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Les Miserables > Les Mis- Fantine, Book 1

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message 1: by Dianne (last edited Apr 01, 2018 05:34AM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments We have finally arrived at the beginning of Les Mis! I'll post a few questions for each section, and feel free to answer any or all or just post your own thoughts or questions on the section.

In this first section we are introduced to Bishop Myriel, or Bishop Bienvenu (welcome) as he comes to be known. It is clear that Hugo intends for us to like him intensely, for where is a fault to be found? He lives with his sister Mademoiselle Baptistine and domestic help Madame Magloire, and they both seem to defer to the Bishop in everything, even when they secretly disagree. The Bishop truly lives in abnegation of any earthly desires, surrendering his lavish residence to the poor in order to live in a run down hospital, and only retaining what funds are absolutely necessary for the survival of his household.

1. Bishop Myriel - is he a realistic character?

2. Do you think the Bishop's goodness is a result of his religious faith?

3. Are there any other characters in literature that the Bishop reminds you of?

4. How does the novel represent the struggles of humanity in what we have read so far?

5. How is the Bishop impacted by his work with the man who is executed?

6. Why does the Bishop ask for a blessing from the revolutionary?

7. Why do younger priests avoid working with the Bishop?


message 2: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Bishop Myriel:

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message 3: by Ami (last edited Apr 02, 2018 12:07PM) (new)

Ami An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustrious Bishop. If by reliable you mean believable for a Bishop...well, all the pieces seem to fit the puzzle, but some of those pieces have rough edges...if that makes any sense? I don't know, for the most part he is believable as a character, it's Hugo's narrative that gives me pause. Perhaps, this is Hugo allowing this character to slowly come into his own, on his own time? Hugo has this ability to set the stage early in his novels (my frame of reference is "The Man Without a Face"), creating an atmosphere of tremendous intrigue concerning Myriel/Bienvenu. It stems from knowing about Myriel's life of privilege and all it entailed before he emigrated to Italy, a lifestyle quite antipodal to the one he lives at present. Tell me you didn't do a double take while reading (view spoiler) upon your first reading of it? Hugo got a good chuckle out of me while he played upon the duality of this man. He continues to play upon the Bishop again a little later, who is feeling the financial constraints from his 14,000 livres donation; he realizes he didn't account for any of his traveling expenses, thus asking for an additional 3,000 livres. It appeared to me that he miscalculated when making the original donation, the sister and caretaker also in agreement; the additional funds enabling them to feel less hardship. Yet, Hugo, at the turn of the page, and unexpectedly (at least to me), has the Bishop donating those funds as well. To me, Hugo appears to be creating a slight tension in his writing, between the Bishop's past and present...Alluding to one thing, intending another. I love it! LOL!

Again, it may be a big nothing burger because I do see Myriel embody his role as a Bishop quite well, generally speaking, the change in his character seen after the execution was a most humbling experience for him...No? Speaking of execution, can we talk about the guillotine...the words used to describe the apparatus? Good lord, talk about the Hugo touch! Giving the apparatus anthropomorphic qualities, breathing life into it...No longer just a guillotine, having the effect of a hallucination. (view spoiler) Wow! Leave it to Hugo to enhance an already cruel and inhumane scene, to a level of macabre viciousness. I believe what we've just read, what our Bishop endured, would humble even the most unflappable. Myriel, later is found talking to himself, his sister overhears him saying,
I did not believe that it could be so monstrous. It is wrong to be so absorbed in the divine law as not to perceive the human law. Death belongs to God alone. By what right do men touch unknown thing? (16)
Perhaps, I speak too soon, but my apprehensions about the Bishop were nonexistent here. In this moment, I witnessed Myriel to manifest fully into a pious Bishop.


message 4: by Ami (new)

Ami Thank you for the image, it's not what I expected him to look like. I think I was too consumed with all of the other details, all I remembered about him was that he was short. Smh. Which edition of Hugo's "L M" was illustrated, any backstory about the artist in relation to Hugo at all, or what the illustrator was intending to represent in this image? To me, it appears this is an image of M. Myriel, surrounded by symbols of the Order (crucifix, chalice, robe hanging on the right (I think?), candelabras (one affixed with a candle, the other hanging in the foreground)...could it be that he has to pass through to transform into the Bishop?


message 5: by Dianne (last edited Apr 02, 2018 07:59AM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustrious Bishop. If by reliable yo..."


it's a good point that the Bishop came back a priest - what was he before? He clearly had a different past, yet we know nothing of it. Whatever happened to him, he came back fully representing the principles of his religious faith in my view, and lives by the principles of charity and do unto others. I read that some versions of this book omitted this first section - so I wonder how integral the Bishop will be to the rest of the book. I thought that the Bishop was almost too good, too idealized, but perhaps that is just Hugo drawing his characters to extremes.

