Saturday, March 29, 2014

Les Miserables Excerpt 3

Jean Valjean Takes His Revenge



The scene: Paris, June 1832. A small number of insurgents barricade themselves in a street corner, all expecting to be killed by loyalist forces (the police). Many of them are already dead.


Jean Valjean: An escaped convict who spent 19 years as a galley slave for stealing a loaf of bread.
Javert: A heartless man (police) who pursues Jean Valjean relentlessly for 17 years. Jean Valjean had narrowly escaped capture by Javert a few days earlier. In this scene he has infiltrated the insurgents, and was discovered and tied up.
Enjolras: the leader of insurgents
Marius: one of the insurgents (he becomes their co-leader with a heroic act)


     He (Enjolras) said to Marius:  "We are the two chiefs; I will give the last orders within.  You stay outside and watch."
     Marius posted himself for observation upon the crest of the barricade.
     These dispositions made, he turned towards Javert, and said to him:
     "I won't forget you."
     And, laying a pistol on the table, he added:
     "The last man to leave this room will blow out the spy's brains!"
     "Here?" inquired a voice.
     "No, do not leave this corpse with ours.  You can climb over the little barricade on the Rue Mondetour.  It is only four feet high.  The man is well tied.  You will take him there, and execute him there."
     There was one man, at that moment, who was more impassive than Enjolras; it was Javert.
     Here Jean Valjean appeared.
     He was in the throng of insurgents.  He stepped forward, and said to Enjolras:
     "You are the commander?"
     "Yes."
     "You thanked me just now."
     "In the name of the republic.  The barricade has two saviors, Marius Pontmercy and you."
     "Do you think that I deserve a reward?"
     "Certainly."
     "Well, I ask one."
     "What?"
     "To blow out that man's brains myself."
     Javert raised his head, saw Jean Valjean, made an imperceptible movement, and said:
     "That is appropriate."
     As for Enjolras, he had begun to reload his carbine; he cast his eyes about him:
     "No objection."
     And turning towards Jean Valjean:  "Take the spy."
     Jean Valjean, in fact, took possession of Javert by sitting down on the end of the table.  He caught up the pistol, and a slight click announced that he had cocked it.
     When Jean Valjean was alone with Javert, he untied the rope that held the prisoner by the middle of the body, the knot of which was under the table.  Then he motioned to him to get up.
     Javert obeyed, with that undefinable smile into which the supremacy of enchained authority is condensed.
     Jean Valjean took Javert by the martingale as you would take a beast of burden by a strap, and, drawing him after him, went out of the wine-shop slowly, for Javert, with his legs fettered, could take only very short steps.
     Jean Valjean had the pistol in his hand.
     They crossed thus the interior trapezium of the barricade.  The insurgents, intent upon the imminent attack, were looking the other way.
     Marius, alone, placed towards the left extremity of the wall, saw them pass.  This group of the victim and the executioner borrowed a light from the sepulchral gleam which he had in his soul.
Jean Valjean, with some difficulty, bound as Javert was, but without letting go of him for a single instant, made him scale the little entrenchment on the Rue Mondetour.
     When they had climbed over this wall, they found themselves alone in the little street.  Nobody saw them now.  The corner of the house hid them from insurgents.  The corpses carried out from the barricades made a terrible mound a few steps off.
     Jean Valjean put the pistol under his arm, and fixed upon Javert a look which had no need of words to say:  "Javert, it is I."
     Javert answered.
     "Take your revenge."
     Jean Valjean took a knife out of his pocket, and opened it.
     "A surin!" exclaimed Javert.  "You are right.  That suits you better."
     Jean Valjean cut the martingale which Javert had about his neck, then he cut the ropes which he had on his wrists, then, stooping down, he cut the cord which he had on his feet; and, rising, he said to him:
     "You are free."
     ...
     When Javert was gone, Jean Valjean fired the pistol in the air.
     Then he reentered the barricade and said: "It is done."

(Later Javert encounters Jean Valjean, but he lets him go. He struggles with his conscience and drowns himself.)

Les Miserables Excerpt 4

Grass Hides And Rain Blots Out

There is, in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, in the neighborhood of the Potters' field, far from the elegant quartier of the city of sepulchers, far from all those fantastic tombs which display in presence of eternity the hideous fashions of death, in a deserted corner, beside an old wall, beneath a great yew on which the bindweed climbs, among the dog-grass and the mosses, a stone. This stone is exempt no more than the rest from the leprosy of time, from the mould, the lichen, and the droppings of the birds. The air turns it black, the water green. It is near no path, and people do not like to go in that direction, because the grass is high, and they would wet their feet. When there is a little sunshine, the lizards come out. There is, all about, a rustling of wild oats. In the spring, the linnets sing in the trees.
     This stone is entirely blank. The only thought in cutting it was of the essentials of the grave, and there was no other care than to make this stone long enough and narrow enough to cover a man.
     No name can be read there.
     Only many years ago a hand wrote upon it in pencil these four lines which have become gradually illegible under the rain and the dust, and which are probably effaced:

     Il dort. Quoique le sort fût pour lui bien étrange,
     Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n’eut plus son ange,
     La chose simplement d’elle-même arriva,
     Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va.


