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Les Misérables
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Les Miserables > Les Mis - Cosette, Books 3-4

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Dianne | 1267 comments Cosette, Book 3

It is amazing how Hugo manages to relate the story of Cosette going to fetch water into a horrifying tale of stark misery and terror. She has been stripped of almost all elements of humanity other than fear, and submits to such constant abuse, knowing no other treatment during her short lifetime. I didn't quite follow how JV managed to encounter her, in the middle of the night, in the forest. What are the odds? And it seems coincidental, as he had an 'electric shock' like experience when he recognized who it was. Madame Thenardier was the epitome of evil in her pure hatred at watching Cosette play with the doll JV purchased her - she could not tolerate Cosette being treated as a human being. I am hopeful that we will not encounter the Thenardiers again - but I think that is wishful thinking!


Dianne | 1267 comments In book 3, why do you think JV is so obviously careless with money? The Thenardiers are able to quickly realize his worth despite his shabby dress and are eager to take advantage - even if he doesn't care about material wealth, shouldn't he be more shrewd so that he isn't taken advantage of and so that the money he does have goes towards a good end?


Dianne | 1267 comments Cosette, Book 4 - I loved this section because it was a beautiful example of how love (and I feel both the words 'beautiful' and 'love' don't do justice to what is being demonstrated here) is so restorative and joyful even for those who have lived their entire lives bereft of it. Cosette has been beaten her whole life and treated far worse than a household pet, yet she immediately trusts JV and is quick to fall into a daily routine of happiness and trust. JV as a 55 year old adult has no recollection of any type of love, and all possible forms he might have experienced seem to combine into a profound love for this young girl, and he feels he could live forever in the light of her love for him. The nosy old woman and the mysterious new lodger of course will pose problems for the happy pair, they can never catch a break!


Hummingbirder | 90 comments Dianne wrote: "In book 3, why do you think JV is so obviously careless with money? The Thenardiers are able to quickly realize his worth despite his shabby dress and are eager to take advantage - even if he doesn..."

M. Thenardier never lets a possibility of exploitation pass. I think JV allows this because he sees Cosette and has plans of his own. Also, he must abide by his promise to be a good man, which means he can't take advantage of the Thenardiers. And he is a convict. He must do nothing to draw attention to himself.

Cosette knows it wasn't Mme. Thenardier who left the money in her shoe. It had to be the one person who showed her a kindness. And I agree, this pairing is lovely and beautiful and loving. JV and Cosette need each other. I didn't even realize this as I read, only just now. I thought he was trying to help Fantine's child, but he does need Cosette. He needs someone to love.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I think there are a couple of reasons why he is careless with money.

1. As he soon as he sees Cosette he can think only of getting her out of there and isn’t focusing on trying to hide the money he has

2. He wants to hurt the Thenardiers. He can see their cruelty and how badly they have treated Cosette and he also sees their greed. Cosette being saved by a man who clearly has some means, however suspicious, will hurt them more than her being taken away by a pauper. I think this is one of the reasons he bought her the doll.

I also really enjoyed book 4. It was lovely to see the relationship between Cosette and Valjean and how much the need each other. I am glad Valjean finally had some happiness. I am intrigued by the mysterious new lodger, I am sure something bad will happen soon after a couple of positive chapters!


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Dianne- I agree with all your points about book 3. I thought I had missed something as I couldn’t figure out how Valjean and Cosette had met.

I have just realised, this echos how JV came across the boy after he left the bishop. Now he has learnt to show kindness by carrying the bucket (even before he knew it was the child he was looking for)

The descriptions of Cosette walking to get water were chilling and really emphasised how badly she had been treated for six years- what a cruel thing to do, to send a child out in the dark into the countryside on her home with a heavy bucket. It was so sad


Roman Clodia Heather, I like your second point about money (@#5). I was thinking that JV appreciates money for what it can do, not as a means in itself: it's what gives him the power to foil the Thenardiers and rescue Cosette.

Hugo's certainly keeping us on an emotional roller-coaster: just when we think things might work out, up pops Javert again! (Well, and the fact that we still have 800 pages to go!)

I really like the detail in these books which is what makes this a chunkster - other writers might have streamlined the story but while Hugo draws it out, it never becomes dull.


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Francis | 3 comments Very interesting thoughts. I agree with Heather regarding her thoughts on Jean Valjean and money


message 9: by Xan (last edited May 08, 2018 09:12AM) (new) - added it

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments Just finished book 3. Great writing, mood setting. Hugo conveys Cosette's plight without being overly disturbing in doing so. Good points made about JV spending money. I liked it even better when JV pulled out the note from Fantine after making sure Thenardier saw the very full billfold, but it was at a price. He had to reveal some sort of relationship with Cosette's mother to do so. One thing was missing -- a good throttling of Thenardier by JV in the woods, but I guess you can't have everything.

I'm sure we'll see Thenardier again. He'll never get over JV's outsmarting him, and now he's armed with information to identify him. JV probably has two after him now, Javert and Thenardier.


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Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments The first part of book 4 was really good. As the narrator says, after all that has happened JV could easily return to the dark side, but there is Cosette, and each is the other's savior.

