Marius: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4458

The Grand Bourgeois - Summary
New Characters:
M. Gillenormand: an elderly bourgeois gentleman

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Mademoiselle Gillenormand the Elder: oldest daughter of Gillenormand

Lieutenant Théodule Gillenormand: Mademoiselle’s nephew

M. Gillenormand is 90 years old. He treats his 50-year-old daughter like a child and sometimes beats his domestics. He is “truly a man of another age — the genuine bourgeois of the eighteenth century, a very perfect specimen, a little haughty.”

Gillenormand’s daughters are ten years apart in age. The younger daughter is happy, gay, and married to the man of her dreams. The other, Mademoiselle the elder, remains unmarried. Ever modest, she is called the Prude and allows only her nephew Théodule to kiss her. She is a religious woman “of the fraternity of the Virgin” who keeps the house for her father and his grandson. The boy is terribly afraid of his grandfather.

The Grandfather and the Grandson - Summary
New Characters:
George Pontmercy: soldier married to Gillenormand’s younger daughter

Marius: son of Pontmercy and grandson of Gillenormand

Abbé Mabeuf: the priest who is curé of Vernon

It is about 1817 in the town of Vernon. George Pontmercy lives in a small, humble house with a woman who waits on him. He is about fifty, has white hair and a scar that extends from his forehead across his cheek. He was young soldier when the revolution broke out. With his regiment, he fought on almost every front from Italy to Turkey to Germany. The emperor awarded him the cross. He was a brave and distinguished soldier and an outstanding officer who was wounded several times. He fought with Napoleon at Waterloo. There, he was wounded again by a saber across the cheek when he rescued the colors from the opposition. Covered with blood, he delivered them to the emperor, who praised and thanked him.

During the Restoration, Pontmercy was reduced to half-pay and sent to live in a government residence in Vernon. Louis XVIII, ignoring Pontmercy’s valiant efforts in the campaign, “recognized neither his position of officer of the Legion of Honor, nor his rank of colonel, nor his title of baron.” He continues to use the title Colonel Baron Pontmercy and wears the rosette of an officer every time he goes out in spite of warnings from the government that this is illegal. He responds by asking if he is still permitted to wear his scar.

Between two wars, Pontmercy had married Mademoiselle Gillenormand who died in 1815 leaving a son. Her father, M. Gillenormand, considered his son-in-law “a blockhead” and demanded that his grandson live with him. Because the old man threatened to disinherit the boy if he did not have his way, Pontmercy gave in and agreed not to see or speak to his son Marius, thus insuring a large inheritance from his Aunt Gillenormand. Influenced by the grandfather, Marius gradually became ashamed of his father.

Every few months, Pontmercy would travel to Paris. He would go to Saint Sulpice, where he would hide behind a pillar so he could see Marius when the aunt took him to mass. There he met Abbé Mabeuf, the curé of Vernon, whose brother was a warden at Saint Sulpice. One day when the priest was visiting his brother, he saw Pontmercy and recognized him as the man he had seen hiding behind the pillar with tears in his eyes. The two brothers visited the colonel and eventually learned the whole story.

The father’s only contact with his son was letters, dictated by the aunt, which he received on January 1 and on St. George’s Day. The colonel’s replies were kept by the grandfather and never read.

In 1827, when Marius has just turned 18, his grandfather sends him to Vernon to see his father who is ill and asking for his son. Marius is convinced that his father does not love him and is therefore reluctant to go. Raised to be politically sympathetic with the Restoration, he does not recognize his father’s title as baron or colonel.

The colonel dies of a brain fever the same evening Marius arrives in Vernon. Marius has no feelings when he looks at the corpse of the father he is now seeing for the first and last time. The colonel leaves nothing except a piece of paper on which he has written the story of a sergeant named Thénardier who saved his life at the Battle of Waterloo. He requests that his son do all he can for Thénardier if they ever meet. Marius stays in Vernon for two days, long enough to bury his father, and then returns to Paris. He wears crepe on his hat as a sign of mourning. Otherwise, his father is forgotten.