     (He sleeps; although so much he was denied,
     He lived. And when his dear love left him, died.
     It happened calmly, on its own,
     The way night comes when day is done.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Les Miserables Excerpt 2


Jean Valjean, saved unexpectedly by Bishop Bienvenu in Excerpt 1, keeps his "promise" to the benevolent man. But before becoming a truly good person, he takes a coin from a boy. By the time he realized his wrongdoing, the boy was gone. Valjean settles in a town under an assumed name, Father Madeleine, develops a simpler method of manufacturing trinkets, and make himself and the town rich. He gives much to charity, yet his savings alone is over six hundred thousand francs (perhaps billions of dollars today). When people find out he is an honest man, they clamor to make him the mayor, which he declines many times but ultimately accepts.

Under the mayor works a heartless policeman, named Javert, strict with law enforcement. He has never lied in his life. He had been an adjunct in the galleys when Valjean was enslaved there. He suspects Father Madeleine is Jean Valjean (who had taken a coin from a boy and stolen silver from the bishop). One day he asks the mayor to fire him because he had wrongly suspected him and made all sorts of inquiries to prove his suspicion; but the real Jean Valjean had been caught and the trial would be held in a town called Arras promptly.


(Excerpt 2: After Javert leaves his office, Father Madeleine muses.)

     Independently of the severe and religious aim that his actions had in view, all that he had done up to this day was only a hole that he was digging in which to bury his name [Jean Valjean].  What he had always most dreaded, in his hours of self-communion, in his sleepless nights, was the thought of ever hearing that name pronounced; he felt that would be for him the end of all; that the day on which that name should reappear would see vanish from around him his new life, and, who knows, even perhaps his new soul from within him.  He shuddered at the bare thought that it was possible. Surely, if anyone had told him that name would resound in his ear, when that hideous word, Jean Valjean, would start forth suddenly from the night and stand before him, ...

     His musings continued to grow clearer.  He was getting a wider and wider view of his position.

     He continued to question himself.  He sternly asked himself what he had understood by this: "My object is attained."  He declared that his life, in truth, did have an object.  But what object?  to conceal his name?  to deceive the police?  was it for so petty a thing that he had done all that he had done?  had he no other object, which was the great one, which was the true one?  to save, not his body, but his soul.  To become honest and good again.  To be an upright man! was it not that above all, that alone, which he had always wished, and which the bishop had enjoined upon him!  To close the door on his past?  But he was not closing it, great God!  he was reopening it by committing an infamous act!  for he became a robber again, and the most odious of robbers!  he robbed another of his existence, his life, his peace, his place in the world, he became an assassin!  he murdered, he murdered in a moral sense a wretched man ... He felt that the bishop was there, that the bishop was present all the more that he was dead, that the bishop was looking fixedly at him, that henceforth Mayor Madeleine with all his virtues would be abominable to him, and the galley slave, Jean Valjean, would be admirable and pure in his sight.  That men saw his mask, but the bishop saw his face.  That men saw his life, but the bishop saw his conscience.  He must then go to Arras, deliver the wrong Jean Valjean, denounce the right one.  Alas!  that was the greatest of sacrifices, the most poignant of victories, the final step to be taken, but he must do it.  Mournful destiny!  he could only enter into sanctity in the eyes of God, by returning into infamy in the eyes of men!
     "Well," said he, "let us take this course!  let us do our duty!  Let us save this man!"  He pronounced these words in a loud voice, without perceiving that he was speaking aloud.

(After turning himself in to save the misidentified man, Jean Valjean becomes a galley slave again.)




Sunday, March 9, 2014

Les Miserables Excerpt 1



Jean Valjean, the main character, is released with a small wage from the galleys he had served 19 years for breaking a pane of glass and taking a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven little children. ("He entered the galleys sobbing and shuddering: he went out hardened; he entered in despair: he went out sullen.") After traveling all day, he seeks a place to eat and sleep in the town of Digne, but is turned away by the innkeepers as an ex-convict. Only Bishop Bienvenu welcomes him to his residence and feeds him for free. Deep in the night Valjean steals a basket of silver plates and flees.

(Excerpt 1: Bishop Bienvenu's residence, October 1815, Digne, France)

     Just as the brother (the bishop) and sister (who lives with him) were rising from the table, there was a knock at the door.
     "Come in," said the bishop.
     The door opened.  A strange, fierce group appeared on the threshold.  Three men were holding a fourth by the collar.  The three men were gendarmes (cops); the fourth Jean Valjean.
     A brigadier of gendarmes, who appeared to head the group, was near the door.  He advanced towards the bishop, giving a military salute.
     "Monseigneur," said he--
     At this word Jean Valjean, who was sullen and seemed entirely cast down, raised his head with a stupefied air--
     "Monseigneur!" he murmured, "then it is not the curé!"
     "Silence!" said a gendarme, "it is monseigneur, the bishop."
     In the meantime Monseigneur Bienvenu had approached as quickly as his great age permitted:
     "Ah, there you are!" said he, looking towards Jean Valjean, "I am glad to see you.  But!  I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs.  Why did you not take them along with your plates?"
     Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the bishop with an expression which no human tongue could describe.
     "Monseigneur," said the brigadier, "then what this man said was true?  We met him.  He was going like a man who was running away, and we arrested him in order to see.  He had this silver."
     "And he told you," interrupted the bishop, with a smile, "that it had been given him by a good old priest with whom he had passed the night.  I see it all.  And you brought him back here?  It is all a mistake."
     "If that is so," said the brigadier, "we can let him go."
     "Certainly," replied the bishop.
     The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who shrank back--
     "Is it true that they let me go?" he said in a voice almost inarticulate, as if he were speaking in his sleep.
     "Yes! you can go.  Do you not understand?" said a gendarme.
     "My friend," said the bishop, "before you go away, here are your candlesticks; take them."
     He went to the mantelpiece, took the two candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean.  The two women beheld the action without a word, or gesture, or look, that might disturb the bishop.
     Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb.  He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a wild appearance.
     "Now," said the bishop, "go in peace.  By the way, my friend, when you come again, you need not come through the garden.  You can always come in and go out by the front door.  It is closed only with a latch, day or night."
     Then turning to the gendarmes, he said:
    "Messieurs, you can retire."  The gendarmes withdrew.
     Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint.
     The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice:
     "Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man."
     Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded.  The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them.  He contined, solemnly:
     "Jean Valjean, my brother:  you belong no longer to evil, but to good.  It is your soul that I am buying for you.  I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!"

(From this point Jean Valjean reveres Bishop Bienvenu and tries to be a good person.)


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Excerpt from Les Miserables (1)

Time: October 1815
Place: Digne, France


Jean Valjean, the main character, is released with a small wage from the galleys he had served 19 years for breaking a pane of glass and taking a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven little children. ("He entered the galleys sobbing and shuddering: he went out hardened; he entered in despair: he went out sullen.") After traveling all day, he seeks a place to eat and sleep in the town of Digne, but is turned away by the innkeepers as an ex-convict. Only Bishop Bienvenu welcomes him to his residence and feeds him for free. Deep in the night Valjean steals a basket of silver plates and flees.

(Bishop Bienvenu's residence)


     Just as the brother (the bishop) and sister (who lives with him) were rising from the table, there was a knock at the door.
     "Come in," said the bishop.
     The door opened.  A strange, fierce group appeared on the threshold.  Three men were holding a fourth by the collar.  The three men were gendarmes (cops); the fourth Jean Valjean.
     A brigadier of gendarmes, who appeared to head the group, was near the door.  He advanced towards the bishop, giving a military salute.
     "Monseigneur," said he--
     At this word Jean Valjean, who was sullen and seemed entirely cast down, raised his head with a stupefied air--
     "Monseigneur!" he murmured, "then it is not the curé!"
     "Silence!" said a gendarme, "it is monseigneur, the bishop."
     In the meantime Monseigneur Bienvenu had approached as quickly as his great age permitted:
     "Ah, there you are!" said he, looking towards Jean Valjean, "I am glad to see you.  But!  I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs.  Why did you not take them along with your plates?"
     Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the bishop with an expression which no human tongue could describe.
     "Monseigneur," said the brigadier, "then what this man said was true?  We met him.  He was going like a man who was running away, and we arrested him in order to see.  He had this silver."
     "And he told you," interrupted the bishop, with a smile, "that it had been given him by a good old priest with whom he had passed the night.  I see it all.  And you brought him back here?  It is all a mistake."
     "If that is so," said the brigadier, "we can let him go."
     "Certainly," replied the bishop.
     The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who shrank back--
     "Is it true that they let me go?" he said in a voice almost inarticulate, as if he were speaking in his sleep.
     "Yes! you can go.  Do you not understand?" said a gendarme.
     "My friend," said the bishop, "before you go away, here are your candlesticks; take them."
     He went to the mantelpiece, took the two candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean.  The two women beheld the action without a word, or gesture, or look, that might disturb the bishop.
     Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb.  He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a wild appearance.
     "Now," said the bishop, "go in peace.  By the way, my friend, when you come again, you need not come through the garden.  You can always come in and go out by the front door.  It is closed only with a latch, day or night."
     Then turning to the gendarmes, he said:
    "Messieurs, you can retire."  The gendarmes withdrew.
     Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint.
     The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice:
     "Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man."
     Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded.  The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them.  He contined, solemnly:
    "Jean Valjean, my brother:  you belong no longer to evil, but to good.  It is your soul that I am buying for you.  I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!"

(On his way out of the town Jean Valjean takes a coin from a boy. Realizing his wrongdoing he searches for the boy, to no avail. He settles in a town with name Father Madeleine, develops a simpler method of manufacturing trinkets, and make himself and the town rich. He gives much to charity, yet his savings alone is over six hundred thousand francs (perhaps billions of dollars today). When people finds out he is an honest man, they clamor to make him the mayor.)

The second excerpt will be posted next week.   

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