Monday, 28 May 2018

Les Misérables Silent Stalkers in the Dark/À chasse noire, meute muette V2B5



One of the very few advantages of being more than 100 pages behind in the #LesMisReadalong is that I can, indeed I must, read more than one chapter a day at the moment. Sometimes that can be a bit difficult with a book like this, deep in the more technical aspects of Waterloo for instance, but sometimes it can really pay off.

And V2B5 is one of those times. As the name would suggest Silent Stalkers in the Dark is quite an exciting read. Jean Valjean has realised that someone is onto him, and that he and Cosette must move from the Gorbeau Tenement. A thrilling late night chase ensues.
Sure enough, not three minutes had gone by before the men appeared. There were four of them now, all of them tall, dressed in long brown frock-coats, with round hats, and big truncheons in their hands. They were no less alarming for their tall stature and huge fists than for the sinister way they skulked in the shadows. They looked like four spectres disguised as respectable citizens. 
Crossing from the left bank and the Jardin des Plantes to the right bank, via the Pont Austerlitz and Jean Valjean comes to the (sadly) fictional Petit-Picpus. A very quick google showed me the sad facts, on a great Les Mis site I don't think I've seen before. Of course I was already making plans to visit on my next trip to Paris.
Petit-Picpus, which in fact scarcely existed and was never more than a roughly defined area, had the almost monastic appearance of a Spanish town. The roads were rarely paved, the streets not much built up. Apart from the two or three streets we area going to talk about, it was all blank walls and desolation. Not one shop, not one vehicle, only the occasional lighted candle here and there at the window, and all light extinguished after ten o'clock. Gardens, convents, yards, allotments, the odd low-built house, and solid walls as high as the houses. 
Of course Jean Valjean prevails and finds safe harbour, but not before using his superhuman strengths to climb a wall of eighteen feet, and narrowly escape Javert.
It was a characteristic of Jean Valjean that he might have been said to carry two bags: in one he kept his saintly thoughts, in the other the formidable talents of a convict. He dug into one or the other, depending on circumstances. 
Jean Valjean's bond with Cosette deepens as he watches her sleep with her head on a stone. 
He clearly perceived this truth, the bedrock of his life from now on, that so long as she was there, so long as he had her by him, he would have no need of anything but for her sake, more fear of anything except on her account. He was not even aware of being very cold, having taken off his coat to cover her with it. 
Every so often Victor Hugo inserts his unnamed narrator into the text. I had wondered initially if it was himself, or some character that we hadn't met as yet. Hugo does this again at the beginning of Silent Stalkers in the Dark, clearly referring to his own exile from France. 
Reluctantly obliged to speak of himself, the author of this book has not been in Paris for many years now. Since he left it, Paris has been transformed. 
Victor Hugo lived in exile from France from 1852 to 1870 during the time of the Napoleon III/Baron Haussman transformation of Paris. Hugo wrote Les Miserables while living at Hauteville House in Guernsey, where he lived for the majority of his exile. Hautville House is currently in need of renovation, the full price of which has just been recently donated by a billionaire benefactor. 

All quotes are from the 2013 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, translated by Christine Donougher. 

No comments: