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Les Misérables
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Side-Reads > 2/10 Les Miserables, Volume I, Book VIII and Volume II, Book I (Part I, Book VIII and Part II, Book I), SPOILERS ARE ALLOWED FOR THIS SECTION ONLY

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) Now in the middle of February, we are starting Volume II, but first there is also Book VIII to discuss.

The last book in the first volume/part is a heart-wrenching one. Fantine could not live longer on the dream of meeting her own child. She had already been living on the borrowed time, and when she learned the truth, her hopes were in tatters and she died.

1. Who is ultimately responsible for her death? Disease? Inspector Javert? M. Madelaine?

2. Do you think M. Madelaine's plan backfired and instead of his spiritual salvation he actually 'killed' Fantine?

3. How can you characterize Javert? Is law the ultimate borderline for him between good and bad?

4. Why did Sister Simplicity/ Semplicita (I found two variants in two versions) lie twice? Are her lies redeemable and understandable from your perspective?

5. Will Jean Valjean go undercover and try to start anew or will he try to find and save Cosette?

6. Volume II starts with the massive historical excursus about Waterloo. How do you interpret Hugo's statement that Napoleon's demise is God's desire to show that the world needed a change and Napoleon should go. Then this passage is followed by the detailed description of gruesome battle scenes. Does this passage reflect a deistic approach to The Creator/a creator/creators (God created the world we know but has neither desire no will not power to control what is happening in the world; as a result, sufferings and tragedies are not triggered by God/gods, and he/she/they have no control over them) or is Hugo in two minds about the world and religion? Is Hugo encouraging his readers to evaluate the concept of a Maker? At that time, Hugo was struggling with traditional religion and was considering apostasy.

7. Do you think the chapter about Waterloo had only one purpose - to tell us about the background of Thenardier, a hyena, a looter of the dead and the dying? How can we relate to the same story, knowing what had happened to Fantine?

The questions reflect my own musings and deliberations, so feel free to share your thoughts in any form you like.


Anne | 137 comments 1. Who is ultimately responsible for her death? Disease? Inspector Javert? M. Madelaine?
The disease is ultimately responsible, but the shock didn't help.

2. Do you think M. Madelaine's plan backfired and instead of his spiritual salvation he actually 'killed' Fantine?
No, she would have died anyway. Considering how well she was cared for, he likely delayed her passing quite a bit.

3. How can you characterize Javert? Is law the ultimate borderline for him between good and bad?
He sees the world very much in black and white, and he does use the law to determine that line. He probably wouldn't even understand the concept of a "bad" law.

4. Why did Sister Simplicity/ Semplicita (I found two variants in two versions) lie twice? Are her lies redeemable and understandable from your perspective
She was called Sister Simplice in my version. I understand why she lied- she cared deeply about Madeleine and wanted to protect him. I think a lot of people would have done the same for a friend or loved one.

5. Will Jean Valjean go undercover and try to start anew or will he try to find and save Cosette?
I'm not sure what he will do next. You'd think the police would look for him there, so he may not go right away.

7. Do you think the chapter about Waterloo had only one purpose - to tell us about the background of Thenardier, a hyena, a looter of the dead and the dying? How can we relate to the same story, knowing what had happened to Fantine?
It certainly felt like that was the purpose when I was reading it. I have never been interested in battle tactics or warfare in general, so this portion was quite a slog. In history class, I really only cared about the causes and the outcomes and preferred to skip over the fighting itself.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Anne wrote: " I understand why she lied- she cared deeply about Madeleine and wanted to protect him. I think a lot of people would have done the same for a friend or loved one."

I think Hugo is contrasting Simplicity/Simplice and Javert. The nun goes against her conviction not to tell lies because she understands that goodness is above law while Javert believes that Law is the only and ultimate ruler; as a result, anyone who has violated rules and regulations is beyond redemption. Those people are automatically guilty for Javert.
Humanity makes us more flexible, as in case with Sister Simplice.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Anne wrote: "I have never been interested in battle tactics or warfare in general, so this portion was quite a slog. In history class, I really only cared about the causes and the outcomes and preferred to skip over the fighting itself."

