | 1316 comments I'm sorry to hear of you losing a beloved pet, Anne.

I finished this section last week, and I just realized I had not yet responded to it.

The scene where M. Madelaine is in his room trying to make his decision was absolutely engrossing. I guess subconsciously I knew what his decision would end up being, but being allowed to witness the back and forth of his thoughts and reasoning was suspenseful. And like Alana said, I also understand (and felt myself!) those moments of temporary relief when it seemed he would not be able to make the journey to the courthouse in time.

Yes, I don't think he could have made the decision not to present himself to the court and been able to live with himself. The fact that it was known that Jean Valjean was the convict who robbed Petit Gervais put him in this situation, for if the man on trial had been found guilty, he would have been sentenced to hard labor for life for being a convict (which he was not, of course), and not simply sentenced as a misdemeanor. M. Madelaine had to present himself as Jean Valjean in order to take blame for what his crime against Petit Gervais. It is unfortunate that by making this decision, other's lives will most likely be affected, but I don't think he could have chosen otherwise.

I think M. Madelaine's rudeness to the boy who obtained the carriage was an instance to allow readers to see that although he tries to do as much good as possible in his life after prison, he is still human and this was a quick emotional response to someone who sort of "got in the way" of allowing him to return to his own village with the knowledge that he had done all he could in trying to get to the courthouse. I think if he had time to think about the situation, he would have found fault with himself in calling this boy a beggar and being rude to him. But his reaction was a purely emotional on-the-spot response.


Anne | 137 comments 1. What is the function of M. Javert in the novel? Does he act as a foil character? Does he make M. Madelaine act in a way that might affect the plot line?
I think he could be considered a foil character. He certainly provides quite the contrast. His world is very much a world of black and white morality. Valjean/Madelaine has lived much more in the shades of gray.

2. Fantine is dangerously ill. Do you think she is being punished by Fate/God/gods for being a fallen woman. Why hasn't she be granted a pardon of sorts by seeing her daughter Cosette?
I do not see her as being punished for her actions, but that may be because I am not religious and find the notion of someone being punished by some supernatural being as ridiculous. Life does not always have happy endings, and sometimes fiction reflects that fact of life.

3. Can you relate to the emotional struggle that M. Madelaine underwent in his rooms? Did he actually have a choice? Do you agree with the choice he makes?
I could relate to him. Sometimes making the right choice is very difficult and has many consequences. I think it was the morally right choice since it would be very unfair for Champathieu to be punished for Valjean’s past crimes. Unfortunately, society being how it is, I don’t see them forgiving Valjean’s past because of his current behavior as Madelaine. I am very curious to see what all the repercussions of this confession will be.

4. Why do you think Hugo put M. Madelaine in the situation of Hobson's choice (no choice)? As we can see, any decision by M. Madelaine will be detrimental for some other people.
I’m not sure at this point. Hugo does seem to be examining what is moral and what is just through the actions of various characters.

5. M. Madelaine, always a kind and genteel man, is rude and aggressive toward the boy who helped him to find the old carriage. It is the second time when is rude with young boys, the first case, if you remember, is with Petit Gervais. Do you think this act will have any repercussions?
I’m not sure, but I can’t wait to find out.

6. Is M. Madelaine a Christ-like figure? Is he M. Bienvenue's best disciple?
Madelaine is certainly the best disciple of M. Bienvenue. He seems to be the only one who took the bishop’s life of self-sacrifice and charity to heart. If by “Christ-like” you mean self-sacrificing and compassionate, then I can see it. I’m not Christian, so I’m not sure what else that would mean.

7. For the first time in this novel, we are actually given an insight into a character's mind. Do you think M. Madelaine's mind is a good choice in the story where the narrator is omniscient and sees everything?
I thought that section was incredibly moving and well done. His indecision and mental anguish was palpable. He had several bad choices, and there would be severe consequences regardless. He didn’t take the easy way out.


Anne | 137 comments Linda wrote: "I'm sorry to hear of you losing a beloved pet, Anne."
Thank you, Linda. It was quite a shock. She was the daughter of one of my other pets (the one currently in my profile picture). Arya had seemed healthy since her birth about 19 months ago. Something about her behavior on Wednesday seemed off, so I took her to the vet right away. It turns out that her jaw had malformed as she was growing, and it caused her teeth to wear improperly. By the time it became obvious, she could hardly swallow. If she had survived, she would have required surgery every few months. I am heartbroken right now, but it may be for the best. For my own peace of mind, her brother and half-brother will be going in for wellness checks next week.


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Linda | 1316 comments Anne wrote: "Linda wrote: "I'm sorry to hear of you losing a beloved pet, Anne."
Thank you, Linda. It was quite a shock. She was the daughter of one of my other pets (the one currently in my profile picture)...."


Oh, poor little gal, I'm sorry. That is heartbreaking. Hopefully her brothers come back with a clean bill of health.


message 10: by Jess :) (new) - added it

Jess :) Zulfiya wrote: "The moral and spiritual struggle was mind-boggling in its sheer emotional power and the way it was narrated. It is not an easy choice between good and bad, Evil and Good. It is the choice that invo..."