One Sunday when Marius goes to mass at Saint Sulpice, he inadvertently sits in a chair which has the name Monsieur Mabeuf, church-warden, written on the back of it. An old man approaches him and says, “ Monsieur, this is my place.” After mass, the old man approaches Marius again to explain that for ten years he has observed a man who attended mass every two or three months just to see his son. Mabeuf explains that this was the only time the man could see the child he loved so much because the other relatives would disinherit the boy if he attempted to make contact with him. The father, one of Bonaparte’s colonels, had “sacrificed himself that his son might some day be rich and happy.” He tells Marius that the man’s name was Pontmercy, and Marius realizes that it is his father he is hearing about and that his father really did love him.

The next day Marius asks his grandfather if he can be away for three days to go on a hunting expedition with friends. The grandfather mistakenly assumes that he is having a love affair and tells him to take four days.

When Marius returns from his travels, he goes to the law library where he devours volumes of history books about the republic and the empire. The more he reads, the more he changes his political opinions. By the time he finishes, he has shed his royalist views, becoming a revolutionary and learning to admire his father. He even orders a hundred cards with his name, Baron Marius Pontmercy, engraved on them. Occasionally he travels to Montfermeil to search for Thénardier. His grandfather thinks he is “going astray.”

The grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand is a handsome military officer named Lieutenant Théodule Gillenormand. He visits the old gentleman so seldom that Marius has never seen him. One day he stops to visit his aunt when he is on his way to a new post. She gives him some money and invites him to stay for at least a week. Though he cannot stay, he informs her that his cousin Marius is booked on the same coach. Influenced by the money she has given him, he agrees to spy on Marius.

That evening, when they are on the coach, Théodule observes Marius buying flowers. Later, he follows Marius to a church, assuming that he is on his way to a meet a woman. However, Marius goes behind the building where Théodule watches him, crying, as he scatters the flowers on his father’s grave.

Marius returns on the evening of the third day. He decides to go swimming for some exercise but stops in his room briefly to take off his coat and the black ribbon he wears around his neck. After he leaves, his grandfather and aunt go into his room. The grandfather opens the black leather box which hangs from the black ribbon. He expects to see a portrait of a young lady and is surprised to find instead a note written to Marius by his father as well as the hundred cards Marius had printed with his true name on them.

Just then Marius returns. His grandfather asks him what this means. He replies by recounting his father’s brave deeds and telling how much he now reveres his father. An argument over politics ensues and Marius is ordered out of the house. The following day Gillenormand instructs his daughter to send Marius a small sum of money each month and to never speak of him again.

In the confusion of Marius’ departure, the black medallion containing his father’s will is lost. Marius is convinced that his grandfather has destroyed it. He leaves with only a few clothes and 30 francs and has no idea where he is going.

The Excellence of Misfortune - Summary
New Character:
Courfeyrac: a friend of Marius

Marius is very poor. Even still, he returns the money his aunt sends each month and tells her he does not need anything. He continues to wear black clothes in mourning for his father. When they get shabby, he only goes out at night. He lives with his friend Courfeyrac, whose small collection of law books helps him satisfy the requirement of a law library for admission to the bar. When he is admitted to the bar, he sends his grandfather a formal but cold letter to inform him. M. Gillenormand reads it and rips it to pieces.

Courfeyrac introduces Marius to a friend in the publishing business where Marius gets a job in the literary department. Among other tasks, he translates works, compiles bibliographies, and writes prospectuses for 700 francs per year. Though it is not very much, he carefully manages his money and never gives up hope. He continues to search for Thénardier but learns only that the bankrupt innkeeper has disappeared.

Now 20 years old, he has not seen his grandfather in three years. He does not know how much the old man loves him.

In mid-1831, the old woman who serves Marius informs him that his neighbors, the Jondrette family, will be evicted for not paying their rent. They owe 20 francs for six months’ rent. Marius has only 30 francs, but he gives her 25 for the family and instructions not to tell them it is from him.

The Conjunction of Two Stars - Summary
By now Marius is a handsome young man with jet black hair. Girls are attracted to him, but he thinks they stare at him because of his worn out clothes so he becomes a loner. Though he especially avoids women, there are two he never shies away from. One is the old woman who sweeps his room; the other is a girl he sees in the Luxembourg Gardens. Each day she and a gentleman of about 60 walk in the park and rest on the same bench. She is about 13 or 14 when Marius first sees her. He watches her for about a year.

