Les Miserables 73: An End Unlike The Beginning

Valjean and Cosette have been living blissfully together at the Rue Plumet house.  Ever since their run-in with the Jondrettes/Thenardiers at Gorbeau, they have grown closer to each other.  The status quo has returned; Cosette loves Valjean wholeheartedly again and Valjean is thrilled at this.  But an alert reader should suspect that this state of affairs is only temporary.

Sure enough, strange things begin to happen to Cosette.  First, we meet up with the officer Theodule again.  Theodule is a cousin of Marius’s whom you will remember from earlier in the story.  Basically, Theodule is the anti-Marius.  He is a pompous ninny, and he shows himself to be exactly this.

Theodule was stationed with a regiment near the Rue Plumet.  One day he saw Cosette out in the garden as he was making his rounds; after that he made it a point to pass by her place every day.  Cosette was impressed with his handsome appearance.  This was a very critical period in her life:

Indeed Cosette was passing through that dangerous moment, the inevitable phase of feminine reverie abandoned to itself, when the heart of an isolated young girl is like the tendrils of a vine that take hold, as chance determines, of the capital of a column or a tavern signpost.  A hurried and decisive moment, critical for every orphan, whether poor or rich, for riches do not defend against a bad choice; misalliances are formed very high up; the real misalliance is that of souls; and, just as more than one unknown young man, without name, or birth, or fortune, is a marble column that sustains a temple of great sentiments and broad ideas, so too you may find a satisfied and opulent man of the world, with well-shined boots and varnished speech, who, if you look not at the exterior but the interior, that is to say, at what is reserved for the wife, is nothing but a stupid nonentity, obscurely haunted by violent, impure, and debauched passions; a tavern signpost.

Though Cosette was enchanted by Theodule’s outward appearance, something haunted her as she contemplated what she felt for him:

What was there in Cosette’s soul?  A soothed or sleeping passion; love in a wavering state; something limpid, shining, disturbed to a certain depth, murky below.  The image of the handsome officer was reflected from the surface.  Was there a memory at the bottom?  Deep down?  Perhaps.  Cosette did not know.

Certainly this is a veiled reference to something or someone in Cosette’s past.  Thenardier?  Perhaps.  The line “nothing but a stupid nonentity, obscurely haunted by violent, impure, and debauched passions; a tavern signpost” definitely fits what we have seen of Thenardier.  And Thenardier is someone whom Cosette would have little more than a vague recollection of, as he was only in her life during her early childhood.  But Thenardier, though he managed to project a somewhat respectable appearance back while his inn was still in business, was never a satisfied or opulent man of the world.  It is doubtful that his boots were ever well-shined, and his speech certainly never came across as varnished.  If anything, his speech tried to come across as varnished and failed miserably.

I think Tholomyes is a better fit for this description.  He certainly came across as “a satisfied and opulent man of the world, with well-shined boots and varnished speech”.  He could easily be characterized as “a stupid nonentity, obscurely haunted by violent, impure, and debauched passions; a tavern signpost”.  Certainly his treatment of Cosette’s mother Fantine was shameful.

Perhaps the “memory at the bottom” that Cosette felt in that moment came from Fantine’s experience with Tholomyes.  Fantine had met Tholomyes at a similar stage in life and her heart had taken hold of the tavern signpost disguised as the capital of a column that was Tholomyes, with devastating consequences.  Now Cosette had reached that stage in life and was about to make a similar mistake if she had allowed her heart to attach to Theodule.  Certainly the “opulent man of the world” who is in reality a “stupid nonentity/tavern signpost” fits everything we have seen of Theodule.  Perhaps Theodule would have treated Cosette just as shamefully as Tholomyes treated Fantine a generation earlier, with equally devastating results for Cosette as for Fantine.  Perhaps the “memory at the bottom” that Cosette felt was a connection with Fantine’s spirit and a sharing in her experience with Tholomyes, and a warning from Fantine to her to not repeat the same mistakes.

Recall that Theodule is a foil to Marius.  Meaning that he is everything Marius is not, and everything Marius is, he is not.  In other words, he is the anti-Marius.  Foils are all over the place in Les Miserables.  Hugo created the character Theodule to bring out the virtues in Marius’s character by way of contrast.  We have just seen how Theodule, the anti-Marius, attempted to pursue Cosette.  Now we will see how Marius attempts to pursue her.

And then it starts to get really weird for Cosette.  What sort of things are happening to her?  You’ll just have to wait and see next time.

One more thing:  Hugo says that “the real misalliance is that of souls”.  This marks him as a product of the Romantic era.  Up until that period in history marriages were pretty much all arranged, at least among the upper classes of society.  People in the upper classes of society believed that the only fit person to let their child marry was a person of similarly prestigious social background; marrying someone of the wrong social class or background would have devastating consequences.  The idea that misalliances could be formed even among people of the same social class or that the real misalliance was that of souls or personalities was revolutionary at that point in history.

Craig Bubeck on God’s Love

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Craig Bubeck at internetmonk.com.

