From this you might reasonably assume that "Fantine" is all about Fantine, but actually "Fantine" begins with the infamous sixty pages about the saintly Bishop of Digne who will never appear again.
This section always leaves me feeling really sorry for the Bishop of Digne's sister, who has to put up with her saintly brother giving away all their money and leaving their door unlocked all the time and inviting sketchy dudes into their house and basically forcing her to have a terrible standard of living and feel unsafe in her own home! BUT AT LEAST SHE HAS SOME NICE SILVER AND THAT CONSOLES HER.
SOME CONVICT: Well I'll just be stealing this silver then.
THE BISHOP: Yes, please, take the silver! AND the candlesticks! TAKE IT ALL.
THE BISHOP'S SISTER: . . . :(
And the moral of this story is: being a martyr to your ideals is fine, so long as the only person you are martyring is yourself! I don't think this is the moral Victor Hugo wanted me to take, but this is going to be a constant throughout this book so whatever.
Anyway, Some Convict is, of course, Jean Valjean. I LOVE BOOK JEAN VALJEAN SO MUCH. Some things that Book Jean Valjean does that didn't make it into the musical:
- after receiving the miraculous silver, accidentally steals some money from a sad little street urchin, just out of habit and because he's blue-screen-of-death-ing too much to notice! Then, three hours later: OH SHIT I STOLE SOME MONEY FROM A POOR STREET URCHIN! MAN, I REALLY AM THE WORST! And then he's like, 'well, either I become a kindly saint or there is no hope for me at all.'
- after becoming a kindly saint: literally breaks into people's houses to leave them money because he's just too socially awkward to give them charity in the normal way. Like, people in Montreuil-sur-Mer come home, and are like 'OH CRAP MY DOOR WAS BROKEN IN' and then find a bunch of money on their desk. You know that joke that Terry Pratchett makes about breaking-and-redecorating? JEAN VALJEAN ACTUALLY DOES THAT. (How much does it cost these people to fix their doors afterwards? NOBODY KNOWS.) Once a thief, forever a thief, INDEED.
- after getting the news that some dude is about to get arrested instead of him: okay, yes, this is something that does happen in the musical, it's "Who Am I," but in the book you get multiple chapters of Jean Valjean trying to talk himself out of turning himself in - and, like, you know those times when there's something you don't want to do, and every little thing that happens is an excuse not to do it? Like, "oh, the subway's down, that must mean that it's not in my destiny to go to this meeting. Too bad!" This happens, all of this happens to Jean Valjean, and every time he's like "oh, well, it's clearly not in my destiny to go turn myself in!" and has to fight past that, and you'd think this would get boring, but it doesn't. It's an incredible psychological portrait of someone actively working against his own self-interest - and the interest of other people that he cares about - to do the right thing, and how hard that is to do. JEAN VALJEAN. <33333
. . . but Fantine is also in this section, just to be clear! We get the full story of How Fantine's Boyfriend Was A Dick:
FANTINE AND HER FRIENDS: Our boyfriends promised to surprise us! :D
THEIR BOYFRIENDS: Hey girls, let's all go out for a picnic and for dinner and then in the middle of the dinner we'll go get you your surprise!
FANTINE AND HER FRIENDS: Sounds great!
THEIR BOYFRIENDS: . . . and here is our letter, in which we explain that we're not coming back, because we're bored, and we're leaving you. SURPRISE! :D
FANTINE'S FRIENDS: LOLOLOL we are well rid of these dicks.
FANTINE: LOLOLOLOL uh am I the only one with a kid at home? Anybody? Okay, just me, then. Crap.
And then she sees some cute kids playing by the side of the road, and is like "those kids are cute! Their parents must be great! Hey, want to take care of my kid too?" Unfortunately their parents were the Thenardiers so we all know how that turned out.
And then she gets kicked out of the factory, and sells off everything, including her front teeth, and becomes a prostitute, as we all know, and finally some jerk throws snow down her back and that's what sets everything off.
Let's see, is there anything else I am forgetting to talk about - oh! Javert! There's going to be more Javert, and more awesome Javert, later on in the book, but I really love his speech when he turns himself in for suspecting that the mayor is Jean Valjean: "Good God," he says, "it is easy to be kind, the difficulty is to be just." This is when he's talking Valjean into firing him, and refuses to take no for an answer. And he's not exactly right, but he's not wrong, either, which is why we love Javert.
Meanwhile, the award for Best Character Who Never Appears In Any Adaptations for this section goes to Sister Simplice, the nun taking care of Fantine, who is famous for having never told a lie in her entire life - until Javert comes in looking for Valjean, at which point she's all "Nope, never saw him," as cool as you please. And Javert, who basically has a crush on Simplice for her truthful reputation, is all, "well an HONEST NUN said it, so it must be true!"
Next up: Cosette and the Battle of Waterloo!
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