Marius is in the habit of parading back and forth past their bench, but he has never spoken to them. Others, including his friend Confreyac, notice the pair, but Confreyac thinks the girl is homely so he nicknames them Mademoiselle Lenoire (black) and Monsieur Leblanc (white), referring to the color of her dress and his white hair.

For six months Marius does not go to the park. One summer day he returns to find the gentleman and the girl on the same bench. The man looks the same, but the girl, now 15, has become “a noble, beautiful creature, with all the most bewitching outlines of a woman.” He resumes his daily walks in the park.

One day as Marius passes, the girl looks up and their eyes meet briefly. When he returns home that night, he looks in the mirror and notices for the first time how shabby he looks.

The following day Marius wears his new coat, pants, boots, and hat to the park. He passes the bench where the girl is sitting and then takes a seat near her, glancing at her frequently. After about 15 minutes, he goes home. That night he forgets to eat dinner but carefully brushes his clothes before going to bed.

The next day Ma’am Bougon, the old portress who has been given the nickname by Courfeyrac, is surprised to see Marius go out in his new clothes again. She tries to follow him but her asthma prevents her from keeping up with him and she loses him. For the next two weeks, Marius goes to the park every day, not to walk, but to sit in the same place, though he does not understand why.

At the end of the second week, Marius is sitting on the bench holding an open book. He has not turned a page for two hours. The girl looks at him as she and her companion pass, and Marius feels like “his brain is on fire.” He is in love for the first time.

For the next month, Marius visits the park every day. Though he tries not to attract the father’s attention, he boldly positions himself where the girl will see him the most. Eventually, the father begins to vary his schedule and sometimes visits the park alone. One evening, Marius find a white handkerchief with the initials U.F. on the bench the old man and the girl have just left. Assuming that the handkerchief belongs to the girl, Marius guesses that her first name is Ursula. He kisses the handkerchief, holds it over his heart, and goes to sleep that night with it pressed to his lips. Actually, the handkerchief has fallen from the old man’s pocket.

Wanting to know more about her, Marius follows her to her modest home in the Rue de l’Oest. One night he asks the porter about them and learns that they live on the third floor and that the gentleman, who lives on his income, does a lot of good works for the poor. The following day, Marius again follows them. After his daughter is inside, the old man turns and looks at Marius. After that, they no longer go to the park. Marius watches their window every evening but does not see them. On the eighth day, the window is dark. The porter informs Marius that they have moved.

The Noxious Poor - Summary
Marius searches for the girl and her father but does not find them. Depressed, he reproaches himself for following them. One day he sees a man who is dressed like a laborer. Beneath his cap, Marius sees a few strands of white hair. Though he thinks he recognizes M. Leblanc, he cannot understand why he would be dressed as a laborer.

A young girl visits Marius one evening and delivers a letter signed by his neighbor, Jondrette. The letter thanks Marius for the kindness he showed by paying the rent six months before and explains that the family has no money for food and asks Marius to help them again. While Marius reads the letter, Jondrette’s daughter, who is wearing such tattered clothes that they barely cling to her body, snoops around his room moving things and inspecting everything. She mentions that her father served in the army and fought at Waterloo. She also tells Marius that she has seen him visiting Father Mabeuf. Marius has only five francs and 16 sous. He gives her the five francs and keeps the 16 sous for his own dinner.

Though Marius has been poor for the past five years, he has not known real misery. He has just seen real misery in the form of Jondrette’s daughter. “In fact, he who has seen the misery of man only has seen nothing, he must see the misery of woman; he who has seen the misery of woman only has seen nothing, he must see the misery of childhood.” Marius feels guilty for ignoring the plight of his neighbors who are separated from him by only by a thin plaster wall. He thinks their wretched behavior is caused by their circumstances. “There is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, “Les Misérables…” Marius finds a hole in the wall near the ceiling. Standing on his bureau, he can see into the Jondrette’s apartment.

