This book is rated I
Ok, I admit that I did not re-read this book. The first time was painful enough. This book has the dubious distinction of being the first to receive the rating I which stands for “Non habit forming cure for Insomnia.”
The story begins in 1815 in Toulon. Jean Valjean is the main character. He has been released from prison. His offense- he stole bread to feed his starving family. He did 19 years for this crime. (See in the U.S.A. this would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition on “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” Although he has paid his debt to society he must carry around a passport which marks him as a former criminal. Well he’s not treated kindly at all; this makes him bitter. One night, he is taken in by the Bishop Myriel and given shelter. Valjean repays the man’s goodness by stealing from him. Of course he is caught the next morning, but the Bishop covers for him by claiming that he had given Valjean the goods. The Bishop goes a step further by reminding Valjean that he forgot to take the candlesticks (silver); he also reminds Valjean that supposedly he made a promise to use the riches to make an honest man of himself. Later on Valjean inadvertantly steals a child’s coin when it rolls under his foot. When he realizes what he has done, he tries to find the child. But by that point, the authorities are onto him. What is worse is that now he would be considered a repeat offender. So he hides.
Next we see Valjean, it is six years later. He has honored the so called promise to the priest and made something of himself. He has become a factory owner and the mayor of Montreuil-su-mer. These days he goes by the name Monsieur Madeleine. During this time period, we are first introduced to the character Fantine. Fantine was seduced then abandoned by her lover, Felix Tholomyes. She places her daughter Cosette in the care of the Thenardiers family. The Thenardiers are unscrupulous innkeepers. They abuse Cosette, meanwhile sending Fantine bills for exorbitant, not to mention non-existent medical bills. Fantine works in Valjean’s factory. However she ends up being fired when the supervisor finds out she is not a virtuous woman. Fantine has little choice but to become a prostitute. When Fantine attacks a man who tries to rape her, she ends up at the mercy of police inspector Javert, who had been a guard where Valjean was imprisoned. Valjean meets Fantine and feels sympathy for her, seeing himself. So he promises to that care of Cosette.
Valjean’s compassion not to mention is unbelievable strength makes Javert suspect that this was his former inmate. Remember Valjean is still a wanted man. Before Javert can act on his suspicions, a witless man claims to be Valjean. However, Valjean reveals himself to save this other man. Valjean eventually escapes and rescues Cosette. They go to Paris and take refuge in a Convent.
Next we see the pair, it is 10 years later. Valjean and Cosette decide to leave the convent. Cosette wants to see the world. Of course fresh out of the convent, Cosette runs into Marius Pontemercy. He’s a student part of the anti-Orleanist movement. They are all about helping the working class. Marius has become estranged from his family because of his views. Anyway, he falls in love with Cosette. Meanwhile the Thenardiers also move to Paris. They’d become considerably poorer through the years. Now they are part of a gang of thieves. They actually rob Valjean’s house. But Marius is there and the Thenardiers eldest daughter Eponine was in love with Marius and convinced the band to leave.
Valjean believes the police have found him again, so he decides to flees with Cosette to London. But a riot breaks out and the streets are barricaded. Marius decides to fight believing he has lost Cosette forever and nearly dies. Valjean goes after Marius only to find Javert on the verge of being killed by the students. Wonder of wonders, Valjean saves Javert’s life by letting him go. Valjean rescues Marius by sneaking him through the sewer system. He runs into Javert who is determined to bring him in. He convinces Javert to let him take Marius to safety first.
Valjean returns to find that Javert has had a change of heart. He cannot reconcile the law and mercy. So Javert throws himself into the river. Marius and Cosette marry, an Valjean reveals that he was a former convict. As a result, Marius tries to keep Cosette away from him. Marius has a change of heart when the Thenardiers reveal the good parts of Valjean’s past in attempt to blackmail Marius. Marius and Cosette rush to Valjean’s side shortly before he dies.
So now I need to explain the rating. In my first year of law school, I had a really hard time sleeping. It would take me three hours to fall asleep. The stress, homework, and working a part-time job kept me up at night. So for my first semester, I was pretty sleep deprived. That’s how I started my coffee addiction. Anyway, my roommate Trish suggested that I try reading as a way to unwind. That greatly helped. So that Christmas, I asked for a whole slew of books. This was one of the ones I received. I don’t think I managed more than 30 pages a night before I was out cold. The worse part was I had to keep going back to remember where I was. Now I read the abridged version. I have heard that the unabridged version contains a 200 page description of the Paris sewer system. Anyway, it took me weeks to finish. As I recall, I finished one Saturday by getting up, having some coffee, and reading from morning till mid-afternoon.
Les Miserables means the miserable ones. The amount of misery in this book was positively staggering! Such senseless cruelty. Punishing people for stealing bread to feed their starving family. Abusing children and taking advantage of a single woman. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of misery we humans can inflict on one another. I’m glad I didn’t live back in that day. We take much for granted.
Anyway, just for fun I created an interactive crossword puzzle for this book. It is Les Miserables Crossword Puzzle.xls The way it works is that the red corners are the clues. Hold your cursor over it. Where the words overlap, I’ve set it so that the correct letter should turn some shad of green. The wrong letter will turn red. Hopefully it will work.