It is an unfortunately common tendency among evangelicals, whenever the subject of God’s love comes up, to want to place limits or qualifications on it.  For many, “love” is just an excuse for soft theology or sloppy thinking.  Talk too much about love and you are likely to be labeled “postmodern” or “emergent”.  Example:  Can a gay person come to our church?  Yes, but they have to understand that they will not be allowed to participate fully until they repent and stop living in sin.  (The Mohler post from a couple of weeks back is a perfect example of this.)  Bubeck challenges us with the idea that love is at the very center of the Christian message and that we dare not try to minimalize it.

Read:  “But” Out of God’s Love by Craig Bubeck


Les Miserables 72: Aid From Below or From Above

When last we saw Jean Valjean, he had just had the harrowing experience of watching a prison procession pass by while he was out for a morning walk with Cosette.  This experience brought to the surface memories of Valjean’s past and the monster that he had been before his encounter with Monseigneur Bienvenu, and showed him trending back in that direction again as he tried to cling selfishly to Cosette.  We saw that he would probably not make it back onto the right path without some outside help, and we wondered what form that help would take.

This section of the story consists of two scenes.  The first is Valjean and Cosette together.  It was during this time that Valjean had his run-in with the Thenardiers at Jondrette’s garret at Gorbeau.  Valjean was wounded in the struggle with the Thenardiers.  Cosette was moved to tend to him and care for his wounds at this time, and the rift in their relationship was healed.  Valjean rejoiced greatly in this.  Cosette also rejoiced that Valjean’s spirits were improving.

Jean Valjean’s wound had been a diversion.

When Cosette saw that her father was suffering less, and that he was getting well, and that he seemed happy, she felt a contentment that she did not even notice, so gently and naturally did it come.  It was then March, the days were growing longer, winter was leaving, winter always carries with it something of our sadness; then April came, that daybreak of summer, fresh as every dawn, gay as every childhood; weeping a little sometimes like the infant it is.  Nature in this month has charming glimmers that pass from the sky, the clouds, the trees, the fields, and the flowers, into the heart of man….

Overjoyed, Jean Valjean saw her become fresh and rosy again.

“Oh!  The blessed wound!” he repeated in a whisper.

But you can sense that this healing of the rift is just a temporary thing.  The previous status quo has been restored–for the time being–but nothing has happened to address anything inside of Valjean.  The issues inside of Valjean are still present and waiting to rear their head later on.  Later on, there will be a decisive moment when Valjean is forced to either take Cosette away in order to keep her–and possibly lose her in the process–or else put to death his desire for her by letting her go.  When will this happen?  Keep reading.

The next scene also contains Valjean, but only as a secondary character.  M. Mabeuf and his servant Mother Plutarch are lamenting his deteriorating circumstances.  Gavroche happens along at just the right time to hear this conversation.

Gavroche is looking for some dinner.  For him, just an apple or other such fruit will suffice.  And he knows that the place to find such things is out on the edge of town, where fruit trees in people’s yards can be easily accessed without causing too much of a disturbance.  He has his eye on Mabeuf’s apple tree, but he happens to overhear the conversation and decides to crouch out of sight and into a spot where he can listen.

While he is listening to the conversation, he sees two figures pass by on the street.  One he recognizes as the convict Montparnesse, the other as an apparently helpless old man out for an evening stroll but about to become Montparnesse’s next victim.  Sure enough, Montparnesse catches up to the old man and attacks him, but surprisingly the struggle ends with the old man quickly overcoming Montparnesse and pinning him to the ground.  The old man (whom alert readers will no doubt recognize as Valjean) delivers a lengthy speech exhorting Montparnesse to turn away from his life of crime.  His words are easily recognizable as the voice of Valjean’s experience in prison.  He ends by giving Montparnesse his purse, which is what Montparnesse was after in the first place.

Here Valjean is attempting to emulate the grace that the bishop Monseigneur Bienvenu showed to him that turned him away from his life of crime.  His investment appears on the surface to be in vain–Montparnesse at first dismisses him as a babbling old man–but it gets Montparnesse to stop and reflect for the first time in his life.

That reflection proves costly, because it gives Gavroche the chance to sneak up on Montparnesse and steal the purse from him.  Gavroche sneaks away, back down the street to Mabeuf’s place, and tosses it over the hedge into Mabeuf’s yard.  The purse lands on Mabeuf’s foot and wakes him up.  He takes it to Mother Plutarch, who exclaims, “It fell from heaven.”

Rachel Held Evans on Complementarianism

Complementarianism is coming up for discussion in many Christian circles these days; it seems that some Christian leaders are concerned that the complementarian perspective is losing traction.  At a recent gathering, prominent evangelical leaders expressed concern that many Christian marriages are complementarian in name only and that this is causing Christianity to lose its distinctiveness from worldly culture.