Peering through the hole, Marius sees the daughter who is now wearing an old gown. She did not have it on when she visited his room, perhaps so that she would look more pitiful. She excitedly announces that the philanthropist will be arriving any moment in a coach. The father orders the family to put out the fire and break a pane of glass, and he puts his foot through the bottom of the chair. The younger daughter cuts her hand when she breaks the window so the father rips up the shirt he is wearing and wraps it, pronouncing that they are now ready to receive the philanthropist.

There is a knock at the door; an old man and a girl enter the Jondrettes’ room. Marius, still watching through the hole in the wall, is astounded to see that it is Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter. The daughter places a package on the table.

Jondrette thanks his visitors for the blankets and clothing in the package. Seeking sympathy, he tells them that they have no food and no fire, that their only chair is broken, and that the window is broken. He lies when he says that his daughter has injured her arm working in a factory. His wife, he says, is ill. He again lies when he says that they will be evicted the following day because they owe the landlord 40 francs unpaid rent for an entire year. In fact, Marius had paid for half a year.

M. Leblanc gives him five francs, all he has, and promises to return at six o’clock with 60 francs. He also leaves his coat for Jondrette, who puts it on immediately.

Near six o’clock, Marius again looks through the hole in the wall and observe a charcoal furnace in the fireplace. A chisel lying in the coals is red hot. Near the door are a pile of ropes and a pile of old iron. The Jondrette apartment is a perfect place for crime as it is “the most retired room of the most isolated house of the most solitary boulevard in Paris.”

Jondrette tells his wife that they must have two chairs, and she quickly responds that she will borrow them from the neighbor. Before he can move, she enters Marius’ room and takes two chairs. She does not see Marius who is concealed by a shadow. She returns to her apartment, and her husband places one chair on each side of the table and puts a screen in front of the fireplace to hide the furnace. Marius now realizes that the rope in the corner is actually a rope ladder, and the pile of iron is a pile of large iron tools. Jondrette takes a large carving knife out of the table drawer, tests the blade, and replaces it in the drawer. Marius, observing all this, takes out his pistol and cocks it.

Precisely at six o’clock, Jondrette puts out the candle and M. Leblanc enters. He puts four louis on the table. While he is thanking M. Leblanc, Jondrette tells his wife to send the carriage away. She quietly leaves the room as her husband offers their visitor a chair. She returns moments later and whispers that the carriage is gone. Jondrette sits in the other chair, facing his visitor.

M. Leblanc inquires about the daughter’s injury and comments that the wife looks better. Jondrette tells him that she is dying. While they are talking, Marius sees a man noiselessly enter the back of the room. The intruder has tattooed arms and his face is blackened. He sits on the bed and stays behind the wife.

M. Leblanc instinctively turns toward the stranger and asks who he is. Jondrette explains that he is a neighbor and distracts Leblanc with conversation about a picture he wants to sell. Another man with a blackened face silently enters and sits on the bed Jondrette tells Leblanc to ignore him. While Jondrette continues to talk about his painting, two more men with blackened faces and bare arms enter the room. Leblanc stares at them. Jondrette explains that their faces are dark because they are chimney sweeps who work with charcoal. When he asks Leblanc how much he will pay for the painting, Leblanc says that it is only a tavern sign worth a few francs. Jondrette asks for a thousand crowns. (It is the sign the Thénardiers had above the door of their inn in Montfermeil.)

Leblanc stands with his back to the wall watching Jondrette the whole time. Jondrette becomes more and more angry. He is like a mad man. Suddenly, he moves toward Leblanc and shouts, “…Do you know me?”

The apartment door suddenly flies open. Three men wearing blue shirts and paper masks enter. One is armed with a club, another holds an ax, and the third carries a key from a prison door. As if he were awaiting their arrival, Jondrette angrily repeats his question. When Leblanc declares that he does not know who he is, Jondrette, crazed, declares that he is Thénardier, the innkeeper of Montfermeil, but Leblanc still does not know who he is.

Marius, still watching from the other side of the wall, is completely unnerved when he hears the name Thénardier. Remembering his father’s will, he is astounded that Thénardier is a monster about to commit a crime. He hesitates, knowing that he must act if he is to save M. Leblanc.

