About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers
Marius: Book 3; Marius Does a Spectacular One-Eighty
So, now it is time to learn all about this brigand of a son-in-law that is such a disgrace to M. Gillenormand. Seems, he’s been all over the place as a career military man, gathering accolades and rank left and right. He suffered a gash across his face at Waterloo, barely survived falling in the sunken road… If you haven’t sussed it out by now, this son-in-law is the Pontmercy that Thénardier accidentally saved by pulling him out from under a pile of dudes so that he might loot the body. He even gets a first name! Georges “The ‘S’ is silent, why do you even have letters at the end of things if you’re not going to use them, French language?” Pontmercy.
He was forced out of active duty and lives off a meager pay now after a change in regime, and moved to a place down by the river in Vernon in the smallest house available. He lived there with his lovely wife Mlle. Gillenormand the younger, that he loved, despite her father’s very grudging approval of their marriage.
Seems like a cozy little life until she died in childbirth. No! At least he has his son… Wait, what is this you’re telling me, book? Gillenormand swooped in and took the baby away from his father?
Yes, he did. The grandfather absconded with the child under threat of disinheritance. Georges knew that he had to let go to do what was best for his kid, so that he could have a better life growing up. This really bums me out majorly, single parents getting taken advantage of all over, I have to say. Not only that, but being a Napoleon fan and such, now that the Bourbons are back in charge, the powers that be have got an eye on him. His rank is no longer recognized, and neither is his title of Baron nor his position in the Legion of Honour. That isn’t to say Pontmercy abides by any of this. He still wears his Legion of Honour Rosette out, despite receiving repeated letters that he would be prosecuted for it since it is illegal, and gosh-darn, he is going to sign his name Colonel Baron Pontmercy every chance he gets regardless. He even runs into the prosecutor on the road one day and goes up to him on his own accord to rather sarcastically ask if he’s still allowed to wear his scars. Stick it to the man, Georges!
Now, getting back to Georges’s home life. He is the old scarred up man in the loneliest little house. He spends his days tending his postage stamp of a garden, because that is all he has left. His flowers. He spends time thinking about his salad days on the battlefield and about how he spends his time now, innocently pruning his hedges and hanging out with his friend Abbé Mabeuf ? Name to remember alert.
Why is it that the good guys in this book are all really awesome at cultivating and taking care of gardens? Valjean and Champmatheiu were pruners at Faveroles, Fauchelevent has his nun garden, and now Pontmercy. Not that we know too terribly much about Georges, but he doesn’t seem like a bad guy so far. This imagery recurs too often. My symbolism detector is going off, and here I thought it was totally broken to everything except anvils falling on my head. (The Internet says: yes it is. This explains everything, but we are not here for deep literary analysis! *runs away from symbolism*)
So, what is Gillenormand up to when he’s not extorting good men into giving up their parental rights? Well, he’s just hanging out at Madame de T’s Salon. A Salon is basically just a place where a bunch of wealthy/society people gather to gab about things, not a place to get your hair cut (it can be that too, but we’re not talking about that). Apparently when he’s not waving his anger-cane at his grandson, Old G. cuts quite the clever and charming figure.
Here at these Salons they discuss current events and art and politics in the form of punnery, poetry, and clever songs, because I guess this is what idle rich people do when they’re being idle and rich. WORD PLAY!
He attends these gatherings often with his daughter and the little boy. If it wasn’t completely obvious to you by now, this kid’s name is Marius. The only thing he knows of his father is that he has one, since M. Gillenormand refuses to talk about the guy unless it’s to poke fun at his Baronry with his Salon friends. Possibly in rhyming couplets with piano accompaniment.
As baby Maris gets older, he starts to absorb the whisperings of these people about his dad. As we know, they don’t think much of him and regard him as a brigand and a disgrace, therefore Marius’s little heart has been poisoned against his dad before Georges even got a chance. This is totally not okay. Especially since the only thing Georges ever did as far as Gillenormand is concerned was standing on the “wrong” side of politics.
Now, little Marius is allowed to write a letter to his dad only twice a year as dictated by his aunt, who…by the way, is the one with all the money Marius stands to inherit, not Old G. C’mon, Mlle! Why are you complicit in your dad’s curmudgeonly doings? Maybe she agrees with him? Maybe Old G. is someone she just can’t say no to.
As for the letters they are basically a rather cold affair more out of obligation than anything, but Georges always replies with tender letters of his own.