Brilliant observation about the guillotine being like a live, sentient being - that somehow makes it even more horrifying. Perhaps that is why the Bishop is even more appalled, he knows that the decisions about life and death are for God alone - and believes human beings have no right to trespass into this realm. Whether the guillotine is alive or not- man is ultimately behind those decisions to put people to death - and the Bishop wants no part of that.


message 6: by Xan (last edited Apr 02, 2018 11:17AM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments The Bishop is not unique but is unusual in his rarity. I think his story is foundational to the larger story. Whatever he may have been, however he may have lived, something happens during the revolution, something transformational, that changes Myriel, and he returns a priest. He's the guy who is always there when you need a friend. He's not given to rhetorical flourishes of damnation, but his wit is as cutting as a scalpel. He's a priest to the poor, the meek, and the misguided.

Hugo's passion jumps onto the page when condemning capital punishment. His anger is palpable.

For me the passages containing the confrontation between G___ and the bishop were the most powerful and instructive of book 1. Myriel has met his match, but it's a good match. Complete opposites, yet they are completely alike in their commitment to their beliefs. As it turns out, their beliefs are not all that dissimilar, and both have their own beliefs in God.

Most instructive was the conversation about children (which I take to mean all innocents). Myriel outraged by the the treatment and death of the king's innocent son, and G____ outraged by the treatment and execution of a thief's innocent younger brother -- each killed because of their bloodlines. Guilt by association, a practice still very much in vogue.

UPDATE:

I should add that G____ is a man of science, reason, and logic, while the bishop is a man of faith and Christ's challenge. Each seeking justice and fairness from opposite ends -- what I think the bishop would call love. I wonder if G____ would call it that too.

Okay, I've edited my post enough; I think I'll stop now.

Good start.


message 7: by Dan (last edited Apr 03, 2018 12:15PM) (new)

Dan Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustrious Bishop. If by..."


Hugo was clear that M Myriel was intended as satire, everyone at the time would realize that no priest would be this good. Hugo believes in a God, but not in churches. Organized religion was at best unneccesary, and usually corrupt, more concerned about accumulating wealth than helping the poor. He did not practice any religion.

So, those of you who thought the character was "too good" or that no priest would donate those 14,000 livres are right. Hugo - who was not Catholic and never went to church - unlike nearly all other Frenchmen of his day, painted his priest to point out how unpriestly priests actually were.


message 8: by Dianne (last edited Apr 04, 2018 07:07AM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "The Bishop is not unique but is unusual in his rarity. I think his story is foundational to the larger story. Whatever he may have been, however he may have lived, something happens during the revo..."

I agree, the passage between the Bishop and the revolutionary give much to ponder about. They both believe in God, and they both opposed evil but through different means.

G: Man should be governed only by science.
Bishop: And conscience.
G: It's the same thing. Conscience is the quantity of innate science we have within us.

It appears that the Bishop had not been previously exposed to this way of thinking, but rather than dismissing it out of hand he considers it and it does impact his sentiment if not his behavior. G believes violence can be necessary to exterminate evil, but the Bishop believes that mercy is always the answer. It is interesting to see how the Bishop reacts, he is unsettled, he feels that something within him has been extinguished, he has to put on a brave face.

G did not realize how resoundingly he had overcome the Bishop, who offered one last defense: "Progress must believe in God. Good cannot be served by the ungodly. The atheist is a bad guide for the human race."

At this point, does the Bishop believe what he is saying?


message 9: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Dan wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustriou..."


I am curious to see if all of the characters will be extreme in one way or the other. I was surprised to see the Bishop waver so greatly, if only inwardly, upon his conversation with G. G is Bishop's counterpart, in a way, he fought for the people, the oppressed, he was poor, he defended the rights of the the people. Yet, unlike the Bishop, he is condemned, ostracized and left to die. The two men fought under a belief in God for the people, and who achieved more? Who was in the right? Is it no wonder that the Bishop asked for G's blessing given that he offered his life to defend the people with no recognition whatsoever?


message 10: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Dan wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustriou..."


re your comment.. how unpriestly priests actually were - Do you think the Bishop acted in a 'unpriestly' way? How? I think he acted incredibly priestly, with nary a fault so far!


message 11: by Dan (last edited Apr 04, 2018 08:50AM) (new)

Dan No. The Bishop was not unpriestly. He was a good priest, and Hugo made him an ideal priest, in order to contrast him with real priests.