I loved this section too and am also torn about Valjean's decision. From a utilitarian POV, I would argue that he did *not* make the correct choice here -- his choice is not likely minimize suffering if you consider everyone affected. However, if he did not act, the suffering of Champmathieu would have been caused directly by Valjean. Perhaps Valjean's obligation to correct the fallout from his crimes outweighs the utility argument.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Linda wrote: "I think M. Madelaine's rudeness to the boy who obtained the carriage was an instance to allow readers to see that although he tries to do as much good as possible in his life after prison, he is still human and this was a quick emotional response to someone who sort of "got in the way" of allowing him to return to his own village with the knowledge that he had done all he could in trying to get to the courthouse. "

Excellent thought, Linda. This scene has been torturing me because it was so much out of M. Madelaine's character to act the way he did, but also it is nice to remember that we are all human beings, and sometimes the emotions get too powerful.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) E :) wrote: "From a utilitarian POV, I would argue that he did *not* make the correct choice here -- his choice is not likely minimize suffering if you consider everyone affected. "


I agree - I am not sure even now that he is doing the right thing, but how can we define right or wrong in this novel. The characters' plight in this novel occasionally does not leave them even the certainty of knowing whether they are dong the right thing or the bad things; as a result, they do not have hope for peace. Even bad decisions give the chance to move on, to start again, to forget, to ask for forgiveness. M. Madelaine's situation does not allow him even this serenity of mind.


message 13: by Zulfiya (last edited Feb 10, 2014 01:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) Anne wrote: " I thought that section was incredibly moving and well done. His indecision and mental anguish was palpable. He had several bad choices, and there would be severe consequences regardless. He didn’t take the easy way out. "

That moral struggle was overwhelming. It was long and laborious for me as well. I hope I will never find myself in the position of M. Madelaine when he goes through this torturous experience.

As far M. Madelaine as a disciple of M, Bienvenue, I also think he is M. Binevenue's best disciple and (this part is the most horrifying - HE IS THE ONLY one so far). A man who improved the lives of many parishioners would have been very surprised to find that his true and only disciple is a former prisoner.


message 14: by Victoria (last edited Feb 10, 2014 04:05AM) (new) - added it

Victoria (vicki_c) I think I feel the same as all of you. Valjean's agonizing decision-making was heart-rending. There is no question that that part of the book stands the test of time. The scene in the courthouse antechamber where he keeps looking at the door knob had my heart in my throat. Selfishly, I wanted him to let the old man be punished. Then I wondered what kind of person that made me? But as someone above said, every time he was delayed in his travels, I felt relief. I knew he had to do the "right" thing but I was heartbroken when he did.


message 15: by Kathy (last edited Feb 10, 2014 11:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kathy Chumley (kathleenchumley) I don't think Fauntine was being punished not just because I'm an atheist, but I don't think Hugo would have had it that way. He seemed to like her and feel sorry for her. I got the impression he saw her as an innocent who was seduced by a man she thought would love her.

Valjean didn't really have a choice. Yes he was responsible for the people in his town, but that man would have gone to the galleys because of him, and his conscience wouldn't allow that. Even though the choice was difficult, it was the only one he could make.

Zulfiya, I agree with you about M. Madelaine being the Bishop's best disciple. The people around him, including the 2 women in his household just saw him as a crazy old bishop. Madelaine/Valjean saw him as he really was, and that's why he was so affected by the Bishop's actions in giving him another chance.

As for Javert, he could be a foil. I also see him as a stand-in for the readers who would have had trouble believing in Valjean's transformation. There were (and still are) people who are of the belief that "Once a thief, always a thief". Javert could be them, thinking the way they would think when reading this book in Hugo's time.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Victoria wrote: "I think I feel the same as all of you. Valjean's agonizing decision-making was heart-rending. There is no question that that part of the book stands the test of time. The scene in the courthouse an..."

I really do not know what was the right thing here. I understand why he made this decision, but when you know its possible repercussions, it is so hard to accept it.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Kathy wrote: "As for Javert, he could be a foil. I also see him as a stand-in for the readers who would have had trouble believing in Valjean's transformation."


Javert is an excellent foil character, and M. Madelaine's emotional struggle is accentuated by Javert's doggedness. He is also the one who does not commit a crime; conversely, he does not know how to forgive. He is ruthless in his adherence to law.


Deana (ablotial) This was an enjoyable section and didn't take as long to get through as I had expected based on length. I agree that the writing of the moral dilemma in this section was very well done and kept me in suspense. Although I have to admit... and maybe this means I am not a good a person as Jean Valjean had become... but were it me, I wouldn't have even tried to get to the trial. Where some people above said they "aren't sure" he made the right decision, I feel pretty strongly that he didn't. Yes, he protected a single innocent man, but I suspect many more will be hurt by his decision.

I must say, I was very surprised that they just let him walk out!

And poor Fantine feeling so much better now that she believes the mayor had gone to get her daughter. I hope that is where he goes next... but he still has to return all the horses and carriages he borrowed and ruined on his journey!

I was surprised by his treatment of the small boy who got the horse... I guess it just goes to show he is still human and gets impatient and makes mistakes, no matter how much he has changed.


message 19: by Zulfiya (last edited Mar 24, 2014 12:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) Deana wrote: "Although I have to admit... and maybe this means I am not a good a person as Jean Valjean had become... but were it me, I wouldn't have even tried to get to the trial. "

I was pondering over the same dilemma and tried to imagine myself in the shoes of Valjean. I really did not envy him a bit. I wish I would have guts to do and act nobly, but we are just human beings and only strive to become better. Jean Valjean is a certain ideal, an aspiration, but even this superhero is only mortal, and Hugo does not hesitate to remind us about it.


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