Neither have I :-) All the time while I was reading, I was thinking about where Hugo was leading us. The reasons and the outcomes of military campaigns have been and will always be more interesting than the tactical description of military actions.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments Frankly I found it amusing that Hugo states early in book I that other historians have already said all there is to say about Waterloo, so he won't attempt to do so. .... then spends the next several chapters doing just that.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) I was also giggling when I was reading because he clearly stated that had no intention to develop the topic, and then it goes on and on and on. On the other hand, the novel is so massive that these chapters are just a drop in the ocean :-)


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Linda | 1378 comments I was surprised when Fantine died! I guess not having seen the movie, but only trailers, I assumed Fantine would be a more central character throughout the book. But not even a fifth into the book and she is gone.

I don't put any blame on M. Madelaine for Fantine's death. She had a disease which would have taken her in the end, although the hope of seeing her daughter lengthened her life to some extent. Upon finding out that she was not to see her daughter anytime soon, the energy she had reserved waiting for Cosette was finally used up. I think that Jean Valjean will try to find Cosette to make up for not bringing her to Fantine before her death.

Yes, the ultimate line between good and bad for Javert is the law. There is no grey area in his mind. Sister Simplice (as spelled in my version), on the other hand, although she normally also draws a line where she does not allow herself to lie, seems to reach a point where there is a grey area for her in her convictions. Lying to Javert in this case allows Jean Valjean (or M. Madelaine as Sister Simplice knew him) to flee so that he may lead a life of good as he did the past few years. She believes he is a good person and will continue to do good, instead of focusing on a past mistake he is being sought for.

I had a hard time getting through the Waterloo section. I wish I had known of the people presented in the battle beyond Napoleon and Wellington, so I found myself skimming and trying to find the sections relevant to our story. I found Thenardier's actions against the dead awful. But I had not thought to compare him to Fantine until you suggested it. What do we know of his past, his current situation, etc? Maybe he is similar to Fantine in just trying to survive and looting is what his life has come to? When the dying soldier told Thenardier to take his purse and watch, although Thenardier had already done so, Thenardier kept his actions from the dying soldier. He did not flaunt that he had already stolen them. Perhaps he feels remorse for what he is doing?


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Linda | 1378 comments I just realized - the Thenardier in the Waterloo section is the same Thenardier who took in Cosette? And the Waterloo battled happened before we see him with his wife when Fantine travels past?


Anne | 137 comments Yes, it is the same man. Waterloo was in 1815, and the scene where Fantine meets the Thernadiers was in 1818.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Thank you, Anne.

I think Hugo is trying to give us an insight into the Thenardier's mind. He is obviously the one who preys on dead, weak and wounded people. If we thought that their actions towards Fantine and Cosette were merely opportunistic, Hugo gives us another, a wider perspective.
Thenardier is truly disgusting.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) Linda wrote: " I think that Jean Valjean will try to find Cosette to make up for not bringing her to Fantine before her death.
"


Linda, do you think he can redeem himself by retrieving and saving Cosette from the malicious cobweb of the Thenardiers?

Again, this is the example of the duality of M. Madelaine's actions. He did indeed save the unlucky fellow, Champmathieu is his name, if I am not mistaken, and maybe saved his soul, but because of it, Fantine died without seeing his child. Was there actually a choice for him?


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Linda | 1378 comments Thanks for the clarification on Thenardier. I thought that he was the same person, but didn't realize it when I first read the Waterloo section.