Which Old G. does not read or open or give to Marius. He disposes of them.
As for Georges, if there is any doubt that his motivations for giving up his son were pure, let us dispel that now. Be it the right or wrong decision in the long run, Georges truly believed he was sacrificing his own happiness so that the boy would be well taken care of and have a better life than he could provide for him in his little garden down by the river with the French government peeping on his every move to the point of actively trying to dictate what he wears. He dared not violate the agreement set forth by Old G that he not see his son, lest the boy be disinherited.
Except for those times when he sneaked down to Paris on the days he knew Mlle. Gillenormand the Elder brought Marius to mass. That was where he watched Marius grow up and shed tears that he could never meet him as he hid behind a pillar so no Gillenormands would catch sight of him, and that was where he caught the eye of Abbé Mabeuf.
Mabeuf was there visiting his curé brother, when he noticed this big old soldier with a handsome sabre scar down his face over in the corner weeping like a little girl. Naturally, this juxtaposition piqued his interest, and he conspired with his brother to meet this guy. I’m not sure why meeting Georges required a plan. They meet later on down the road and Georges invites him over to his shack in Vernon, where he spills his guts out about the whole sordid affair. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, because, like the PB&J of 19th century France, nothing goes together like an old soldier and an old priest.
As for Marius, he grows up hanging around in salons none the wiser. Madame de T’s is his home, which is pretty unfortunate, because hanging out with these old people who look upon young people as strange and foreign entities, and spend all their time being Ultra Royalists has made him a very serious and morose little child.
These guys are unapologetically aligned with the monarchy, as opposed to the new kind of Royalists who kind of feel bad about it. We get to learn all about all the oldies that spend their days at Madame de T’s and the kind of stories they tell, like the one an old priest tells about the time when he was a soldier down in Toulon and his job was to go up the scaffolding at the end of the day and gather up all the guillotined heads from the day’s executions. I don’t even know what to say about that.
Right, so, a bunch of older people hanging around talking about politics and dismissing anybody who disagrees with them while making fun of them with clever slogans. Sounds like Thanksgiving dinner to me. Unfortunately Marius has no cousins to go hang out with in the basement, so he absorbs all this like a sponge as children are wont to do.
Meanwhile, M. Gillenormand has assured that the kid gets an education. We’ll just skip over his adolescence and go straight to young adulthood and him being in law school now. He has gone from a serious child to a serious young adult. His cool demeanor leads to a complete inability to make friends since this makes him a pretty unapproachable character.
Now, Marius wasn’t fond of his grandfather. This explains who adored who in the previous chapter. It wasn’t the kid who adored the grandpa. That is clear now. He feels even less charitable toward his father. There’s a void where the man should be, and Marius has spent eighteen years thinking that his dad abandoned him and never loved him. Nobody sees fit to correct this impression of course, so when he’s called in to Old G. one day and told he is to travel to Vernon to see his long lost father who is now dying, he isn’t exactly excited about the idea. What’s the opposite of excited? He is that.
He’s feeling so ambivalent about the whole thing that he doesn’t book immediate passage to Vernon. He could have taken the overnight coach, but he was in no hurry. This means that by the time Marius manages to make his way over to his dad’s place, Georges has already died. He died right before Marius got there. The Curé was too late, the Doctor was too late, and Marius was too late.
In fact, Georges was so distraught that his son had not come right away that he was roused from his deathbed in the middle of the night and collapsed there in the hallway where he perished. I don’t know, this seems to somewhat parallel Fantine’s death in a way…both of them on their deathbeds awaiting their dearly beloved children that would never come.
If you’re thinking Marius is going to be moved at all by finding his dead dad on the floor, you would be wrong. He feels nothing. This isn’t to say Marius doesn’t feel bad for not feeling anything. He totally does, but even though we know Georges isn’t a horrible child abandoning beast-monster, this man is a stranger to Marius and stands for everything that he hates. This is how Marius grew up, and this is what Grandpa G. has drilled into his brain.
He leaves with nothing more than a note his father left for him passing on his title of baron even though it is not officially recognized and instructions to find and be of service to the man who saved him: Thénardier, who owns an inn in Montfermeil. Marius doesn’t stay for the funeral. He leaves right away, gives away Georges’s possessions, and after he’s gone the town loots Georges’s precious garden of all the rare and beautiful flowers and the plot becomes wild and overgrown.