Hugo is not satirizing the Bishop - by making the Bishop so priestly, Hugo intended primarily to show how most priests fall far short of what the could/should be.

This first book was written in 1860-1. Hugo's son argued constantly that the character should not be a priest, and wanted to substitute a doctor or another professional man. He did not think a priest should be painted so positively.

Hugo had two comments 1) A doctor might work if the book was set in the present (the 1860s), but he could not "bring the present to the past". And 2) he said he would make this priest character so good that everyone will see that he meant to show that priests aren't at all like this, and make priests look bad. Hugo intended it to be satirical by contrasting a man who tries to only do good, in comparison to how priests actually acted.

Hugo believed that churches and priests were worthless. A man does not need priests or church to know what is right, and what is good.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Dan wrote: "No. The Bishop was not unpriestly. He was a good priest, and Hugo made him an ideal priest, in order to contrast him with real priests.

Hugo is not satirizing the Bishop - by making the Bishop so ..."


This was my thought when reading; that Hugo had deliberately made the Bishop perfect in his piety and nature to contrast what the actual nature of the majority of the Church was at the time. I am interested to find out Hugo did not go to church. I think the contrast between Myriel and other priests was made clear in the discussion with G.

I am surprised by how easy and readable I found the first section. I was also surprised to laugh out loud at a few lines (this is quite unusual for me). I particularly enjoyed the comment that Myriel had once said 'It would be very hard for me to give up eating with silver'

My translation (the vintage edition by Julie Rose with notes by James Madden) reports that Myriel is based on a real life Bishop of Digne- Charles-Francois Melchior-Bienvenu de Miollis. He was known for his piety but Hugo was criticised for embellishing details and disagreed with the way Hugo used the character to rebuke the church.

It is interesting to wander what Myriel was like before he became a Priest. There is one line which states he had 'been a man of passion, perhaps even a violent man'. Nothing more is really given away


message 13: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia This quotation summed Myriel up for me, and his ideological role in the novel:

'He was a simple soul who loved, and that was all […] His heart was given to all suffering and expiation. The world to him was like an immense malady. He sensed fever everywhere and without seeking to answer the riddle did what he could to heal the wound.'

'Without seeking to answer the riddle' seems to be one of the differentiators between Myriel and G, the revolutionary, who tried to change the world.

Hugo is a Romantic so we can expect drama over realism! All the same, Myriel reminded me a bit of Trollope's Mr Harding.


message 14: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Dan wrote: "No. The Bishop was not unpriestly. He was a good priest, and Hugo made him an ideal priest, in order to contrast him with real priests.

Hugo is not satirizing the Bishop - by making the Bishop so ..."


ah ok, that totally makes sense, thanks Dan. The background is very helpful! I wonder if everyone at the time knew that priests were not actually 'priestly'? I guess Hugo alludes to that by noting that none of the younger priests want to work with him - they are all in search of greater wealth!


message 15: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:00PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Heather wrote: "Dan wrote: "No. The Bishop was not unpriestly. He was a good priest, and Hugo made him an ideal priest, in order to contrast him with real priests.

Hugo is not satirizing the Bishop - by making th..."


eating with silver! that was hilarious I agree. It was so enchanting how the the two women were so focused on the candlesticks and the silver - the last vestiges of refinement in the house, it would seem.

Heather, thank you for the background on the Bishop! I looked up the 'source Bishop' on wiki and found this:

Bishop de Miollis was the inspiration for Victor Hugo's character Bishop Myriel in the novel Les Misérables, with some similarities between the two; however, several notable differences between Myriel and de Miollis exist as well.

Similarities
Both Bishop Myriel and Bishop de Miollis were the son of councillors; both were named vicar of Brignoles in 1804 and bishop of Digne in 1806; both were known by the name of Bienvenu (French for the word "welcome") due to their charitable natures and evangelical virtues.

Myriel used his own silver candlesticks to redeem Jean Valjean; and, Miollis used his own silver coin to redeem the church and the presbytery of the sanctuary of Notre-Dame du Laus.

