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Posted by digdigil on 2006.12.21 at 20:22

This Book opens with a harrowing scene. A nasty character, Boulatruelle the road-mender, follows a shadowy man through the woods, but loses him. In a clearing, Boulatruelle finds a heap of stones, a pile of earth, a hole in the ground and an abandoned pick-axe.

For me, this was quite an unnerving opening, coming right after Javert’s shocking suicide at the end of Book IV.

From this scene, Hugo progresses to the details of Marius’ slow recovery and the relief and rapture of his grandfather, Monsieur Gillenormand. Marius, upon recovering his consciousness, expects a clash of wills and beliefs to once again take place between him and his grandfather. He is surprised to find that Monsieur Gillenormand is either now in agreement with everything he says, or has stopped arguing entirely with Marius. Marius tells Monsieur Gillenormand that he wants to get married and Monsieur Gillenormand agrees that he should do so.

Marius, in his delight, begins to call Monsieur Gillenormand “father”, which makes the old man very happy.

Let me stop here and remark on one aspect of “Hugoverse” that aroused my curiosity throughout the book. Both Cosette and Marius use the name “father” to address Jean Valjean and Monsieur Gillenormand, who are quite elderly men. Jean Valjean must be in his sixties, and Monsieur Gillenormand is in his nineties. Yet it is not unusual in this story for such an age difference between parent and child. In another part of the book there is a description of an elderly man who is the father of a young child: the man and boy in the park feeding the swans during the insurrection while Gavroche’s little brothers watch them. Was this perhaps a sign of the times? That because of the Napoleonic Wars there was a dearth of men in France between the approximate ages of 20-50? Or is it merely Hugoverse: that he liked to think of older men having young children? I found it all rather interesting.

To return to the summary, after several months Cosette and Marius meet each other again. Hugo describes Cosette standing in the doorway “seeming enveloped in a glow of light”. (He does place her on a pedestal, doesn’t he?) Monsieur Fauchelevent (Jean Valjean) is with her. A discussion ensues among the two older men about the young couple’s future, at which time Fauchelevent discloses that Cosette has almost 600,000 francs—584,000 to be exact—for her dowry.

It seems that Jean Valjean had withdrawn all his money from the bank and buried it in the Montfermeil wood where Boulatruelle had seen him. In the same section, Javert’s body is found in the river and Jean Valjean reads about this tragedy in the newspaper. He surmises that Javert must have lost his mind, the proof being that he let Valjean escape.

During the wedding preparations for Marius and Cosette, Monsieur Gillenormand comes to like her very much. Jean Valjean contrives a story to explain how Cosette has come into such a sum of money, disguising her actual roots, which, if they were known (that she is the daughter of a prostitute) might prevent the marriage from taking place.

It is necessary to reveal to Cosette that Valjean is not her real father, but now that she is to be married, she is less upset at hearing this news than she perhaps would have been a year before. Monsieur Gillenormand showers Cosette with pretty gifts of clothing and whatnots. Aunt Gillenormand decides in an example of the contrariness of human nature, that she will leave her money to the young couple because they don’t really need it.

The young couple is to live with Monsieur Gillenormand. Marius wonders about Monsieur Fauchelevent’s background, finding him mysterious. Marius has a lot of mental baggage to deal with: the events at the barricade, the death of all his friends, and the strange Monsieur Fauchelevent who rescued him. Only once does he try to grill Valjean about the happenings in the Rue de Chanvrerie. Jean Valjean replies that he doesn’t know of any such street, and Marius decides to let the matter go, doubting that in fact, Fauchelevent is the same man as the one at the barricade.

Marius is faced now with two tasks: the finding of Thénardier and also the stranger who brought him to Gillenormand’s house. He tells Jean Valjean that he would give up all his money to find out who that man was.


Two of the characters have had sleepless nights on February 16, 1833: for vastly different reasons. First, Marius and Cosette exchanged their wedding vows in the home of Monsieur Gillenormand and after a lavish reception and party, retired to their bedroom, where Marius spent his sleepless night enjoying what may be termed “marital bliss”.

Earlier in the day, while the wedding party made its way from the church to Monsieur Gillenormand’s house, a wagon full of masked revelers celebrating Mardi Gras, stopped to let the wedding party pass. Two of the masked people, a man and a girl, engaged in an unusual conversation. The man recognized Monsieur Fauchelevent, whose arm was in a sling. The girl did not know him. The man asked the girl to follow the wedding party to find out where they are going. He calls the girl “Azelma”.

(I always wondered what had become of Eponine and Gavroche’s sister.)

Monsieur Fauchelevent leaves the wedding reception early, offering the excuse that his arm is hurting. He returns to No. 7 Rue de l’Homme-Armé, where he wanders through the empty rooms. He has let Toussaint go to become Cosette’s servant at the Gillenormand house, and all the rooms and cupboards at No. 7 are empty. The beds are unmade. He takes the black box that Cosette had called his “inseparable” and opens it. Inside are the first clothes that he had purchased for Cosette when she was still a little girl: her black dress, scarf, shoes, her undergarments and stockings. He lays them out on the bed, where he sinks his head to bury his face in them. He gives himself up to grief, sobbing into the clothing. Thus Jean Valjean spends his sleepless night.

He is in turmoil, struggling with his conscience as well as his longing to be with Cosette. It would seem now that his past—the fact that he was a convict—has come back to haunt him.

Well. The plot thickens, doesn't it?


nobutterflies at 2006-12-27 17:41 (UTC) (Link)
I know this is late, but now the Christmas rush is over, and I'm caught up again.

That because of the Napoleonic Wars there was a dearth of men in France between the approximate ages of 20-50?

I think that's a good point. Or it could also be that the term 'father' is used to denote grandfathers too, as Marius does in absence of his biological father? So maybe the elderly man was actually the child's grandfather...

Marius spent his sleepless night enjoying what may be termed “marital bliss”

Phrases like this, in older books, always make me cringe. Ugh. Men always enjoy their wedding nights, though the women just submit and...put up with it, I suppose.
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