Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – Part Three: Marius



Hugo opens Part Three with a depiction of a street urchin: known simply as le gamin. Such children were turned out to live in the streets because of abject poverty or, as in the case of the Thénardiers and their son Gavroche, the families simply didn’t want them. There, in the streets, these children learned to survive—or they died. If they survived, they lived lives that were amazingly free, to barely paraphrase Kris Kristofferson’s famous song. So Hugo’s gamin becomes an archetype of the underclass, free to express oneself as one chooses, to live as one chooses, but in poverty.
Once again Hugo follows with a study in contrasts. In a subsequent chapter, we learn in detail of the family and lifestyle of Monsieur Gillenormand, an old man who had been a carefree rake in his youth. The Revolution had left his understanding of French society stranded in another century; hence he was a Royalist. To add to his angst, his daughter had married a soldier of Napoleon’s Republican army. And who was this soldier? Baron Pontmercy, who had died at Waterloo and who Thénardier claims to have saved.
Now Hugo introduces us to Gillenormand’s grandson, Marius. The old man would have loved to have made of his grandson an extension of his own ego, but as we in modern times know, this sort of aspiration for our descendants rarely works out. Marius has grown up as a rather serious, austere young man; he takes life seriously, intends his life to be meaningful. Quite the opposite of the formerly philandering old man.
Marius’ father is an unknown in the boy’s life until an accidental comment or two by M. Mabeuf, the churchwarden, informs him that Marius is the son of Baron Pontmercy. And Marius soon discovers that the Baron believed a soldier named Thénardier saved his life.
This mesmerizes Marius. He begins to visit his father’s grave— secretly, of course—and searches for Thénardier.
As Marius fumbles his way through this segment of his life, he makes the acquaintance of other young men destined to be revolutionary street fighters: Enjolras, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Prouvaire, Bahorel, and others. Marius, who is hardly one to strike a political pose, slowly comes under these young men’s influence. Liberty, particularly of the social kind, has been an undercurrent in France since the Revolution, and that seems to be what these men are after. From them, Marius comes to understand that while such freedom can be an indulgence, it can also hold more substance than the sort of nationalistic “freedom” Napoleon was famous for. He begins to carve out his own version of freedom, becoming a lawyer, but choosing to life in virtual poverty and making his living from translating books—his newly discovered passion.
His passion, that is, until he sees a fetching young lady on the mean streets where he lives. Of course, it’s Cosette, accompanied by M. Fauchelevent, our Valjean.
While Marius falls in love with Cosette from afar, other characters lurk these streets, these destined to cause trouble for Marius, Cosette, and Valjean: four men with alias names, Babet, Claquesous, Montparnasse, and Gueulemer. He also encounters Éponine, a daughter of the Jondrette family (this is our Thénardier family again), who is also destined to meddle in the story's affairs.
As the meddling begins, Javert returns to add his own to the mix. He recruits Marius to spy on the Thénardiers. Watching through a peephole, Marius is aghast to discover that the four above-named villains are set to accost Cosette’s father, to rob and possibly kill him, that the Jondrette man is Thénardier, Marius’ father's supposed savior. (Oh, and by the way, Valjean escapes both Javert and Thénardier.)
And so Marius is quickly torn between the father of Cosette and the man for whom he has been searching, Thénardier.
This Part ends with the Thénardier son, Gavroche, discovering that his mother and father have been taken to prison by Javert. Not so oddly, it turns out, Gavroche doesn’t mind.
What’s Hugo up to in this Part Three? Two things come to mind:
· In a broad-brush manner, Hugo wants us to see that personal freedom can be a chaotic albatross on society if handled immaturely, but that, handled in a constructive manner, it can also be a saving grace to the well-off, who are cramped by social position. It can also be a godsend to the poor, who find their only liberation within an oppressive social structure in such individuated liberty.
· In a personal context, as in Hugo’s depiction of characters as divergent as Gavroche and Marius, this part of the novel demonstrates that personal freedoms of the sort that had yet to permeate French society could actually add new structure to social life, and in a more meaningful and benevolent way.
Next post will take us to the most exciting and cinematic section of Hugo’s book, events leading to and including the April Revolution of 1832.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – Part One: Fantine