As for Marius, he wears the requisite mourning band on his hat and would probably not have given much more thought to Georges if he hadn’t gone to his old church one day and sat in a certain church warden’s seat. He was just kind of wandering around in a dreamy state as Marius does when he kneels down at this chair behind a pillar. There he is approached by Abbé Mabeuf who points out that it is his seat and yes, indeed, his name is on it. Literally.
Marius gives up his spot, and again, would have gone on about his merry way if Mabeuf hadn’t felt the need to explain himself. You see, this spot is sort of sacred to him, for that is where he spied Georges and got to know him. He explains the whole story about this man who was a colonel at Waterloo under Napoleon, who came every week to tearfully hide behind a pillar and watch his son that he was torn apart from due to familial disagreements. Mabeuf thinks this is a shame.
“Certainly I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop!”
Mabeuf drops a Manhattan Project size truth bomb that is still applicable over a hundred years later and will probably continue to be relevant for hundreds of years to come, because the human race never ever learns.
This whole time Marius is listening to this story and you can sort of tell that alarm bells are going off all over his brain. When Mabeuf tries to remember the old soldier’s last name and fumbles it, Marius supplies it for him:
Marius is the little boy, now adult, and he has just learned that everything he thought he knew about his dad is wrong.
As a result of learning that his father was not in fact a child abandoning beast-monster, Marius throws himself into learning everything he can about him. He goes to the library and reads up on the Revolution and the Republic and the Empire and Napoleon. This doesn’t feel like a gradual thing at all. It’s like he’s completely flipped around in a matter of days. He has totally ripped his Long Live the King sticker from his trapper keeper and replaced it with Bonaparte 5-Ever! He wholeheartedly embraces everything his dad believed in instead. He’s just really kind of obsessive about it to the point of totally ignoring all the bad parts. Georges he worships, and Napoleon is now his idol, and as for Grandpa, well, they never got along to begin with and Marius just drifts further and further away until he gets stranded on the island of hatred. This was the man that kept him separated from the father he now adores for his entire life after all.
Having shed the Royalist skin his grandpa had thrust upon him from birth almost to the point of being one of those Republican’s that Old G. so despises — Marius, in what is apparently the next logical step in his Pontmercy brain, rushes out to the printer to get calling cards printed up with his new title of Baron on them. He’s so damn excited about it. However, Marius having grown up in a salon hanging out with old Ultras and having no social skills to speak of, has nobody to call on. The kid has no friends, so he just stuffs his fancy cards in his pocket and goes on about his day.
This is simultaneously really sad, and unintentionally hilarious. What are we going to do with you, Pontmercy?
As time goes by, Marius spends less and less time at home, between reading up on his new found interests and trying to find the Thénardiers. They are not longer in Montfermeil, since the inn has failed. Marius tells everybody that he’s just really busy studying the law at lawyer school, but nobody believes any of his excuses. That leads me to believe that Marius has never “studied” this hard in his life, and he’s a terrible liar. Old G and Auntie G are convinced that he has a lady friend that he’s spending all his time with. They have no way to tell until a certain cousin we have heard of before comes for a visit on his way through town.
Now, I call Théodule a cousin because we learn here that, even though Hugo says so, there is no actual way he is Mlle. Gillenormand the Elder’s Great Nephew. It is literally impossible for him to be that relation, unless he is Marius’s own son traveling through time from the future (SOMEONE WRITE THE FANFIC!). See, in order to be a great nephew, he would have to be the grandson of Mlle. Gillenormand’s sibling, of which we know there to be only her half-sister: Marius’s Mom. Since Théodule is related on M. Gillenormand’s side and carries the Gillenormand name, that makes him some sort of cousin.
Unless I missed a brother, or he’s one of Magnon’s boys’ kids, but I doubt Old G. would let his illegitimate non-children run around with the family name attached to them. That age gap would probably make Théodule impossible anyway, since he’s clearly older than Marius. I am not sure why I am so concerned about Théodule’s lineage, but I am.
Back to the story at hand! Théodule has come to visit his “Auntie”, and she is delighted to see him. He is her favourite after all, precisely because he doesn’t come around all that often. He can remain idealized in her mind since she doesn’t get to ever know all his bad habits or disagreeable opinions should he have them. Sorry about your luck, Marius. The dude that isn’t even her actual nephew is still her favorite nephew over you.