The part about Javert, if it is Javert, is a bit contrived, I think. Javert doesn't need to slink around. This is a poor area, and the denizens have no rights or consideration. He could have grabbed some gendarmes and burst in to determine if it is JV. But then he'd be arrested, and Cosette would be returned to the Thenardiers, or worse, and we'd have 800 more pages of I don't know what to read. So good.

I thought at the very end of Ch. 4 JV was leaving to never return. We'll see if he's chased. I'm betting he is but escapes, yet again. JV and escaping is becoming a motif of this story.


message 11: by Xan (last edited May 09, 2018 09:47AM) (new) - added it

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 251 comments PS: For a bit there I thought all his money would be stolen. Nail biting time.


Renee | 23 comments Mme Thenardier is just evil in the way she treats Cosette. She even seems disgusted by her own son, and wants nothing to do with him because she only likes the girls. Sending Cosette out in the dark to fetch water with a bucket she can barely carry is just cruel. The writing in that chapter is wonderful, and lets us put ourselves in Cosette's shoes and see how terrified she is. Jean Valjean comes upon her in the woods, but he's described in the next part as not wanting to go through the town streets and sticking to the darkness and the woods. I had thought that he also might be looking for something, because it's mentioned that he looks at the stones and the dirt to see if it's been dug up lately.

Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "One thing was missing -- a good throttling of Thenardier by JV in the woods, but I guess you can't have everything."

He definitely would have deserved one!

Book 4 was wonderful. It's already mentioned above, but Valjean and Cosette need each other. "Jean Valjean had never loved anything. For twenty-five years he had been alone in the world, never a father, a lover, husband, or friend...Nothing had ever touched the heart of that ex-convict...But when he had seen Cosette, something had stirred within him." He's forgotten his family from so long ago, and has never known what it felt to love someone or be loved by someone. Cosette is what he needs to go on. Cosette has only known misery living with the Thenardiers, and she trusts him immediately, and starts calling him father. She doesn't know her mother, and also doesn't know what it is to be loved. I think these two people needed to find each other to continue or else they both would have been miserable.

As for the person he sees that he thinks is Javert. I don't know why Javert wouldn't arrest him since he's an escaped convict again. Valjean isn't sure it's him, and is trying to talk himself out of it, so maybe we are supposed to be unsure like he is? But the he goes back home and there is a new boarder, whom he again thinks is Javert. Then it's back on the run, and hopefully they can find somewhere to hide from Javert and live in peace.

It took me a while, but finally I'm all caught up! Now just to read this next week's chapters.


Hummingbirder | 90 comments Renee wrote: "Mme Thenardier is just evil in the way she treats Cosette. She even seems disgusted by her own son, and wants nothing to do with him because she only likes the girls. Sending Cosette out in the dar..."

I think this is a most delicious irony. The con man M. Thenardier is in debt to his ears because his wife spends all their money. And she certainly knows the value of conning, but has no ability to do it. So he can never pay the bills and she's stuck in a dumpy inn.

It's also lovely how Jalvert and Cosette take to each other right away, though they're strangers.

If memory serves, Jalvert set Valjean up at the boarding house. He's a pretty smart guy. It's too bad he got hungry and stole that loaf of bread in the first place.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments I think the money is such a beautiful scene. Here is young Cosette, in whose entire memory, her whole life has been about how much money she costs the Thernadiers, and how much money she can bring into the household...and for the first time in her life, someone walks in who doesn't so much as blink when an outrageous sum is tossed out for her price. Not only does JV think she's absolutely that valuable, but he allows her to know it (if I recall correctly, she observes the exchange between them, from a distance?) What kind of message does that send to this child who has never had any value in her entire life! No wonder she loves him as a father!

It has biblical imagery, too: that of the sacrifice of something of value (not only the money he pays, but also the giving up of the life he could lead, making the purpose of his life the protection and joy of hers) for someone who could never, ever hope to pay it back. Yes, maybe out of guilt, but I think ultimately out of real love.


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Cindy Newton | 52 comments Cosette provides Jean Valjean with what he needs both emotionally and spiritually. Finally, he has someone to love who loves him in return. Unbeknownst to him, he has craved this his entire life, as humans do. He finally has someone who is his, as all of the fair-weather friends and supporters of Monsieur le Maire were not. Cosette's love for him is not based on his social status or his bank account. This fills his emotional emptiness.

Spiritually, Cosette represents the continuation of the sacred vows he made upon his reformation. She is the greater good that he must continue to serve--protecting her and caring for her is his way of continuing to atone for his previous sins. He promised Fantine that Cosette would be taken care of, and he is unable to guarantee this from prison. He is honor bound to stay with her.


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Bron (bron23) | 49 comments What a ride! I am loving this story. It's ups and downs. I thought we had seen the last of Javert though I agree it does seem unlikely that he would be so surreptitious in seeing if it was JV that had been spotted.


I loved the paragraph in book 4 about the doll and womanhood. 'To care for it, adorn it, dress and undress it, give it lessons, scold it a little, put it to bed and sing it to sleep, pretend that the object is a person - all the future of the woman resides in this.' I think this paragraph quite sharply observes and summarises the female path of the time and the way it was expected for little girls to grow and what to develop into.


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