In the meantime, Thénardier, still in a frenzy, accuses Leblanc of being a thoughtless millionaire who preys on the poor. He identifies him as the one who took Fantine’s child away. Leblanc seizes the moment when Thénardier turns his back and springs toward the window. He is half out when the three black-faced men drag him back into the room and throw him down. Thénardier’s wife grabs his hair, and one of the men raises a club to hit him on the head. Marius, still watching, is about to shoot when Thénardier instructs his men not to hurt Leblanc.

Leblanc puts up a struggle, crushing two of the men and knocking over Thénardier, but the others subdue him, and he stops resisting. They tie him to the foot of the bed and search him, finding only six francs. Thénardier, whose demeanor has changed from violent to calm, sits near him and quietly begins to talk. He informs his captive that he wants 200,000 francs. He unties one hand and forces Leblanc to write: “Come immediately, I have imperative need of you. The person who will give you this note is directed to bring you to me. I am waiting for you.”

Thénardier asks his name, and he says it is Urbain Fabre. Finding the initials U.F. on the handkerchief he has taken from his prisoner, Thénardier instructs him to sign the note with the initials and address it to his daughter, Mademoiselle Fabre. He then gives the note to his wife and tells her to deliver it right away.

They wait. When the wife returns, she tells them it was the wrong address. Thénardier, furious, asks his prisoner why he used a false address. He says he did it to gain time. With only one leg tied to the bed, Leblanc has loosened his bonds. Before anyone can react, he springs free and grabs the hot chisel from the fire. He proclaims that they cannot make him do what he does not want to do or write what he doesn’t want to write. Rolling up his sleeve, he puts the glowing chisel on his left arm. Marius is horrified, and even the criminals wince when they hear his flesh sizzle. Leblanc throws the chisel out the window and tells them to do what they want with him. Taking the knife from the drawer, Thénardier suggests they kill him.

Marius, hoping to save both the victim and his persecutor, wraps a chunk of plaster with a note written by Thénardier’s daughters which says, “THE COGNES (Police) ARE HERE.” He hurls it into his neighbor’s apartment. Thénardier, recognizing Eponine’s writing, rushes to escape through the window. The others want to go first so they decide to draw lots. From the doorway, someone asks if they would like to use his hat to draw the lots. It is Javert.

Javert had posted his men in front of the building at nightfall. After recognizing some of the bandits and seeing the coach come and go, he decided to go up. His men handcuff everyone and untie Leblanc. Javert sits at the table, starts to write something, and then calls for the gentleman who had been tied up. However, the prisoner of the bandits has disappeared in the confusion.

Marius - Analysis
This portion of the novel, which begins in 1831, introduces additional characters and subplots and advances the story of Jean and Cosette. One new subplot revolves around Marius and his family and their opposing political views. Another concerns the development of a love relationship between Marius and Cosette.

The author develops the theme of the old vs. the new social order, the bourgeois vs. the revolutionary, by contrasting M. Gillenor¬mand and George Pontmercy. Gillenormand, the bourgeois gentleman, symbolizes the old order. His rough treatment of his daughter and servants and his interference in the relationship between Marius and his father make Gillenormand the villain. In contrast, Pontmercy is a military hero whose bravery is well documented. He represents the revolutionists and forces of change that were sweeping across France. A description of the relationship between Pontmercy and Thénardier foreshadows events which will occur later in the novel.

Further social commentary is offered and the title of the novel is explained by the discussion of misery in this section. The Jondrettes, though vile and miserable people, are no less miserable than the merely unfortunate characters. As the author points out, few people who are reduced to poverty and mean circumstances remain pure.

A Biblical reference to Judas, who betrayed Jesus, foreshadows the betrayal of M. Leblanc by the Jondrettes. Throughout this section Jean is called M. Leblanc because of his white hair, perhaps suggesting that he is an intrinsically good man. In the Jondrettes’ apartment, the forces of evil, represented by the men with blackened faces, gather against him. He resists by lying to them and declares his independence by branding his own arm with a hot chisel, indicating his ability to resist evil.

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