Those who have only a peripheral acquaintance with Les Misérables will find it surprising that its Book One opens, not with Jean Valjean, but with one Charles Myriel, the Bishop of Digne. Myriel has descended from a well-to-do French family, but his devotion to God has caused him to shun all wealth, even the somewhat affluent trappings of his office. To the people of his bishopric, he’s a saint.
One day, a scruffy, beggarly man passes by: this time it’s Jean Valjean, just released after nineteen years on a slave galley. Earlier, he’d tried unsuccessfully to steal bread to feed his sister and her children, and was sentenced to fourteen years on the galley. Then five more years were added due to escape attempts. Even though now released, his passport marks him as a former convict, a man not to be trusted. Still, the bishop insists that Valjean board overnight in his home. But succumbing to his unfounded reputation, Valjean steals a set of silver candleholders from the bishop’s house. Naturally, Valjean is caught again. But the bishop insists to police officers that he’s given Valjean the candleholders. In fact, after the police leave, he allows the convict to keep the candleholders, with a proviso: he’s to use them to become an honest man.
As we’ll see at other times with other characters, such kindness sets Valjean into a spiritual and psychological turmoil; he doesn’t know how to react – except to thank God.
In order to escape his past, and to avoid the supremely focused policeman Javert, Valjean becomes Monsieur Madeline – an enterprising businessman, a philanthropist, and eventually mayor of the town of Montreuil-sur-mer.
In Book Three, Hugo finally introduces us to Fantine. She’s a working class girl – one of four – who has her eye on a well-off playboy type, Tholomyès. He and three of his male friends toy with the four girls, treat them cavalierly, and Fantine ends up pregnant with Tholomyès child, Cosette.
Fantine has a hard time supporting herself and Cosette, and bargains to leave the child with the Thénardier family, who are destined to be the villains of Hugo’s piece. They treat Cosette cruelly and continually increase their price of keeping the child. Fantine becomes distraught and penniless because of this – and she’s threatened with prison, only to be saved by M. Madeline.
Javert begins to meddle in the affair. He informs Madeline that someone has been arrested for stealing apples; the supposed perp is thought to be the ex-convict Valjean. Madeline deliberates, trying to decide if he should sit tight and let this man, Champmathieu, be sent to the galleys as Valjean. But he can’t do this; he travels to the trial in the town of Arras and proclaims himself to be Valjean. Champmathieu is acquitted and Madeline returns home, where Fantine is dying. Following her death, Madeline tacitly assumes responsibility for Cosette. But Javert has come to take Madeline to prison. Of course, the town of Montreuil-sur-mer is set on its ear by the news, and Madeline becomes universally shunned.
Here, Hugo is giving us a micro-view of French society. The rich have no use for the poor, as personified by Fantine’s treatment by Tholomyès, and his friends. Yet the poor have little use for one another (example: the Thénardiers) due to the brutal conditions of the underclass.
But why has Hugo introduced Myriel at the book’s beginning? Clearly, to depict two things: first, society doesn’t have to operate in the above manner. Myriel is of rich origins, and he’d consummately compassionate. Also, Hugo seems to want to set Myriel apart as an instrument of God, believing that only by such divine intervention can French society be set to rights.
As he says of Myriel: “What was this surplus of love? It was a serene benevolence, flowing over all people…”
But Hugo also wishes to note that same divine spark in the secular world as well, even in society’s dregs. He allows Cosette to become known as The Lark, a delicate, beautiful being among these damaged dregs. But he wants us to be aware that this spark is fragile, that the brutality and harshness of French underclass life can snuff out even this whisper of the divine.
Javert, then, is the implement of enforcing the status quo on these poor, with no consideration for or conception of kindness and compassion.
And what of M. Madeline? He’s Hugo’s vehicle of passage (at this point) through French society. He’s a convict on the lam, an exemplar of France’s growing middle class, who has made himself wealthy and has brought up with him those who work in his factory. As well, he champions the all-too-poor whom he continually helps, despite their minimal “value” to local society. He has indeed taken Myriel’s admonishment to heart.
What’s relevant here to us of the twenty-first century is that M. Madeline is an example of what can be done by one person in upholding human dignity and protecting it from threat by selfish callousness.
On the next post, we’ll move on to Part Two and one of Hugo’s grander digressions – the Battle of Waterloo.

