I’ve been reading Les Miserables for some time now, as some of you might have noticed on the left side of this blog. Unfortunately, my copy is now drenched in sweat, due to how much hard work it has taken to get as far as I have. The book is good, no question about that. Many of the scenes have been suspenseful enough to glue my rear end to the very edge of my leather recliner. But I just have a sense that Hugo wasn’t that concerned with keeping his reader’s attention. To make matters more difficult, I have recently noticed that the copy I have been struggling through is an abridged version! No longer does finishing the book mean I can stand it up next to my U-10 soccer trophies as a personal intellectual achievement.
But there are scenes that keep me interested. For example, Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette has recently come into her own as a grown woman (16 years old), and the 19th century Parisian men have started to take notice. Cosette has fallen in love with a young gentleman named Marius; and by love, I mean the two sat in the same section of Paris and nervously glanced at each other every day for about a quarter of a year, never speaking. But, alas, Jean Valjean became jealous of this obvious love, and asked Cosette to go to a differet part of town on their daily walks, resulting in Marius not knowing where to find her, resulting in Cosette becoming angry with Marius.
One day she suddenly thought of Marius: “Why!” said she, “I no longer think of him.”
Oh, young love! It didn’t take long, however, for Cosette to notice another strapping young man on the streets of Paris. Here’s what she liked about him:
That same week, she noticed a very handsome officer of lancers, with a wasp-like waist, a delicious uniform, the cheeks of a young girl, a sword under his arm, waxed mustaches, and a glazed schapka, passing the gate. Moreover, he had light hair, prominent blue eyes, a round face, was vain, insolent and good-looking; quite the reverse of Marius. He had a cigar in his mouth.
This passage brought me to a new level of understanding. Here I am, a college-educated, 23 year-old man, and I’m still single. Of course, this has led to daily hour-long mirror inspections, as I try and figure out what is wrong with me. Why don’t the ladies take my bait? Hugo’s scene comforted me: I was born in the wrong century! If this was 1831, I would be a hot commodity. I don’t know when waxed mustaches, wasp-like waists, and having the cheeks of a young girl went out of style, but I have certainly felt the consequences.
With looks as good as Gillenormand’s, you can understand his reaction to his comrades’ chiding(/jealousy):
“See here!” they said to him, “there’s a little creature there who is making eyes at you, look.”
“Have I the time,” replied the lancer, “to look at all the girls who look at me?”
While it is comforting to have understanding, it is unsettling to wrestle with the truth that I was born two hundred years late. Hopefully, like clothing, retro standards for attraction will come back in style some day.
And I will be laughing… as I powder my girlishly red cheeks and cinch up my corset. Now, if I could only find that buffer so I can glaze my schapka…
Millencolin and No Use For a Name just put out new albums and they haven’t changed a bit. You’d think not selling out would have kept me listening.
Thanks, Andy Jenkins.