I think Jean Valjean at this point does not realize what horrible people are in charge of Cosette, does he? As far as he knows, her return to the mother was delayed for various reasons, but not because they were trying to use her to get more money? If that's the case, then I think Jean Valjean will try to retrieve Cosette just for curiosity in his mind of what the daughter of Fantine, the woman he took care of, is like. And perhaps to take her into his care out of a sense of fulfilling his duty to Fantine. I think when he finally sees Cosette's appearance and the conditions she has been brought up in, he will feel horrible for not retrieving her earlier himself. I don't think he had a choice when he decided to go to the courthouse and save the man who was misidentified. I hope that he can feel redeemed if he takes care of Cosette.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) If only we knew the outcome of our actions... Future is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

BTW, this upcoming week is a break weak, so I open a general Les Mis banter thread to keep us in the swing of reading things :-)


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Linda | 1378 comments Zulfiya wrote: "If only we knew the outcome of our actions... Future is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

BTW, this upcoming week is a break weak, so I open a general Les Mis banter thread to keep us..."


Well said.

And thanks for the reminder on the break week, I already started reading the next section!


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments Linda wrote: "Thanks for the clarification on Thenardier. I thought that he was the same person, but didn't realize it when I first read the Waterloo section.

I think Jean Valjean at this point does not realiz..."


Well, he also feels responsible for Fantine's depraved condition, as it was his own factory that turned her away from the income she was making. It wasn't him directly, of course, but a man he had put in charge. He feels this makes him responsible for not only what happened to Fantine, but what will happen to Cosette.


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Linda | 1378 comments Alana wrote: "Linda wrote: "Thanks for the clarification on Thenardier. I thought that he was the same person, but didn't realize it when I first read the Waterloo section.

I think Jean Valjean at this point d..."


Oh yeah, you are right. That is a good point about his factory turning away Fantine, so of course he is going to feel some responsibility there.


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Victoria (vicki_c) I was still a bit behind and only finished this section today. Mainly I wanted to come and post that I had been drowned by Waterloo, LOL. Glad to hear (and not surprised) that it's not just me. I was shocked that the thief was Thenardier. For a moment, I thought it might have been Valjean on his escape, but then realized that wasn't possible given the timing of the battle.


message 18: by Zulfiya (last edited Feb 22, 2014 08:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) Victoria wrote: "Mainly I wanted to come and post that I had been drowned by Waterloo, LOL. Glad to hear (and not surprised) that it's not just me. "

The Waterloo scene was somewhat off-putting, and it kept going and going and going. I wonder if Hugo was paid ber sections or installments like Dickens was. It might explain some of his digressions:-)

Nonetheless, I have to admit - the presence of Thenardier was a masterful twist. We never knew him except that he was a merciless extoller and a liar; now we know that he preyed on the dying and the dead. On second thought, that's what he did with Fantine.


Everyman | 885 comments Late to the party, but hope I'm forgiven!

I was greatly saddened by Sister Semplicita telling the lies. Given that Valjean was so concerned to save Champmathieu, and was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of honor and honesty, to then be the cause of Sister S violating what was obviously a central value for her for his sake was very painful. I wish that Valjean had been as concerned for Sister S's honor and integrity as he was for Champ's protection, and come forward and admitted his presence without depending on her committing a sin to save him.


Everyman | 885 comments I also didn't know why the extensive treatment of Waterloo, but having just read War and Peace last fall for another group, it was very interesting to compare the Russian version of Napoleon with the French version.

I also noted the great contrast between Tolstoy's and Hugo's attitude toward leaders. Hugo clearly believes that Napoleon was a great figure in control of his destiny, consistent with the "great man" theory of history. Tolstoy, on the other hand, believes that it is the movement of the masses which matters, that the leaders are more swept along by events than controlling them.

But though I enjoyed the section for that reason, I don't know what it had to do with the work as a whole other than introducing the perfidy of Thenardier, which Hugo could have done far more efficiently and just as effectively.

But I do wonder a bit whether he just had a "thing" for Napoleon, and wanted to include his moment of homage in this huge epic.


Everyman | 885 comments 5. Will Jean Valjean go undercover and try to start anew or will he try to find and save Cosette?

Well, since Part 2 is titled Cosette, I have to assume that she will feature in it. And since Valjean is the principle character of the book and shouldn't be lost sight of for long, and since he promised Fantine that he would get Cosette, I am assuming that he will.

