(By the way, have I mentioned how excited I am that a couple people are actually reading along with this? I didn't really expect anyone else to take the plunge with me but I am SO EXCITED that you are!)
So if you're working of knowledge from the musical, "Cosette" pretty much only covers two songs: "Castle on a Cloud" and "Master of the House." (Three, if you count "The Bargain/Thenardier Waltz of Treachery" as a song in and of itself.) You might wonder how Hugo wrote 1/5 of his book about this tiny fraction of the plot!
This is because the musical jettisoned a ton of Jean Valjean's heroism, a bunch of shenanigans around a dead nun, and many, many pages of Victor Hugo's REALLY INTENSE FEELINGS ABOUT WATERLOO.
I'm gonna start with Waterloo first, which is perhaps the most infamous of all of Victor Hugo's digressions. But this time around I found it rather endearing! Victor Hugo has a LOT OF FEELINGS about Napoleon, and he doesn't actually know what those feelings are, just that he has them. Napoleon was great! Napoleon was terrible! Napoleon symbolized glory! Napoleon symbolized despotism! Napoleon was too much of a genius for this world! NAPOLEON ANNOYED GOD. (This last is a direct quote from my translation, and it's beautiful.)
Also, he devotes a whole chapter to rhapsodizing about one French dude who shouted "MERDE!" at the English army. "You want to know who won the Battle of Waterloo?" says Victor Hugo. "IT'S THAT DUDE. I mean, he died, but he totally won Waterloo." I presume that, if the Web had been around then, Victor Hugo would also have declared that he won the Internet.
Anyway the excuse for all these feelings about Waterloo is to set up that time that M. Thenardier accidentally saved the life of Marius' father, which is totally not going to be plot-significant later or anything.
Meanwhile, Jean Valjean has actually gotten hauled back to the galleys to work on a prison ship -- and, because he is such a badass, has actually pre-planned an escape plan that goes like this:
1. Wear away at your chains until they're easily breakable
2. Wait until a sailor needs to be rescued.
3. Dramatically break your chains and SAVE THAT GUY'S LIFE
4. Amid the enthusiastic applause from the bystanders and various shouts of "PARDON THAT HEROIC MAN," "accidentally" fall into the ocean and "drown"
Because if you're going to escape from prison anyway, you might as well be a big damn hero while you're at it, I guess. Valjean then goes to collect Cosette, and, in the first instance we see of Socially Awkward Jean Valjean this chapter, introduces himself by creeping up behind her and grabbing her water bucket. It's a good thing for him that Cosette has lived her whole life around enormous creepers and anything looks better than the Thenardiers, is what I am saying.
Once Cosette has been acquired, Valjean and Cosette settle around for happy family life in a creepy old house in the suburbs, where Cosette spends most of her time playing with her new doll, and Socially Awkward Saint Valjean spends most of his time hiding giant pots of money in his jacket and avoiding conversation with everybody else, except when he surreptitiously gives giant gold coins to beggars. Needless to say this behavior starts to attract SOME SUSPICION, and Javert, who up until now has been perfectly happy to believe Jean Valjean dead, is like "FINE, all right, manhunt time."
The intense chase through the streets of Paris that follows always leaves me feeling a little sorry for Javert -- like, he waits too long to get help and capture Valjean because he is very responsible and really wants to be sure he's got the right guy! It would be super awkward if he just arrested some random grandfather! And then, once he does, he stops and waits until he can get some backup, as is good procedure, and the end Valjean and Cosette disappear over a wall into a convent and Javert is left standing in a blind alley and kicking himself.
COSETTE: Daddy why are we creeping through the streets and running away?
VALJEAN: . . . because your abusive foster parents are coming back to get you! SO WE HAVE TO STAY REAL QUIET.
A+ parenting, Jean Valjean.)
Fortunately, the convent they happen to fall into has a gardener whose life Jean Valjean once saved -- it's the guy who was trapped under the runaway cart -- which provides us with the best scene of Socially Awkward Jean Valjean yet:
FAUCHELEVANT: Monsieur Mayor! It's so great to see you again!
JEAN VALJEAN: . . . ????
FAUCHELEVANT: Thank you so much again for saving my life?
JEAN VALJEAN: . . . ????
FAUCHELEVANT: . . . you totally forgot you did that, didn't you.
JEAN VALJEAN: . . .
FAUCHELEANT: Well I call that PRETTY RUDE.
JEAN VALJEAN: I'm sorry! I'm working towards sainthood! For me it was Tuesday.
Fortunately Fauchelevant is kind enough (and also bored enough) to forgive this and help Valjean craft a cunning plan to stay in the convent. He is helped with this by the fact that the nuns have decided that today is a great day to ILLEGALLY BURY A BODY under their altar, because that dead nun really wanted to be buried under the altar and they are not gonna let THE MAN tell them where they can bury any nuns if they can help it. DAMN THEIR HEALTH CODES, DAMN THEIR LIES!
And, you know, after helping with that bit of business, Fauchelevant can pretty much smuggle in any fake brothers and their fake granddaughters that he wants to. After first smuggling Jean Valjean out in the fake empty coffin that was supposed to hold the illegally buried sister, of course. This is basically the HEIST section of the novel, and Victor Hugo takes pains to point out that Jean Valjean of course knows exactly how to get smuggled out of places in a coffin, he was a convict, wasn't he? Because all convicts naturally know all methods of escape by osmosis.
That's pretty much all the plot from this section, but I do want to give Victor Hugo a shout-out for the fact that he is actually surprisingly good at writing believable little girls! The bit where Eponine and Azelma are dressing up the cat is great; so is the part where he's going on about how the students in the convent school have divided themselves into school houses based on their favorite kind of insect, so they're, like, Caterpillar House and Wood Louse House. Kids, man.
Best Character Not Appearing In Any Adaptations award for this section, by the way, definitely goes to the rebellious criminal abbess, who goes on like a three-page rant about DAMN THE MAN, SOMETIMES A NUN'S GOTTA DO WHAT A NUN'S GOTTA DO.
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