Wednesday, August 25, 2010

At it again

First--well, before first: zero--of zero importance: my pen's out of ink and I'm having to use--a pen. Another pen on the train this morning. So then first, last night, it occurs to me to wonder: Where did Marius get the bread roll? Forgotten in his pocket; I couldn't remember, either. Went back and looked it up, found the purchase of a penny roll among the hours before his last time slipping through the garden rails to see Cosette. Who isn't there. So, to the barricade: the long night follows, then the fighting, the head injuries, the slash wounds on the arms, the broken collarbone, the unconsciousness. Typically, in being almost dead Marius admits of no half-measures. There's no stirring, no fluttered eyelids, no groans, no murmured names. He leaks blood; he's heavy. Jean Valjean, exhausted, reaching what must pass for a clean well-lit place in the Paris sewer system of 1832 (long before its prime), lays Marius down, rips up his own shirt, binds the wounds, gazes at Marius with "inexpressible hatred" and goes through his pockets. Along with the notebook and its directions to deliver his dead body to his grandfather's house in the Marais, is the bread roll. Which Jean Valjean eats--Jean Valjean steals bread from Marius. Then, able to, fed now, he carries Marius further; through, for instance, quicksand with raw sewage around his neck and Marius like a full tray in a crowded restaurant at both arms' length upraised.

Second, they finally reach the exit. Dusk on some unpopulated shoreline, the river Seine, safety, just beyond one iron-barred grate. But it's locked. They're going to die there. Jean Valjean lays Marius down on a little stone ledge there and collapses with his back against the grate. By good fortune: because Thenardier suddenly appears from some crook for crooks in the sewer and he's got a key but he hates Jean Valjean. Whom he fails to recognize with his back to the light. He also, just like he did with his father at Waterloo, mistakes Marius for a corpse and then robs him; but saves him.

What a great book! I remain pissed at my educators for not requiring me to read it in school--if not repeatedly, starting at an early age, then at least once would have been nice. Helpful. I've regained my equanimity. My mother tells me that she had to read Les Misérables in junior high. It was never even suggested to me that I recall; my mother wouldn't have because, she says, the story of Jean Valjean being pursued and pursued and for what, traumatized her. Was this reaction widespread? I wonder. Is that why they stopped teaching it in public schools? Maybe parents complained. I remember my father taking me to meet with my English teacher when I went crazy from reading Crime and Punishment in tenth grade. Mr. McSheffrey! I loved him. Though I don't know how Crime and Punishment slipped in there; normally he had us reading A.J. Cronin novels.

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