Differences
Victor Hugo wrote that "...his [Bishop Myriel's] father had married him at a very early age, eighteen or twenty. In spite of this marriage, however, it was said that Charles Myriel created a great deal of talk. He was well formed, though rather short in stature, elegant, graceful, intelligent; the whole of the first portion of his life had been devoted to the world and to gallantry..." However, Bishop Miollis, whom Bishop Myriel was based on, was never married. His nephew, Francis de Miollis, wrote that "...the first portion of his life was devoted neither to the world nor to gallantry, and he did not offer the sad spectacle of the regrettable violences Victor Hugo has given to Bishop Myriel."


message 16: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "This quotation summed Myriel up for me, and his ideological role in the novel:

'He was a simple soul who loved, and that was all […] His heart was given to all suffering and expiation. The world ..."


I loved Bishop Myriel, such mercy, and gentle grace, and acceptance. As you point out, RC, he lives by the principle of aiding without question or needing a cause or reason. A person exists, and therefore aid should be given when needed. To me it was surprising that people did not take advantage of his kindness, particularly if the time was such that not even priests could be trusted!


message 17: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:11PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments description


Baptistine Myriel


message 18: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:32PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments description

Madame Magloire and Baptistine


message 19: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:32PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments description

Bishop Myriel


message 20: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments The Episcopal Palace:

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message 21: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments M. Myriel's house:

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message 22: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:32PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Bishop Myriel as the comforter:

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message 23: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:31PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Bishop Myriel's chamber:

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message 24: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:31PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Bishop Myriel's garden:

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message 25: by Dianne (last edited Apr 06, 2018 06:31PM) (new)

Dianne | 0 comments The conventionary:

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message 26: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia Great illustrations, Dianne - thanks for sharing.


message 27: by Biblio (new)

Biblio Curious (bibliocurious) | 164 comments This book is shouting my name, I'll start it soon, soon ^.^


message 28: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 80 comments I'm way behind myself, but the discussion is interesting.


message 29: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Biblio, Christopher, no worries - thanks for the update and jump in when you can! Next week gets very juicy so catch up when you can! I’ll post that thread tonight.


message 30: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments Great drawings, etc. Thanks, Dianne. Who did the drawings? Very detailed. And interesting backdrops and edgings on the last two.


message 31: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Great drawings, etc. Thanks, Dianne. Who did the drawings? Very detailed. And interesting backdrops and edgings on the last two."

Thanks! The illustrations I will post throughout are from the 1862 Crowell edition, I cannot find the illustrator referenced though.

description


message 32: by Ami (last edited Apr 08, 2018 03:05PM) (new)

Ami The Remainder of this Section
Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustrious Bishop. If by..."


it's a good point that the Bishop came back a priest - what was he before? He clearly had a different past, yet we know nothing of it.
What I love about Hugo is that often what is revealed about characters, is never directly said...it's read between the lines, through the actions and demeanor of the characters, or even what is written in dialogue form between other characters. He uses a psychological approach, Henry Jamesesque, when divulging certain details.
M. Bienvenu had been formerly, according to the accounts of his youth and even of his early manhood, a passionate, perhaps a violent, man.
Couldn’t we have gathered this through his interaction, from beginning to end, with G—-... he seemed unhinged at the prospect of meeting with this man, didn’t he?

Whatever happened to him, he came back fully representing the principles of his religious faith in my view, and lives by the principles of charity and do unto others...I thought that the Bishop was almost too good, too idealized, but perhaps that is just Hugo drawing his characters to extremes.
I agree with you. What gave me pause about character, I mentioned earlier, was the narrative. Once I finally finished the section, reading about the silverware, the stolen goods given to his parrish, the contempt with which he held Napoleon as a freshman Bishop of Digne, those moments elicited hints of cynicism in the Bishop's character overall. It wasn't until I read Dan's comment about Hugo's intention for Bishop Myriel that it dawned on me what was happening. I would have never guessed it satire myself because I focused too heavily on M. Myriel's progression in becoming a Bishop...a flawed Bishop with only good intentions, I think.
His universal tenderness was less an instinct of nature than the result of a strong conviction filtered through life into his heart, slowly dropping upon him, thought by thought; for a character, as well as a rock, may be worn into by drops of water (Wilbour, 48).
Of course, I too am still wondering what the heck M. Myriel did with those stolen goods after he used them? His nature and trend would allude that he did/will return them to their rightful owners...What did you think?

I read that some versions of this book omitted this first section - so I wonder how integral the Bishop will be to the rest of the book.
Wait...what? You've got to be kidding me! I have become so invested him...to know that this section was completely omitted in some editions is curious. Obviously, you can guess that I've never read "L M;" so, to know that the overall plot will remain unscathed by what what I've read thus far is intriguing to me. Maybe, we revisit this in the final thread? LOL.

In the latter four chapters of this section, I felt Hugo was asking the reader to remain unbiased to what is to follow; M. Myriel being the example of just this as I read the thought provoking dialogue between he and G---. Wasn't it absolutely riveting reading about a pious man who steps foot into G---'s home, full of prejudices, to the man who walks away from witnessing G---'s death after opening his heart to him? It appears the pious man better fulfills his role as Bishop in the aftermath of every death he bears witness. I agree with Xan's comment about this particular dialogue between the two men...powerful and instructive.

Even if the Bishop isn't a critical piece to Hugo's overall objective, I do love the layers Hugo added to Myriel's character, building him up to be the Bishop I understand him to be. Hugo describes the Bishop’s piety as being venerable, but not as righteous as that of Brahmins (if I understood this correctly in the reading). I say, forget about the Brahmins because Myriel seems to be emulating the Jains...”straining a muscle, once, in an an attempt to not step on an ant.”


message 33: by Ami (last edited Apr 08, 2018 01:43PM) (new)

Ami Dan wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95% on board with our illustriou..."


So, those of you who thought the character was "too good" or that no priest would donate those 14,000 livres are right.
I didn't find him too good to be true, I just found him to be perfunctorily flawed. LOL! For the most part, I thought him believable because of that very fact (flawed). I think the consistency in his intentions pacified me.

I enjoyed reading your post, overall...Would have never honed in on the satire. So, thank you for the backstory about that and Hugo's personal belief system.


message 34: by Ami (new)

Ami Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "The Bishop is not unique but is unusual in his rarity. I think his story is foundational to the larger story. Whatever he may have been, however he may have lived, something happens during the revo..."

Their dialogue was one of my favorite moments in Book 1. Your commentary describes it well, and I will keep it in mind as I continue reading.


message 35: by Cindy (last edited Apr 22, 2018 11:47PM) (new)

Cindy Newton | 52 comments I finally made it through the first book! I wish I had more reading time, but it is what it is. I may lag behind, but I will keep reading! The discussion has been so thorough and learned that I don't feel I really have much of substance to add to it.

I did find the Bishop believable, if of a pervasive goodness. His few flaws and his wit were enough to keep him from tipping over into insufferableness. I can see that Hugo meant his goodness to be a reproach to actual priests. I'm not a Catholic and don't know much about it, but I know that in England, the church was one of the few careers that was socially acceptable for the younger sons of gentlemen. I would imagine this led to many clergymen who viewed their position merely as a job and not a divine calling. This lack of a spiritual connection to their position would have led to a more venal attitude. I don't know if this was the same for the Catholic church.

The Roman Catholic Church was, as an entity, very rich and powerful, and priests are human. Wealth + power + humans is a made-from-scratch recipe for corruption.

I guess I'll include my favorite quote from this section: "Be fortunate and you will be thought great . . . Gilt is as good as gold . . . this is what men call genius, just as they call a painted face beauty and a richly attired figure majesty. They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud," (64).


message 36: by Renee (new)

Renee | 23 comments I've fallen behind and just finished the first book. The discussion here has been wonderful to read. I didn't know about Hugo's beliefs before reading the book. There might have been something about it in the introduction, but not that I remember.

I thought the Bishop was believable. He seemed to genuinely care for the people, especially the poor and those that needed the most help. I would love to know more about his backstory though. There are a few hints given, but nothing really explained, and that makes me want to know more. He seems to not get along well with the other priests though because he cares about different things than they do.

My favourite parts in this book were his discussion with G---, and his visit to the Guillotine. His discussion with G--- seemed to have changed his way of thinking quite a bit. When he went there he had his own ideas, but after talking he could see G---'s perspective of things too and what G--- believed was the problem that caused the Revolution to happen. Someone above mentioned the Guillotine described as almost human or dreamlike. I just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities, and it's pretty much described in the same way. The people want to feed La Guillotine the blood she desires (as described somewhat in Two Cities). It almost becomes its own frightening background character.


message 37: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Ami wrote: "The Remainder of this Section
Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superficial as I'm 95..."


perhaps a violent man! It does make you want to learn all about him! It's unfortunate we don't receive any detail. Perhaps if he was based on a real person then readers at the time would fill in the blanks?

the stolen goods - ah I know the answer! I will not reveal.