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Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – An Overview


For the past three summers, I’ve picked some rather voluminous reads to get me through the hots and humids of North Carolina. Two years ago, it was War and Peace. Last year, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. This year, I decided to take on Hugo’s fabled tome, Les Misérables. Of the three, I have fewer quibbles with Les Misérables. While it’s overlong by today’s standards and, as Tolstoy’s W&P did, it digresses often. However, Hugo’s digressions seem more connected to his story than Tolstoy’s. (A caveat: in both, one gets a sense of the nation’s sensibilities at the time of writing, wrapped in an ample dose of eighteenth century European history.) Based on my read, Hugo was no doubt the preeminent master of creative writing in his day. His characters are vivid, believable, and consistently drawn throughout this long text. There are few “dead spots” here; his story is well paced and it’s easy to follow, despite the length.

If you writers out there have taken years, even a decade, to finish a manuscript, take heart. Some seventeen years elapsed from the time Hugo began to write Les Miz until the book was published, in 1862. It’s organized into five parts; the first part, “Fantine,” was published separately, possibly as a trial balloon. I suspect the book was written to be published in its five parts, as sequels, although this apparently didn’t happen. Why do iI think so? Hugo’s narrator often repeats things at strategic places in the story, reminding the reader of previously introduced characters and events.

Les Miz is reputed to have been the most hyped book of its day, and Hugo’s thinly veiled impersonations of real-life people – the way Hugo depicted them – scandalized certain upper-crust segments of the French populace.

But what can be said of Hugo and his story in an overarching way? My first impression was that, at a time when European literature seemed to dwell on the well-to-do (much as popular American writing does today), Hugo reached into the dregs of society for literary inspiration. He didn’t blink at the tawdry side of French life, nor at the way the lower classes were treated by both the law and by society in general. In fact, this is perhaps the grandest irony in western literature: his view of post-1879-1799, revolutionary France seems all too much like the France of Louis Quatorze and Marie Antoinette. He orchestrates his characters’ actions within the plot to show how they become criminal-like under the duress of acute poverty and oppression. But he also shows that the dimmest lights of compassion among these poor, or by someone outside that poor state, can resurrect the human’s soul’s best qualities.

Secondly, Les Miz is perhaps the most socially subversive novel I’ve ever read. Hugo describes the psychology of the French urge to revolt, this time after the Napoleonic era. He depicts how to hold the troops of his day at bay, how revolutionaries could continually elude capture during and after street fighting. If one were to study how to manage the day-to-day operations of a civil revolt, he/she would do well to use Les Miz as a primer.

Besides these socio-political nuances, Hugo dwells in his asides on the history and geography of France, Paris in particular – even on the engineering marvel that is the sewer system of Paris. This last is perhaps a clearly intended, extended metaphor for the people who lived at the lower reaches of French society.

But a final irony regarding Hugo: the European Enlightenment is in full swing at this time, with secular values surmounting a class structure based on rule by royalty and a religious hierarchy. The French Revolution is all about abolishing this structure and supplanting it with mass rule and non-religious values. Clearly, Hugo is a part of this evolving ethos. But time and again he finds his own examples of Divine intervention in the doings of his characters – and by implication in the evolution of the French Republic.

It struck me that Les Miz has been the godparent to European Modernist literature. This text involved probably the first literary evidence of European anomie, the sociological and psychological unease that seemed to undermine the European urge to rational perspectives and reason prior to World War I. His protagonist, Jean Valjean is both heroic and antiheroic – a vulnerable, deeply troubled man who managed to do good things. Hugo also makes the reader work hard to divine meaning in his story – intending, I’m sure, to say life is that way. Clearly, there’s little in the complexities of Hugo’s characters and the events of their lives to suggest an overt sense of meaning to life in post-revolution France.

An aside: I have nothing but good things to say about Julie Rose’s translation and scrupulous body of underlying notes. She traffics not only in making Hugo’s text work in English, but in taking idioms of that day and transforming them into the feel of modern vernacular.

Over the next five posts, I plan to synopsize the five sections of Les Misérables and, hopefully to use examples to justify the above overview. It’ll be fun for me – hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

FYI


The following are quoted passages from hitchnews about the publishing game as we know it today. This is a pretty lengthy post, but if you’re launching a book this year, be patient! Read! Heed!
Author Incentives and Marketing
Problems…exist in the way products are marketed and produced and these problems are weighing heavily in the industry’s low financial state. Shel Horowitz, a publishing/marketing consultant, commented on some problems being created by the publishers. “When publishers invest $30K or so to bring out a new book, it's absurd to have only a couple of month’s window. Publishers need to think more in terms of backlist and less about the immediate instant hit that's gone in three months. Most books have far more potential than is realized, but it takes time.”
Horowitz also blamed publishers for their premature advances saying, “ Advances are too extreme… A writer can't be motivated to do much marketing to earn out a $2-5000 advance, and a publisher is going to be hard-pressed to earn back an advance in the seven or high-six figures.”
However, we cannot blame publishers for unrealistic investments and say this is the only problem. According to expert advice, writers, editors and publishers need be narrow-minded on what is published and look for ways to promote and market the silenced voices. “Acquisitions people need to pay attention to both quality AND platform; its swung way too far toward platform lately, and a lot of important voices are not being heard,” said Horowitz.
Francine L. Trevens, Chair emeritus Greater New York Independent Publishers Association said “…Authors should be given freedom to write with fewer demands…There are creative ways to sell books of interest to special niches and if the publishers spent more time on that, they could publish a wider variety of books that would make a decent profit and keep the book industry alive and exciting.”
Trevens also claims that writers are cutting out publishers because it is more beneficial for them to do the work themselves. “Because publishers have ceased to do the full range of work for books they publish, there is this vast migration to self-publishing. If author must do so much of work, why take so little in way of recompense from traditional publisher?”
Maybe a bit of redirection and revising to cut costs is exactly what’s needed in the publishing industry. Perhaps it is beneficial to skip the steps that are only proving to be most costly rather than beneficial.
Distribution
As in most industries, a product is made, taken through the chain of distribution, everyone takes their piece of the pie, the consumer buys the product and voila, that’s it (yes, some companies do follow up to reduce cognitive dissonance, but we’re not counting that here).
However, publishing is not the only industry that realizes a need for change to restore profit and for some companies this means tightening up the chain of distribution and taking matters into your own hands. It’s a pretty simple concept: if you can cut out middlemen in certain transactions, then do so, and that’s more money in your pocket. Some companies are already taking charge and changing the face of distribution. Case in point: Anheuser Beer Company.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article we read that Anheuser is looking for ways to cut costs – and squeezing the most out of their distribution is a high priority on their agenda. The possibility of eliminating distribution services from product sales, and directly delivering the beer to the stores would put a lot more money back into the company. The plan is for about 50% of Anheuser’s sales to come from direct to retailer. This seems like a logical idea, considering the potential savings once the ‘middle man’ is gone. This idea accepts that middle men are necessary for certain transactions, and they do have benefits, but are not always needed.
The Who, What, and Where of Marketing
Marketing encompasses the 4 P’s, or your marketing mix. These are the elements that come together to form your marketing plan. So, when you talk about marketing, you are talking about your product, price, promotion and distribution (place).
Promotion is highly important because you have to define who your target market and target audience are, and use promotional tools such as advertising, direct mailings, social media, public relations, trade shows to reach these individuals.
We will explore ways to pinpoint your target audience, go over a few effective marketing strategies, and find the best locations to market your genre.
Know WHO your audience is: In order to effectively target an audience in your genre, you must clearly understand and define who your target market really is. You can also narrow down your target market by defining your target audience. For example, specifically define what genre your book is: If you have a historical Romance book your target market would be Romance readers, but you can narrow this audience down a bit by targeting Historical Romance readers as well.
Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about your target audience.
“I worked in an industry that saw generational welfare recipients and had been one as a child and then adult. I needed to find information that showed how to get off welfare to help my own clientele when I became a social worker. I wrote a book to assist my own clients and… I originally printed and marketed myself… I got interest by demonstrating success stories from that book and using my own personal story.” Said author Tracy Lee Harvey whose book has sold over 5000 copies in Australia & N.Z and more worldwide.
“Get clear on your audience. Don't try to write for "everybody" …It's much easier to sell to a specific niche. Ask: What's your audience looking for? Understand what they want,” said Lisa Tener book writing coach and faculty member of Harvard Medical School's CME Book Publishing Course.
“Most urgent is that the writer figure out who his/her audience is and write the material with that audience in mind,” said Francine L. Trevens Chairman Emeritus of The Greater New York Independent Publishers Association and author of 4 books, as well as former contributor to such publications as The Best Plays Annuals and the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama.
Much promotional work goes into making a book successful, and knowing whom you should promote to is the first step. Once you have identified your target genre it is smart to utilize marketing methods unique to that genre. Unique strategies can introduce your book to targeted audiences, without being too costly.
Know WHAT you can do to market: It’s not enough to say I am going to advertise, or send out direct mailings these days. You have to think of unique ways to raise awareness of your book.
Familiarizing yourself with clever marketing methods and ideas that have proved successful for other authors can be of benefit when looking to promote your book. Here are some ideas that have been useful in the past.
“Instead of a traditional book-signing event, I held a free business seminar at a business-networking venue that attracted a capacity crowd. The draw was a panel of 5 CEOs and executives I had interviewed in the book. I wove the theme of the book through the questions, which panel members answered. Audience was blown away, local reporter wrote great lead article (unsolicited) in the business section. Sold about 1/3 of the room books, and 1/3 had already bought. (I also) excerpted chunks of the book about each of the 20 executives I interviewed, and created a leadership 'manifesto' with some descriptive info, their picture and company logo,” said Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Ph.D and President of Advantage Leadership, Inc.
“I used the website traffic to build an email list for my weekly newsletter. I used the subscribers on my email list to create a online recipe sharing and cooking related message board which brought me additional website traffic from the search engines,” said Ron Douglas author of the book America's Most Wanted Recipes, which reached # 3 on The New York Times Bestseller List, and creator of RecipeSecrets.net drawing 1 million views per month.
“I have a great method of getting on the bestseller list by enlisting associates who have relatable products and big lists to co-advertise. Basically you offer all these give-aways to everyone who buys a book that week, getting your sales to skyrocket all at once as well as promote your affiliates' stuff,” said Jen Sincero best-selling author, creator of writeyourdamnbook.com, and teacher of a non-fiction book writing class.
“Remember that much of the world is now on line and use on line networking sources to get the word out…(also) try to get excerpts from your book into suitable publications” said Francine L. Trevens.
Along with identifying your target audience, utilizing methods unique to that genre can be valuable. It is also important to advertise in the right places. How effective would advertising a romance novel at a sci-fi convention be? The most efficient way to reach your targeted audience is to advertise in the places that appeal to that specific genre.
Know WHERE to Advertise: Once you are familiar with the who and what of marketing your genre, knowing the best settings to showcase your book is the next step. Remember, location is key.
“If you have a book on a maritime theme, or set at sea, you can contact maritime museums, stores that sell boating gear, shops at marinas, etc. If you have historical aspects to a book, you can contact historical society stores and offer to speak at meetings of groups interested in historical data. If you have a gift book type, try shops in museums, hospitals, etc. Show at book fairs. or street fairs if you can tie in with their theme.” Said Francine L. Trevens.
“Speak at as many events that deal with your subject matter as possible (You are an author, take advantage of that credibility!). Small groups can be just as effective as large venues,” said Corey Blake President of Writers of the Round Table Inc. and Executive Director of the From the Barrio Foundation.
“Check your state site for fairs and festivals. Most state sites have a listing with the approximate number of attendants. Contact your local bookstore… about…events and sponsored authored fairs. If your intention is to sell books, seek events where you will be the only author in your genre or the only featured author.” Said owner of DeeGospel PR, a literary PR boutique, Dee Stewart.
“A big part of my success came from online advertising…I created an affiliate program which gave other cooking related websites a commission to promote my cookbooks,” said Ron Douglas.
“Because my book…Beach Chair Diaries, Summer Tales from Maine to Maui… is 'beach' oriented I find many stores in coastal areas will be interested in carry it as well,” said Janet Spurr author and teacher at Sales Boot Camp for Authors.
Figuring out the locations that attract your targeted genre, and using them to advertise your book is essential in successful promotion. Authors can also centralize themselves around other authors of the same genre. What is more valuable than advice from someone who has reached success? Online forums are a great place to reach out to others with a similar book.
Promotion is crucial to a books success, and authors and publishers can get the best promotional results by following the basic advice from other successful authors. Defining your target audience is important in selling a particular genre, so authors and publishers can be aware of the desires and interests of that audience and better appeal to them. Utilizing unique strategies can also fuel success by capturing the attention of those who are interested in the genre, and just as important as understanding who and what of effective promotion, knowing the where can ensure proper advertisement. Implementing precise promotional strategies can stimulate the popularity and success of any book, but you have to understand your market first.