Summary and Analysis Part 4: St. Denis: Books VIII-IX



During the month of May, Marius visits Cosette every evening in the garden, and they live an idyll of chaste adoration. They exchange trivial observations charged with emotion. They laugh lightheartedly. Marius pays Cosette admiring compliments and Cosette confesses her love. They simply enjoy the plenitude of existence. Valjean is completely unaware of Marius' visits. The young man comes when the old man has retired. Cosette is extremely amenable, never objecting to Valjean's plans and suggestions.

Unfortunately, complications are about to disturb the perfect simplicity of the couple's lives. One day, Marius meets Eponine, whom he has completely forgotten. He finds the meeting awkward and she, for different reasons, is embarrassed too. They exchange only a few words. The next day, Marius sees Eponine again. He avoids her, but she follows him to the Rue Plumet and hides in a dark corner outside the gate, lost in unhappy thoughts.

Soon after, six men meet in front of the house. It is Thénardier's gang, planning to carry out the robbery of Valjean's house, which they had first discussed in prison. Eponine abruptly leaves her hiding place and, as a diversionary tactic, embraces her father and greets his accomplices. When cajolery proves ineffective, she turns to defiance. Alone, this frail creature challenges the entire gang and even when threatened with death declares she will rouse the whole neighborhood at the first hostile move. Her firmness alarms the thieves, who reluctantly abandon their project and scatter in the night

But misfortune, checked in one direction, attacks in another. While Eponine stands guard outside, Cosette gives Marius a piece of news that is the equivalent of a death sentence. Jean Valjean, alarmed by a sense that he is watched, has decided to take her to England. Confronted by this catastrophe, Marius makes a desperate resolution. He will go to see his grandfather and appeal to his pity. Had he seen M. Gillenormand recently, Marius might be more hopeful, for the old man has been undergoing a transformation. His self-righteousness has given place to sorrow, and he thinks about Marius with more affection and less bitterness. The sudden realization that their separation may be permanent has cut him to the heart.

Marius' unexpected visit provokes an immense longing for reconciliation which, alas, the old man cannot express. He greets Marius with his usual severity, and his grandson responds with constraint. Angry at himself for his inept behavior and at Marius for his obtuseness, he vehemently refuses him permission to marry. His answer is a long, bitter, sarcastic diatribe climaxed by an irrevocable "Never!"

In his distress, Marius cries out: "Father!" and this word proves the clue to the old man's heart. Abruptly he is transfigured, embraces Marius, seats him in an armchair, and listens with the deepest sympathy to his love story. But no amount of understanding can quite bridge the gap between the libertine eighteenth-century grandfather and the romantic nineteenth-century grandson. To the grandfather, Marius' love affair is only a youthful escapade, and he suggests that he make Cosette his mistress. Marius is deeply offended by this suggestion and leaves indignantly. M. Gillenormand, thunderstruck, believes that this time the rift is irreparable, and he sinks into an agony of grief that transcends tears.

Meanwhile, Valjean, sitting on a slope in the Champ de Mars, is pondering the new dangers that are threatening his safety. Several times he has seen Thénardier roaming the neighborhood. The political unrest has made the police extremely vigilant, and he is afraid of becoming an accidental victim of their investigations. Finally, a fresh and enigmatic inscription on his garden wall adds to his preoccupation: "16 Rue de la Verrerie" is simply Marius' address, which he has written on the wall so that Cosette will know where to find him, but to Valjean it is a sinister sign. As he ponders, a note from the ever-watchful Eponine falls in front of him. It contains one significant word: "Move." This is the last straw; he decides to obey the note's warning.

Marius leaves his grandfather's house in a state of absolute despair. His rational faculties have abandoned him, and, like a robot, he walks the streets for hours. The next day, after a restless night, he resumes his wanderings, but without really knowing why, he takes Javert's pistols with him. Obsessed by his pain and the thought of his last rendezvous with Cosette, he is only dimly aware of the rumblings of the uprising.

At nine o'clock in the evening, he arrives at the garden to say good-bye to his love forever, but he is to be denied this last consolation. Jean Valjean has already taken Cosette away, and Marius falls on the bench like a man who has received a mortal blow. Then, through the trees, a dim figure whispers a message: "Monsieur Marius, your friends are waiting for you at the barricade in the Rue de la Chanvrerie."

M. Mabeuf is also in despair. He has been sinking to the last stages of destitution. Gavroche's purse has done him no good since in his naive honesty he has taken it to the police. His indigo experiment has been a total failure. The plates of his books have been sold to a pawnbroker. He cannot even afford his starvation diet, and he has been forced to the supreme sacrifice of selling his rare books. The promised help of a cabinet member proves a disappointment. At last he is reduced to disposing of his most precious volume, a book by Diogenes Laertius, to buy medicine for his sick servant. When he hears shots in the direction of the Arsenal, he takes his hat and goes out.


Skillfully, Hugo here begins to draw all his characters together toward the climax of the revolution. Not all will be on the same side: Javert, for instance, will be there as a police officer, and Valjean as an angel of mercy; and even among the revolutionaries motivations will differ widely. Marius will fling himself into it because he has lost the only thing in life he cares about; M. Mabeuf because he simply cannot afford to go on living; and even among the Friends of the A.B.C., the emotions are not entirely political. This only adds to the realism of the events, however, and to the credibility of their actions.

In French, a climax is known as a noeud, or knot, and the denouement is the untying of that knot. Hugo in the last two parts has given us an excellent example of the aptness of the term. At the beginning of Part Three, the lives of most of the characters of Les Misérables were single threads scattered all over Paris and its nearby villages. Thénardier with his colonel at Waterloo, Cosette and Marius, Enjolras and Gavroche — all appeared to have nothing whatever to do with one another. Gradually Hugo has tied these threads together, knotting Marius and Cosette together by Eponine, Valjean and Javert by Thénardier, Gavroche and M. Gillenormand through the little lost boys. Now he throws a final loop about them and, like the fine dramatist he is, draws them all gently toward a common center.