Having read ahead, I disagree that this beginning section could have been omitted without losing some serious context about another major character...


message 38: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Lorna wrote: "I just have to give my favorite quote from the bishop. "I see what astonishes you; you think that it shows a great deal of pride for a poor priest to use the same conveyance which was used by Jesus..."

I do that all the time with quotes! Don't worry your fellow readers appreciate them! If I were to tell a family member they would say something along the lines of, I guess you had to be there?

I found it really funny too though!


message 39: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Cindy wrote: "I finally made it through the first book! I wish I had more reading time, but it is what it is. I may lag behind, but I will keep reading! The discussion has been so thorough and learned that I don..."

That's great Cindy and thanks for posting! I love your comment: His few flaws and his wit were enough to keep him from tipping over into insufferableness - very true! I had not quite put my finger on why the Bishop was endearing (giving everything away doesn't quite get you there) but I think you identify it perfectly.


I love the quote you shared and had not focused on it when reading - thanks for drawing attention to it. It really makes men seem like idiots with no sense of true values, doesn't it?


message 40: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 0 comments Renee wrote: "I've fallen behind and just finished the first book. The discussion here has been wonderful to read. I didn't know about Hugo's beliefs before reading the book. There might have been something abou..."

thanks for sharing the reference about tale of two cities - that is fascinating! it is so horrifying to think that these executions were a public spectacle - is that proper vengeance? justice? fairness? It is even more alarming how people could watch and then return - I would think most would (should) be like the Bishop and have a visceral aversion.


message 41: by Ami (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "The Remainder of this Section
Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "An Upright Man (M. Myriel...Works Answering Words)
I'm only half way through this section, so this post will be rather superfici..."


perhaps a violent man! It does make you want to learn all about him!
Most definitely, Dianne. I could see this, and i believe it was alluded to as well?

Perhaps if he was based on a real person then readers at the time would fill in the blanks?
But he was, wasn't he? I thought I had read that in this thread. We're talking about Myriel, yes?

the stolen goods - ah I know the answer! I will not reveal.
Exciting. ;)

Having read ahead, I disagree that this beginning section could have been omitted without losing some serious context about another major character...
I'm keeping it in mind as I progress along. I've been detained in the next segment of the reading, will catch up to the discussion soon. Good to know these preliminary pages weren't written in vain.


message 42: by Biblio (new)

Biblio Curious (bibliocurious) | 164 comments This discussion is off to a Moby Dickenson's beginning!! It's going to be a joy to read this with all of you ^.^

When Hugo provided that list of expenses for the bishop, my 1st thought was this man's going to become corrupted & we'll be seeing this descent from perfection. Thanks Dan for providing Hugo's personal views of organized religion. Hugo being satirical is way more fun!

That guillotine ... I'm so glad to have read his short novella, The Last Day of a Condemned Man. Hugo seems very anti-death penalty and that book has that undertone to it. These passages on the guillotine just cinches it. Often, when we hear about these older times & especially Medieval Times, cruel death penalties are mentioned (gratuitously at times, please no details. I'm not interested). I have the impression that not many people vocalized against these forms of death & interrogation.

So I wonder how revolutionary was Hugo to vocalize so strongly in his works against them? Would he be in the minority for this? Was there a quiet agreement on the street where no one enjoyed the spectacle they made of it? (Perhaps some did, those odd folks who are ok with watching this sort of thing as entertainment.) Then history merely recorded these heinous acts but left out the anti-death commentary of the times? I don't associate history books with anti-death sentiments. Being against the death penalty seems like a modern ideal, but it can't be because of how timeless that view is.


message 43: by Hummingbirder (new)

Hummingbirder | 90 comments Biblio wrote: "This discussion is off to a Moby Dickenson's beginning!! It's going to be a joy to read this with all of you ^.^

When Hugo provided that list of expenses for the bishop, my 1st thought was this ma..."


Often in historical fiction, public executions are written as public spectacles, as much a sport as a foot race. But I don't think that's necessarily true. Surely some wanted to witness "justice served." But sometimes one had no choice; it was one's civic duty to attend public executions. I don't know if Hugo was revolutionary in this regard.

