Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Fantine Before the Fall

Following up on my commentary from last time, here are some things that struck me about Fantine’s chapters this time through.

“In the Year 1817” is basically Victor Hugo writing one of those Buzzfeed listicles about the year’s big celebrity and news stories, only about a year 40 years before his initial audience read the book, and 200 years before modern audiences. Donougher added so many notes, they’re almost as long as the chapter.

That said, those notes have some fascinating info in them…like the fact that a proto-roller coaster opened outside Paris in 1817 – yes, 1817 – and that’s one of the things Fantine and her friends do on the day the boys all leave. (Yep. A roller coaster. On a day that brought her up, and then dropped her down.)

Oh, and the opaque description of the group as “Oscars” is a reference to a popular song of the day.

I have a better understanding of the dynamic now. The other women were more jaded about hooking up with students from the countryside, it wasn’t their first rodeo, and they weren’t expecting the men to stay. Hugo doesn’t say whether the other couples were actually sleeping together. It seems likely that they were, but the other women took precautions Fantine thought she didn’t need.

I still get a real “Tell me on a Sunday” vibe from this chapter.

And damn, Tholomyès is an insufferable ass even before he becomes a deadbeat dad. Dude probably crusades for ethics in amusement park journalism.

More examples of translation choices: Instead of just humming, Mme Thénardier is singing a specific song, with a few lines actually written out.

Fantine’s often lost in thought (with a dreamy far-off look? - no books, though, since she can’t read), which other women take as “putting on airs.” Like being an introvert in a society that demands extroversion. Honestly, I don’t think I’m better than you, I just would rather live in my head than be social right now.