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firestorm717: The Long Firm: Harry Starks Smoking a Cigarette (Default)
Friday, May 6th, 2016 11:46 am
“I’ll be father and mother to you.”

That's my favorite line from the Les Miserables (2012) movie. Valjean has just saved little Cosette from a lifetime of abuse by the Thenardiers. As they walk away from the wretched couple, he gives her a beautiful doll - the first she's held - and Cosette asks him with a sweetly innocent smile whether he'll be like a papa to her. That's when Valjean sings the above line.

Notice how Hugh Jackman emphasizes "mother." I have no doubt this is a deliberate choice. Cosette asks Valjean to be a father to her, and Valjean replies he'll do one better: he'll be a mother as well. It's a major shift in his character, and one of the key themes in Victor Hugo's classic. Up till this point, Valjean's main identity was a mayor and factory boss in Montreuil-sur-mer. He was a compassionate one to be sure, but ultimately a man who sat at the top of a privileged hierarchy, disconnected from the lives of his subordinates. This mirrors the role of fathers in his society.

Back in those days (and many places today), a good father’s duty was simply to be a financial provider and protector of his family. He made money, he dealt with threats, and in return, his wife and children were to show him obedience whether or not he actually enriched their lives. There was no expectation of nurturing, sensitivity, emotional support, heart-to-heart communication, or engagement in the daily work of raising a healthy, happy child. Fathers were supposed to be invulnerable, and they maintained this facade by keeping their distance. For Valjean to be a father in this cultural context is similar to his role as the capitalist boss: he’s a benevolent patriarch in a position of power who provides materially for his children/workers, but doesn’t care about them personally.

Now, for Valjean to be a mother is a different story. Hugo depicts the archetypal mother, Fantine, as a heroic figure, her unconditional love for Cosette a sublime and noble quality, which stands out against the cold indifference of society. She sacrifices everything for her child and is rewarded in the end with God’s grace. This motherly love is held up as an ideal. To be clear, by "motherly" I don’t mean a female and the child she birthed (Mme. Thenardier is a poor role model despite being a biological parent), but the genuine holistic love displayed by both men and women in the brick. It's a love that is strikingly vulnerable: Bishop Myriel risked being robbed or worse by sheltering Valjean, Enjolras lost his life in a failed revolution to improve the lot of his fellow man. Neither asked anything in return. Valjean promising to be a mother to Cosette is a promise to strive for this kind of love, the kind that is tender, compassionate, and most of all, human in a way that is unexpected - and indeed unusual - for men even today.
firestorm717: The Long Firm: Harry Starks Smoking a Cigarette (Default)
Saturday, April 16th, 2016 11:41 pm
After extensive Google-fu, I've compiled as much information as I can find on the French police bureaucracy during Les Miserablès and specifically, Javert's mysterious patron, M. Chabouillet. If anyone cares to add to this post, please do; I can't read a word of French, and aside from the almanacs, I haven't dug into any original documents from that time period. Most of my conclusions regarding the police hierarchy are from papers written in the mid-to-late 1800s, which saw great changes in the Paris bureaucracy.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Chabouillet )

Miscellaneous Interesting Information )

Contributions From Anonymous )

References and Further Reading )
firestorm717: The Long Firm: Harry Starks Smoking a Cigarette (Default)
Monday, April 4th, 2016 01:23 am
So I was reading stonecarapace's excellent Breaking Through fic, which features female Valjean and Javert meeting in Montreuil-sur-mer, and it got me thinking: how would their character arcs differ if they were born women? Valjean would retain her immense (almost supernatural) strength as in the brick, which would give her some advantages in her sexist society, but she would be sent to a women's prison, not a bagne for breaking the law. And would Javert even be able to join the police force? It's doubtful historically, but if we're going to suspend disbelief for this thought experiment, I can see her going from a guard in a women's prison to an officer under the patronage of M. Chabouillet. She would likely be sent on undercover missions in which a policeman would be too conspicuous, such as spying in a nunnery, an all-girl's school, or restricted parts of a brothel. So there'd be a reason for a man like M. Chabouillet to keep her around on the force.

Anyway, I think I can tell a very interesting feminist story with genderswapped Valjean and Javert. It would contrast Valjean's feminist values of nurturing and compassion with Javert's patriarchal values as the father's daughter, supporting the patriarchy against other women.

Specific Scene Ideas )

I'm unsure what other major scenes matter after this. I can see Gorbeau House being interesting with the rape threat to Valjean, and also with Javert taking down a dangerous gang, something her colleagues doubted she could do as a woman.

The big change would come at the barricades. What would be clever thematically is to have it mirror the Punish me M. le maire scene, except with Javert crossdressed as a man and Valjean as herself. This shows how Javert, who starts out womanly, eventually must hide herself completely beneath the identity of a man, symbolizing her allegiance to the patriarchy, while Valjean goes in the opposite direction: from taking on male privilege as M. Madeleine to becoming a motherly, nurturing figure to Cosette. But I'm not sure how to make this work in the context of the barricades, since the brick has women standing by Les Amis, while the musical has Eponine crossdressing as a man to sneak in. Which is it?

I'm also stuck on Javert's revelation: I originally conceived this as male Valjean showing her that no, criminals aren't all rapists, just like male authority figures can't all be trusted (implying that M. Chabouillet sexually exploited Javert). But I'm not sure what to do here with a female Valjean. In that case, it's an identity crisis, where Javert must realize she's been in the wrong all along by aligning with patriarchal figures, while Valjean lived authentically. Perhaps Javert expects Valjean to kill her because that's the cowardly thing to do? And Javert has always looked down on "those other women" as weak and cowardly? However, Valjean lets her go free, and in so doing, shows her that the feminist value of forgiveness is a source of strength. I still don't know how this would lead to her derailment though.