Bonjour mes amis et bienvenue à la troisième semaine de #MiserablesMay! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, long story short: I decided reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in the space of the month of May would be a good idea. (I was wrong.) If you’re curious about the intended weekly schedule and organisation of this, be sure to check out my announcement post or the post of my co-host Liz.
Despite the fact that “week two” ended up extending into quite a lot of the third week, I knew that we were reaching a part of the book that I had read (and studied) before so I was hopeful that this would be a saving grace when it came to catching up to my (in hindsight, rather optimistic) reading schedule for Les Misérables. This week I also went to see a couple of shows at the theatre and whilst you think that would mean I struggled more to keep up, in fact, it helped; I went to see Ian McKellen’s tour when he swung by Liverpool on Friday night and I had a good two hours to kill between work and heading over to the theatre so I camped out in Pret and read some of the Brick. I’m glad I did because it meant I’m here, on Sunday afternoon, not as stressed as normal whilst I frantically try to catch up with my reading.
Recap of Volume Three: Marius
The last volume finished on a potentially optimistic note: Valjean had firmly become a Fauchelevent and he and Cosette were semi-safely cloistered (literally) in a convent, so it wouldn’t be ridiculous to presume that we’re setting up for Valjean to have yet another miraculous transformation in Paris. Speaking of Paris, the volume opens with ‘Paris Atomized’, that is to say, Victor Hugo explores the city of Paris of the time through the figure of the gamin, the street urchin, which he says expresses the city and the city expresses the world. Although these semi-digressions have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself, I kind of love getting lost in Hugo’s prose when he talks about Paris.
Hugo refocuses his attention to one particular gamin, Gavroche, whose parents deserted him to the streets but whom he still goes home to visit, at number 50-52, the Gorbeau building. Because Hugo never reveals a number of a prisoner or house without it being important, it’s safe to assume the building and its occupants (the wretchedly poor Jondrette family and a very poor young man named M. Marius) will be vitally important to the rest of the tale.
This is where the narrative takes a detour, however, to the character of M. Gillenormand who is one of those “grand bourgeois” sorts that this section of the book is named after. Basically he’s very rich and pompous and he doesn’t bother to let his servants have their own names – he calls all the female servants Nicolette, presumably so he doesn’t have to bother remembering more than one name. I think saying that tells you everything you would need to know about the man. He had two wives by whom he had a daughter each, one of whom remained unmarried and kept his home for him and the other of whom married (for love) a soldier who had served at Austerlitz and made a colonel at Waterloo, something Gillenormand considers a disgrace to his family. Despite all this, he took in his grandson from this union and the quiet little boy could often be seen trailing M. Gillenormand at church.