In a pointed post entitled “It’s not complementarianism; it’s patriarchy“, Rachel Held Evans speaks to this.  The complementarian perspective is, for many people, an imposition upon marriage that forces it to funcion in unnatural ways.  It is losing ground because many scholars and authors are questioning the complementarian interpretation of key biblical texts and doing it at the popular level.  It is losing ground because its proponents are not committed to a truly biblical view of manhood and womanhood but rather to the view that was prevalent back in the 1950s and before.  And it is losing ground because people are recognizing that it does not produce complementary relationships but a hierarchical, specifically a patriarchal, structure.

Read “It’s not complementarianism; it’s patriarchy” by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans on Same-Sex Marriage

For those of you who have been living under a rock the past week, North Carolina just passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage permanently.  This amendment is problematic:  it is worded vaguely and could have unforeseen consequences down the road that go far beyond just not allowing gays to get married in North Carolina.  These have yet to be sorted out, and this could be a very messy process.  And all for the sake of banning something that was already illegal according to North Carolina law.

The greatest problem in play here is the overwhelming support that this measure enjoyed in some parts of the Christian community.  This only serves to reinforce the stereotypes held by many non-Christians that Christianity is ALL ABOUT anti-homosexuality.  This perception is causing Christianity to lose an awful lot of esteem among young people.

In her post “How to win a culture war and lose a generation“, Rachel Held Evans offers a bare-knuckled rant about the sort of culture war Christianity that pushes measures like North Carolina’s Amendment One.  The post leads off with a picture of 93-year-old Billy Graham with a brief message in favor of the amendment that appeared in full-page ads throughout the state.  She goes on to discuss how Christianity’s strong association with the anti-gay agenda has tarnished it in the eyes of young people and how support of Amendment One only serves to alienate gays and young Christians who are weary of the culture wars.

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? 

Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?

Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?

Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?

And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?

Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it’s costing them.

Because young Christians are ready for peace.

We are ready to lay down our arms. 

We are ready to start washing feet instead of waging war. 

And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere.

More on Amendment One:

Kevin DeYoung offers this piece which, though not a direct rebuttal to Evans’ post, offers reasons why Christians should continue to fight the battle against gay marriage.

Skye Jethani offers his take on same-sex marriage:  Obama is trying to steer the conversation to this issue and away from the economy, where he is extremely vulnerable.  Will conservatives take the bait?

Andrew Marin on Mohler and Stanley

Over at Out of Ur, writer Andrew Marin offers his take on Andy Stanley’s message and Al Mohler’s reaction to it that drew so much attention in the Christian blogosphere last week, which echoes a lot of what I said in my post last week.  The message was all about living in the tension between grace and truth that all of us in this fallen world must deal with, yet Mohler missed the point by seeing it in terms of a failure to affirm sin as sin.

Read what Andrew Marin has to say.

Rachel Held Evans on Her Issues With The Word “Biblical”

Today I wish to direct your attention to an article by Rachel Held Evans in which she comments on the misuse of the word “biblical” that is rife in evangelicalism.

Her comments are part of a larger piece in which she reviews Christian Smith’s book “The Bible Made Impossible”.  Smith takes aim at “biblicism”, an approach to reading and understanding the Bible that he defines as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”

The key problem with biblicism is “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism”.  In other words, there are many places in the Bible where there is more than one way to interpret what the text says.  It is beside the point to say that a particular text is solely authoritative or inerrant when that same text gives rise to a divergent array of interpretations.  In light of this, it is just not possible to reduce the Bible to a manual of principles for living, starting from the standpoint of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Now Evans lays into the way many evangelicals use the word “biblical”, which is one of her big pet peeves.  And one of mine as well.

My issues with the word “biblical” go way back.

When I attended apologetics camp as a teenager,  I was told that those who hold a “biblical view of economics” support unregulated free market capitalism. (Even then, it occurred to me that such an economic system didn’t even exist in the ancient near Eastern culture in which the Bible was written.) I was also told that God wanted me to forgo traditional dating in favor of “biblical courtship.” (Again, no one mentioned the fact that, in the Bible, young women could be sold into marriage by their fathers to pay off debt, that marriages were typically arranged without the bride meeting the groom until their wedding day, and that women were considered the property of their fathers and husbands.)

…You can find all sorts of books proclaiming to put for the “biblical” view of something-or-another. Some of my favorites include:
-100 Biblical Tips To Help You Live A More Peaceful and Prosperous Life
-Crime and Community in Biblical Perspective
-God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals 
-Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics-Biblical Psychology  
-Biblical Strategies for Financial Freedom
-Biblical Economics: A  Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread
-Biblical Principles of Sex
-The Big M – A Biblical view of masturbation
-The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image 
-The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding 
-Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating
– Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

In Evolving in Monkey Town, I write about how, when we talk about “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” and “biblical womanhood,” we’re essentially “using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective.”

It seems to me that the ease and carelessness with which many Christians employ the word “biblical” is one of the biggest barriers in the way of learning to love the Bible for what is, not what we want it to be. At the heart of a prescriptive use of the word “biblical” is a desire to simplify—to reduce the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto.