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Les Misérables
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2018/19 Group Reads - Archives > Les Miserables - Week 08 (09/22 - 09/28)

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message 1: by Gem , Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gem  Paullin | 749 comments Mod
This week wraps up the second Volume - Cosette.

In last week's reading, we were introduced to the environment of the convent. This week we learned more about the convent, the women and children who lived there, and many of their protocols/traditions. Why do you think Hugo dedicated wrote such a detailed description of the convent?

Cosette was never more fortunate than when she left the home of the socially “respectable” Thénardiers to be raised by a feared ex-convict. How is this an indictment of Hugo’s society’s criteria for respectability? What are the Thénardiers symbolic or symptomatic of? How does Cosette change Jean Valjean’s attitude toward life? How does Jean Valjean change Cosette's attitude toward life?

At the end of Chapter VIII we there is a comparison between the convent and a prison. Do you think that is a fair assessment in spite of the peace and happiness Jean Valjean in the convent?


message 2: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments When Fauchelevent discovered Jean Valjean at the convent he said that he was there because Jean Valjean put him there. I did not understand yet what he meant. I thought that later I would discover why he said that. Considering Jean Valjean ability to meet bad people I fear Fauchelevent be one of them.


message 3: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Sep 25, 2019 12:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
Rafael wrote: "When Fauchelevent discovered Jean Valjean at the convent he said that he was there because Jean Valjean put him there. I did not understand yet what he meant. I thought that later I would discover ..."

Back when JVJ saved Fauchelevent's life, JVJ got him a job in the convent because he was too injured to do his old job. I don't remember if it said how he had any connection to the convent. Of course it's an amazing coincidence, or an act of God, that JVJ unknowingly ends up there.

In the TV version they got around all this, by just having JVJ show up and plead for help for himself and Cosette in exchange for him doing work on the grounds. It wasn't so impossible for an outsider to talk to the Mother Superior in that version. I don't think the Fauchelevent character was even there. That interpretation makes the church look better. The Bishop was kind to JVJ and the always-truthful sister lied for him and then this convent took them in. In the book, the Mother Superior did it because of her need to get around government rules to follow what she sees as spiritual duty.

I found the story with the graveyard very dramatic. This book came out almost 20 years after The Count of Monte Cristo, where the hero escapes in the place of a dead man. (Hugo and Dumas were contemporaries and got ideas from each other for plays and novels.) There was a also a certain dark humor to the way Fauchelevent reacted to the presence of the new man at the cemetery.


message 4: by Linda (new)

Linda | 207 comments I have only just finished Book Seven which was hard. I feel I only have begun to understand Hugo’s beliefs and thoughts. However, as with Waterloo, I believe/expect this section necessary for the reader to have the context for JVJ’s experiences in the convent. Here’s a summary of what I was thinking as I read through this section. I hope it’s understandable! One note I learned from outside reading is that Hugo did not see himself as a Catholic or Christian, but he did believe in God.
Hugo through the narrator talks about his belief in the Infinite, though not specifically Christian or Catholic. There is only one reference to the Catholic tradition of communion- take of my blood and flesh. He sees the belief in the Infinite as the basis for man’s progress- a progress towards an ideal. The Infinite embodies and models all that is good and worthy for man to emulate. This contrasts with the religious life of the Catholic convent and monastery which are ways of life the narrator considers outmoded in the present day of liberty and rationality. He condemns the cloistered life as containing many who have not independently chosen it but are victims, whose will is subjugated to the the harsh all consuming conditions of the convent or monastery. (Recently I read Diderot’s novel The Nun which describes the life of a young woman put into a convent by her family and the absolute horrors of this life.)
I find the metaphorical comparison with Christ as a naked youth, the nun as odalisque (naked woman of ill repute or at least seduction) and the priests as eunuchs with rapture occurring in the cells as very strange. I don't see how the religious could have found this comparison anything short of despicable. To transform what should be an ideal of religious devotion totally separate from the world to one of the most human behaviors. Also the requirement of hell on earth, of suicide as Hugo terms it for the promise of eternal salvation in heaven.
“We are for religion against the religions.” I think this statement simply declares Hugo’s religious belief.
Hugo ends with some more positive statements about the cloistered. Although their belief not shared by the narrator, he still maintains an awe, a pity mixed with envy for those who wait between the world closed to them and heaven and future eternity. I expect that these softened statements might be necessary to provide sympathy for upcoming characters.


message 5: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments Robin wrote: "Rafael wrote: "When Fauchelevent discovered Jean Valjean at the convent he said that he was there because Jean Valjean put him there. I did not understand yet what he meant. I thought that later I ..."

Thank you. I did not remember reading it or I went over it when I read it.


message 6: by Linda (new)

Linda | 207 comments Book 8 certainly takes us through a roller coaster of events with JVJ and Cosette happy and at peace for now at least. It is actually extraordinary to me that while Hugo/the narrator has such a negative view of the life these nuns have either chosen or been forced into, he can push past this personal view, which the narrator explicitly states he is doing, to provide JVJ’s reaction to this life.

It now makes sense that Hugo goes into such detail describing the cloistered life and the specifics of this convent. It accomplishes both an understanding of Hugo’s personal opinion and the profound effect the harsh, self-sacrificial lives of these nuns have on JVJ as he compares their voluntary expiation versus the forced punishment for sins committed by convicts such as himself. Hugo makes it clear that JVJ might not have achieved a total salvation if he had not come to the convent where his feelings of unworthiness vacated the potentially evil vanity which had been creeping into his character. While JVJ profited from the example of the nuns, his is a unique case not only because of his background as a convict and his journey to redemption but also because society as a whole has no real knowledge or understanding of the lives of the nuns which might serve as inspiration for others as well.

Fauchelevent certainly comes through for JVJ. At first it seemed he was not too clever as JVJ needed to suggest having him leave in the coffin intended for Mother Crucifixion. But Fauchelevent’s relentless effort in manipulating and finally tricking the new gravedigger finally proved his cleverness. In addition, he serves as an example that strict adherence to law is morally secondary to helping those who have helped you- in Fauchelevent’s case the nuns and JVJ. A counterpoint to Javert’s motivation.


message 7: by Piyangie (last edited Sep 30, 2019 02:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Piyangie | 167 comments Book 8 presents yet another interesting episode of JVJ' s life. He keeps on offering us fresh drama which keeps us readers in suspense. The stunt he pulled this time was quite dangerous. But happily for all of us, it worked well.

It was nice to see a grateful man in Fauchelevent. For a simple countrymen he does possess a resourceful mind.

The section nicely winds up the story with JVJ and Cosette finally finding a permanent place to live on without further trouble from Javert. Cosette is getting on an education from the boarding school of the convent which is an additional advantage.


message 8: by JJ (last edited Oct 10, 2019 07:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

JJ | 45 comments It is sort of funny how Hugo goes on about the convent. He seems to talk harshly about the convent for this section. For all of the strictness and following of rules, they choose to break the law. The law, which as mention about giving taxes to Cesar, God told them to obey. Now, they decide to break the rules (which would be considered a sin, since the governmental law about burials doesn't go against God) and they justify this because they consider this "mother" to be "righteous" one might say. Yet, the bible tells us not to judge and saying that she was a "saint" would be a judgment.

My favorite part was JVJ's escape. I felt skeptical of Fauchelevent. I didn't think he was going to be much help, but he turned out to be a resourceful man.


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