Les Misérables, Chapitre I: Monsieur Myriel

I'm not sure how much I've talked about this, but French is sort of my second language. It's currently a rusty wreck sitting in the farmyard of my brain, but it's there. If I've learned anything from my Duolingo Italian studies, it's that I can still form sentences in my second language, even though they might not necessarily be grammatically correct, whereas I can do nothing of the sort when it comes to Italian. Anyway, my ancestry is also very skewed in the French direction, with the most notable exception being one great-grandpa who was actually an American (!). So the combination of all the years that I spent learning to speak the language and all the ghosts I'd love to speak it with someday mean that I'm not going to give up without a fight.

Some time ago I asked some people who might know how they know a good translation from a bad one. The answer to that is that you basically need to trust what other people have to say about it. But another point that for some reason hadn't occurred to me, is that if you can read a work in its original language, then that is the best option.

So, given those two things, and a third thing—my long-held desire to read Les Misérables—I picked up all five volumes of the original French text on Project Gutenberg and started reading. I'll be documenting the procedure here, with the hilarious amount of vocabulary words that I need to look up, plus whatever else.

Volume I: Fantine
Livre 1er: Un juste
Chapitre I: Monsieur Myriel


I write my chapter summaries immediately after reading the chapter and I won't really be editing them for the blog.  More fun that way.

The story of bishop Myriel prior to becoming bishop. Formerly in Parliament, he left France during the revolution to live in Italy, where his wife died. They had no children. No one knows what transpired there but he came back a priest. In 1804, he happened to travel to Paris on behalf of his parish to see cardinal Fesch. He encountered Napoleon there and ended up being made a bishop. He then went to Digne with his sister Baptistine (a good lady spinster). They have a maid Madame Magloire.


These are words that I don't know, or wasn't quite sure of while reading. Unless otherwise noted, I'm getting definitions from Le Robert Micro 1998 and translations from the Harrap Concise French Dictionary 1997.

24 mots
Busy - Qui est ou parait très occupée.

Soul; moving spirit - Principe spirituel de l'être humain, conçu dans la religion comme séparable du corps, immortel et jugé par Dieu.

Office of a parish priest - Fonction de curé. Paroisse.

Decree - Décision écrite émanant du pouvoir exécutif.

diaphanéité (diaphane)
Diaphanous - Qui laisse passer à travers soi les rayons lumineux sans laisser distinguer la forme des objets.

ébranleraient (ébranler)
To shake - Faire trembler, vibrer par un choc.

Collapse - Destruction soudaine et complète.

Terror - Peur violante et soudaine causée par qqch. d'extraordinaire, de menaçant.

Ugh, this is just the passé simple of "faire," thanks Google.

Gallantry - Courtoisie empressée auprès des femmes.

To germinate - Commencer à se développer.

Panting, gasping - Qui halète. (Respirer à un rythme anormalement précipité; être à bout de souffle, hors d'haleine.)

Glow - Lumière faible, diffuse, ou encore brusque, éphémère.

Thinness - État d'une personne ou d'un animal maigre; absence de graisse.

The usage in the book is actually "maréchal de camp," which doesn't appear in my dictionaries, but handily has a Wikipedia entry.

To mix - Faire participer.

Notwithstanding (thanks Google Translate!) - Sans être empêché par qqch., sans s'y arrêter.

Endless discussion - Discussion interminable et oiseuse.

Widespread - Qui est commun à un grand nombre de personnes.

To suffer - Être l'objet sur lequel s'exerce (une action, un pouvoir sentis comme négatifs); recevoir l'effet pénible de.

Suddenly - Brusquement, soudainement.

suite de saintes oeuvres
I wasn't sure whether this was one expression or not and it doesn't appear to be. From context plus the help of the dictionary, this basically just means that Baptistine (who the phrase describes) has had a life that is a succession of saintly deeds. Ish.

survint (survenir)
To occur; to arise - Arriver, venir à l'improviste, brusquement.

traquées (traquer)
To hunt; to hound - Poursuivre (le gibier) en resserrant toujours le cercle qu'on fait autour de lui; poursuivre (qqn), le forcer dans sa retraite.


Passages of note, with clumsy translations by me.

Vrai ou faux, ce qu'on dit des hommes tient souvent autant de place dans leur vie et surtout dans leur destinée que ce qu'ils font.

True or false, what we say about people often has as much of a part of their lives and particularly their destinies as what they do.

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