We just finished reading Fantine: Book Four, a.k.a. “Entrusting Sometimes Means Giving Away,” last Thursday for the Les Mis Readalong. It was pretty short, which makes it easier for me to take the time to reflect on it as a whole. It has made me think about how it relates to what we read previously.
We’re introduced to the Cosette, if only in her toddlerhood, and the Thénardiers. You know, these people.
Of course, they’re a little different in the book. They have two daughters instead of only one. Madame Thénardier also comes off as a little more motherly at first sight. This is how the Thénardiers are described after they receive guardianship of Cosette:
They belonged to that bastard class composed of rough people who had risen and intelligent people who have fallen, which lies between the so-called middle and lower classes and unites some of the faults of the latter with nearly all the vices of the former, without possessing the generous impulses of the worker or the respectability of the bourgeois. (V1, B4, C2)
I think their introduction is to show a darker side of humanity. So far, we’ve met the upright man who seems to have no real fault that would make anyone hate him and the released convict who has been made rough from struggling to survive before prison and while in prison. To an extent the Thénardiers are at risk of starving or being thrown in prison, like Jean Valjean’s family, but they don’t quite steal. No, they con people. They have no remorse about what they’re doing to poor Cosette.
In the third and fourth books of Fantine, a few of the female characters were named in interesting ways. Madame Thénardier names her children after characters in romance books: Éponine and Azelma. Then we have Fantine, who named her daughter Euphrasie on official paperwork, but she gave her the even sweeter nickname Cosette.
Fantine and Cosette, mother and daughter, were named by people on the street. Fantine was dubbed “Fantine” and Cosette, “The Lark.” Like mother, like daughter, Cosette picked up a name on the street. This makes me wonder if Fantine’s mother found herself in a similar situation when Fantine was a small child.
Entrusting Sometimes Means Giving Away
I think this is the theme of the fourth book. More importantly, I want to examine the meaning of this title in relation to what we have read so far.
The obvious bit is that Fantine has given up her child to what she thought was a better life. She knows she won’t be able to survive easily as an unwed mother of an illegitimate child, and life for Cosette would be hard if she stayed with Fantine. As the all-knowing audience, we know that Cosette is growing up in the hands of cruel people who treat her like dirt.
I also think of the bishop from the first and second book. He entrusts Jean Valjean to God by pulling him out of the darkness. He gives this ex-convict a chance. Even when Jean steals from him, he gives Jean more silver to make it a gift and makes him promise to do good with what he has been given.
What do you guys think of this short book? If you’re participating in the read along, how’s it going?