Monday, 11 April 2011

Les Miserables: Part One - Fantine (with spoilers)

When I read War and Peace I really didn't know how to review it at the end and ended up saying no more than a paragraph, I don't want that to happen with Les Miserables so I thought I'd write up something for each part of the novel. This will contain SPOILERS as I would not be able to write about later parts of the novel without giving away bits of the plot.

A Brief Summary of Events: Les Miserables starts with the introduction to Myriel, a saint of a man. He is a Bishop who believes deeply in God and lives every part of his life in a way he can help others - whether this is visiting the sick, economising to the point of poverty so he can give his money to those in need, or opening his door to anyone. One day along comes ValJean a convict who has finally been released from prison after many escape attempts. Turned away at every door he is welcomed into the Bishop's house. But, true to character cannot help but steal the Bishop's last valuable item. The Bishop, saint that he is, lies to the police and ValJean is shown the value of trust and respect and appears to have become a good man.
Alongside this, we see Fantine, a naive girl who falls for the wrong man who then abandons her in her pregnancy. Both Fantine and ValJean head to a new place, for a new life, with a new identity - Fantine leaving her child with a family she comes across and ValJean renaming himself and becoming the local owner of a Jet Factory and eventually the Mayor. Their lives follow different destinies, while ValJean is becoming richer, more powerful and yet a better person Fantine's life is in tatters. She is unemployed, being tricked into paying more and more for her daughter Cosette, and finally ends up a prostitute.
ValJean and Fantine are thrown together when Javert - the towns local policeman, arrests Fantine. ValJean, under his guise as town mayor comes to rescue her and they quickly become friends, he intending to discover her child for her while she lays on her sickbed. Finally, whilst this is happening ValJean hears of another man being tried for his crime, he goes and gives himself up. In the final scene his identity is revealed and Fantine dies.
(Not brief at all then!)
My thoughts on the characters:
I loved the priest, although I can never believe that anyone is so good. However, his trust in ValJean certainly had positive effects and completely changed this mans destiny.
ValJean in his final scene, where he escapes from the police cell, looks like he may be back to his old tricks - I'm hoping he is still good and with go and rescue Cosette.
As for Fantine, she was naive and stupid, I can't understand why she couldn't have passed herself off as a widow and kept her child. Her actions are all intended for the best of the child but only seem to harm her more.
What I liked and disliked:
I loved nearly all of this so far. Hugo's way of drawing the characters, and creating the situations has been well done. I did find some of the coincidences a little contrite, but then this is fiction after all.
What I'm excited to discover next:
I'm looking forward to seeing if ValJean fulfills his promise and rescues Cosette, or if Javert will get there first just to persecute him a little more.


C.B. James said...

Isn't this a fun book. I did the same thing you're doing, reviewed each part, one per month. It was nice not having to read it all at once. I even came to look forward to the new month because I could read the next part.

When you get there, know that it's okay to skip the section about the battle of Waterloo.

katrina said...

Oh that sounds ominus, in War and Peace I drifted over some of the war sections at the start.