How's that for deductive reasoning? [g]


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Everyman wrote: "I also noted the great contrast between Tolstoy's and Hugo's attitude toward leaders. Hugo clearly believes that Napoleon was a great figure in control of his destiny, consistent with the "great man" theory of history. Tolstoy, on the other hand, believes that it is the movement of the masses which matters, that the leaders are more swept along by events than controlling them. "

Glad you are back, Everyman!

In my opinion, Hugo and Tolstoy represent different philosophies. Hugo always was a revolutionary supporter, and you feel it even when he describes campaigns led by Napoleon; Tolstoy, on the other hand, despite his early anarchistic views, eventually settles on the Panslavic concept, believing that Russia and other nations would benefit from unitarian, not federal system of government with a benign leader.
Tolstoy was also a great advocate for the poor, and here his ideas are similar to Hugo's, but he was a writer of courtly dramas and courtly narratives, and you can not write such novels without figureheads.


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Linda | 1378 comments Everyman wrote: "How's that for deductive reasoning? [g] "

Ha ha. :)

On a separate note - I had not thought of Sister Simplice's lies as you put them - that Jean Valjean should have stood up for her honor as he had done for the man wrongly accused in his name. Like you point out, he put both people in positions of giving up their honor but he only stood up for one of them. I wonder why.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments Everyman wrote: "Late to the party, but hope I'm forgiven!

I was greatly saddened by Sister Semplicita telling the lies. Given that Valjean was so concerned to save Champmathieu, and was willing to sacrifice hims..."


I'm glad you said this: I felt the same way, but wasn't sure how to describe it. Yes, it was an act of "sacrifice" on her part, but to give up her own integrity that way? One of those "gray areas" I suppose as far as doing something bad for the sake of the good, but that never rings true to me. After all, Valjean faces the same decision; he could allow the poor man to face his punishment for the sake of the "good," but he would be doing something very evil to accomplish this. He stands up for that poor man, but seems to think Sister Simplice is free to make her own choice, though he places her in a very awkward position.

I think it was Corrie ten Boom's sister who was so determined to never tell a lie that even when German soldiers came into their home and demanded if there was anyone hiding there, she said determinedly that yes, in fact they were right under the kitchen table! But the soldiers took it to be a sarcastic joke and didn't pursue the matter...she was in fact telling the truth and the very truth is what saved them all. Not that Sister Simplice could have done the same thing, but it seems to me there is always an "out." (Merely my opinion, however).


Deana (ablotial) Yes, the Waterloo section was truly dull, but I strategically brought this book with me for a flight, and I wasn't tired enough to nap, so I made it through in a single sitting! All to discover that Thenardier is a looter, which doesn't surprise me (though to be fair, they weren't using that stuff). But he didn't show much compassion to the man he did find alive. At first, I confused the names and thought this was Cossette's father, but eventually figured out he is the guardian.

But first, there was Fantine's passing. I did suspect this was coming when she got so excited to think that the mayor had gone to retrieve her daughter, but that didn't make it any less sad. I agree with what others said -- that it wasn't really his "fault", and in fact he probably prolongued her life a lot with his care -- but I do hope that he is going to retrieve the daughter now ... but I fear he won't, I suspect he will think twice about bringing a child along with him while he is on the run from the law.

I was really torn about the section with sister S. On the one hand, I was upset with Jean Valjean for causing her to lie like this -- why were here values less important than his own? But then I recall that he is only human (as evidenced in the last section of his treatment of the young boy) and also I really like the point that Zulfiya made about her being ... human? .. enough to realize that goodness isn't black and white, nor entirely based on the existence (or not) of laws. A great contrast to Javert, for sure!


Zulfiya (ztrotter) Deana wrote: "but I do hope that he is going to retrieve the daughter now ... but I fear he won't, I suspect he will think twice about bringing a child along with him while he is on the run from the law.
"


The odds are not in his favor, but Javert has already reinvented himself/ resurrect himself, so he might try to do it again, but you are right - it is highly unlikely that he would easily find and retrieve and save the girl from the tight grasp of this looter.


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