But I have a feeling he wasn't. He just wasn't afraid to call out the government on the death penalty. I read the first book in "The Hangman's Daughter" series. The gist was the hangman was necessary, but no one wanted to associate with him or his family.

I think having witnessed an execution deeply affected him. Last summer there was supposed to be an execution by lethal injection in Ohio. A reporter from a local radio station I listen to got a press pass. The execution did not occur because a suitable vein couldn't be located. The reporter described the incident on air and it was clear he was shaken to the bone. I've never heard a reporter become so emotional telling a story.


message 44: by Biblio (new)

Biblio Curious (bibliocurious) | 164 comments The Hangman's Daughter sounds really interesting. It makes sense they would be shunned a bit like that. Even today, there's jobs that we'll raise an eyebrow at or be curious about why/what it's like.

Eep!!! That reporter! That poor man, I can't imagine the anguish during or trauma afterwards.


message 45: by Hummingbirder (new)

Hummingbirder | 90 comments Biblio wrote: "The Hangman's Daughter sounds really interesting. It makes sense they would be shunned a bit like that. Even today, there's jobs that we'll raise an eyebrow at or be curious about why/what it's lik..."

That was the reporter's first, and possibly last time. He's "just" a local reporter, but quite professional. Incidentally, the prisoner since died of natural causes.

The Hangman's Daughter is actually a series. I only read the first volume, and my main takeaway was how the hangman was admired for performing his duties but otherwise was, well, like an untouchable.

Yes, there are jobs today that raise eyebrows. My husband was a garbageman. It's pretty important, but often people think you must be unemployable or lacking skills. Neither of which was true. It is an honorable job.


message 46: by Biblio (new)

Biblio Curious (bibliocurious) | 164 comments It's one of the most important jobs so the entire city can function. He also gets key insight into poverty/crime that's valuable for city planning.

I reached the introduction of Jean & his struggle just to find a place to sleep. It's also a key social problem today. I agree so much with Hugo's views on how prisoners are treated after they're released. Nietzsche says the same thing in Will to Power. That someone could commit a crime but that isn't who they are for the rest of their life. I guess it's the same where if someone donates to a charity once, 30 years ago, that may not be who they are anymore.


message 47: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 2 comments I just joined this group yesterday, because I have been meaning to read Les Mis, and I really like your relaxed reading schedule.

I'm currently at the end of Fantine- Book 1, and I enjoyed the read. I don't have a Catholic background, so I'm sure that some of the subtleties in the text are lost on me. I really liked the Bishop and his entire household- the two old ladies really seem quite dear.

My favorite bit was when the Bishop was walking in the garden and saw a "large, black, hairy, frightful spider". His sister, who was walking behind him, overheard him say "Poor beast! It is not its fault!" There is also earlier mention that "he was not as hostile to insects as a gardener could have wished to see him", and "One day he sprained his ankle to avoid stepping on an ant". It is this instinctive kindness to all the lesser creatures that draws me to him.

At the end of Chapter XII, there is another quote that I really like. In the lines above it, "Be it said in passing that success is a very hideous thing. Its false resemblance to merit deceives men". Hugo goes on for a long paragraph, citing examples to reinforce this statement. Then, at the bottom of the page: "With the constellations of space they confound the stars of the abyss that are made in the soft mire of the puddle by the feet of ducks". I really love that imagery. (Duck feet make the cutest little star-shaped footprints when they walk in mud.)

One thing that really got me curious is when the letter that the Bishop's sister wrote about him is introduced, there is the statement "This letter is in our possession". Who is "our"?


message 48: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments Welcome Suki!

I enjoyed your post, and good point about the bishop's instinctive kindness. Can't help with the letter.


message 49: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia "Our" is the narrator, using a kind of royal we. He inserts himself into the narrative again later, to give an air of verisimilitude and 'evidence' for the (fictional) 'truth' of the story.

Love the ducks' feet!


message 50: by Bron (new)

Bron (bron23) | 49 comments I really enjoy the character of the Bishop. His goodness is beyond what most of us may ever attain, but what a thing to be such a gentle, wise and giving soul. I have not much to add to such a great discussion already. However I will just say that while I knew that this is a great story I wasn't sure how reading Hugo would go. I'm pleased to say I am finding the text easy to read (I am using the Norman Denny translation) and there have already been lots of little gems of quotes.


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