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.)

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