Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

The Scumbag Report


I’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about Marius and Cosette’s sly meetings in the park, or read on.

I’m back! I took a break to read Julie Czerneda’s foray into fantasy, A Turn of Light, which took a lot longer than I expected, then decided I wanted to read something short for a change, and plowed through George Takei’s Oh Myyy!: There Goes The Internet. Now I’m back to Les Misérables with a short commentary, because what I’ve got is quite long and this is really the only place to break it.

In the next section, an attempted robbery will bring all the major players together. But first, we need to learn about the minor players who will be involved.

Hugo opens by describing society’s under-stage, a metaphor in which people mine what will become the future. And beneath that… well, “The real threat to society is darkness.”

The Patron-Minette, the four heads of the Paris underworld, are reduced to being merely Thénardier’s gang in the musical. Admittedly, they do work for hire, to specification. Dirty deeds for a price, presumably not done dirt cheap. (The name is apparently contemporary slang for dawn, a.k.a. the end of their business hours.)

Claquesous is apparently a vampire: He never appears during the day, and always wears a mask. Probably to hide fangs. [Update: Believe it or not, there’s more evidence for this later in the book.]

Montparnasse turned to crime in order to look more stylish. It reminds me of the comic book Underworld Unleashed, in which various villains sold their souls to the devil for greater power. The Joker sold his for a box of cigars. When called on it, he explained, “They’re Cubans!”

The skeevy Boulatruelle from Montfermeil, who was only marginally less scary than Beelzebub, turns out to be one of their regular accomplices.

Then we get a list of names, “each representing a variety of the misshapen fungi growing in the underworld of civilization.”

One uses the alias… Bizarro? Yes, indeed – and it’s listed that way in the original French! Apparently it’s Spanish for “brave.” Which I probably knew and then forgot.

Next up: Catching up with the Thénardiers.

Pages covered: 619-626. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.