She wants him to stay for a while, but he’s only passing through Paris on his way to Vernon on his way to somewhere else as per his orders. This gives Mlle. Gillenormand an idea! Marius is also on his way out, and he doesn’t really know Théodule and his perfectly curled mustache well enough to recognize him. This is the ideal opportunity to spy on the kid and see who his secret girlfriend is!
Théodule agrees to this. It’s just a bit of fun after all even though I think all of these elderly relatives are way too invested in what is going on in Marius’s pants. In any case, Théodule catches the coach with Marius, who is riding on the outside while he rides on the inside, so there’s even less of a chance of being caught at spying.
Théodule is not that great of a spy though since he falls asleep and almost loses Marius, but he wakes up just in time to see him get off the coach. He follows and watches as the kid buys the biggest bouquet from a flower girl, all the while, the wheels of his mind are spinning about this girl Marius is going to see.
Marius heads to the church.
Intrigue! What kind of illicit love affair is this that they are meeting at the church?
Marius goes behind the church.
And this is where all the fun speculation about Marius’s non-existent love life ends, because Marius is visiting his father’s grave. The pretty flowers are for his dad.
Théodule is totally nonplussed by this, and he feels the prickings of his conscience. This now seems like something way too personal for him to be intruding on, and being a military man himself, he has respect for the colonel. To his credit, Théodule does not report this back to the Gillenormands. It may have been because he didn’t know what to say, but still. I’m glad he didn’t tattle. Not that it does anything to stop the oncoming Hurricane Gillenormand.
Now, one early morning while Marius is passing through the house after one of his trips, he decides what he really needs is a swim. So he abandons his jacket and the black ribbon necklace thing he wears underneath his jacket and out of sight on his bed and leaves it there.
Old G. wakes up early that morning, because healthy old people are always up at the crack of dawn. Initially, he just wants to go say hi and welcome home to his grandson and maybe ask a few questions about his mystery lady. Marius has already departed for the baths though, and all Gillenormand finds are the things he left behind out in the open. In the perfect place for snooping. Old G finds the ribbon and attached to it is a small box; a sort of locket type thing. He’s getting excited now, because what could be in it? A love note?
He opens the case. Inside he finds the bit of paper that Georges bequeathed his title to Marius on. Oh, my. That leads to a search of the jacket pockets, which reveal the packet of calling cards emblazoned with: Baron Marius Pontmercy.
Old G. throws Marius’s things on the ground and has Nicolette take them away. When the grandson returns Grandpa is there waiting for him. I’d like to imagine he’s sitting on a big ornate chair lurking in the dark, possibly stroking a white cat and muttering to himself about Georges and Napoleon as he waits. But that’s just my imagination.
He confronts Marius with the cards as soon as he gets back demanding an explanation for what the meaning of this is!
Marius announces that this is who he is. His father’s son. And so, the storm has begun.
Old G. is righteously indignant about this declaration and yells that he is Marius’s is father.
Marius is having none of this and calls the old man out by telling him exactly who his father is; a heroic man that served the Republic and France whose only fault was loving a son and a country that didn’t love him back.
The mention of the Republic in such a way causes Gillenormand to just fly off the handle into crazy old man town. He pretty much screams down an entire page that Georges Pontmercy doesn’t exist, he doesn’t know this man, he is nothing to him, he doesn’t want to know him or hear about him. It’s like if he shouts loudly enough it will wipe Georges’s memory right off the face of the planet and Marius will go back to being an obedient little mini-Gillenormand and forget all about it.
Marius has other ideas. Namely to be torn for a moment between the man he grew up with and the father he never met, then to shout “Down with the Bourbons!” in his grandfather’s face when he can’t figure out what to do.
As you can probably guess, this tactic goes over like a lead balloon, and Marius is summarily ejected from the house. Old G. gives instructions to send him 60 Pistoles every six months and never speak of the child again.
Gillenormand takes out his residual anger on his daughter for the next few months, and Marius leaves in indignation further stoked by the fact that Nicolette had lost his father’s note. He assumes M. Gillenormand (For no longer shall this man be known to him as grandfather) has thrown the paper in the fire.
Now, you might remember from earlier that Marius is friendless and has nobody to call on, so he hops a cabriolet to the Latin Quarter with absolutely no plans or any place to stay. And that is where we leave him: homeless and abandoned with nowhere to turn.