Monsieur Mabeuf

There is no judgement at all if you’re not familiar with this character. Although Les Miserables is a beautiful book, its excruciatingly long. Seriously, if there’s ever a robbery at my house, my copy of Les Miserables will be my weapon of choice! If I threw it hard at somebody’s face it’s heavy enough that it could do damage, and it would have that element of surprise.

Anyway, although there’s a lot of grim happenings in this novel (huge understatement) there’s a character who only appears briefly that made me lose it the most. Monsieur Mabeuf is a gentle old man who falls into destitution, and is a character who any book crazed person can relate to. He is described as never leaving the house ‘without a book under his arm and he often came home with two’, and a ‘bouquiniste’ –one who is devoted to old books.

When sales of his own published work, A Flora of the Environs of Cauteretz, cease, he eventually is forced to pawn his own collection of books one by one. Mabeuf never had children, and his books are what he cherished the most; so to hear in detail Mabeuf’s struggle each night to decide which book to pawn for money to buy dinner is heartbreaking, and made me want to give Mabeuf and my book shelf a hug. Finally, when his housekeeper needs medicine after falling ill, he is forced to sell his copy of a rare book called The Diogenes Laertius – a book which the thought of made him smile – and after this ‘a sombre veil’ came over the ‘old man’s candid face and it never lifted again’.

I can relate to the sentimental worth Mabeuf’s books hold. I mean yes, most of my books have suffered: they are torn and damaged, and if my backup plan for money was to pawn my books I’d be screwed, I’d be better off making a fort out of them – but I love them dearly. Each reminds me what I was doing when I was reading them and of small moments of my life. They’re precious to me and Mabeuf’s buried away sub-plot makes me appreciate what a gift it is to own beautiful books.

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