Les Misérables

by: Victor Hugo

“Marius,” Books Four–Seven

Marius pursues Cosette with an innocence that is touching to us but threatening to Valjean. The narrator tells us that Marius is not well-versed in love and intrigue. Indeed, Valjean’s tests of Marius’s interest in Cosette show that Marius is in fact a novice at love and flirtation. Whereas a more experienced man might try to mask his intent or directly approach the object of his desires, Marius is content to follow Cosette around the park innocently. Marius’s charm lies in this very innocence, and the purity of his intentions, oddly enough, represents perhaps the greatest threat to Valjean. After all, it would be much easier for Valjean to justify protecting Cosette from a money-driven or sex-hungry prowler than from someone so completely and genuinely in love as Marius.

Hugo appeals to a wider readership by including scenes from the dangerous yet alluring Parisian criminal underworld. These scenes allow us to compare Valjean to real criminals. The emergence of complex crime rings was a popular topic in mid-nineteenth-century Paris and inspired the imagination of many authors of the time. Hugo describes the members of Patron-Minette in a tabloid fashion that is meant to mimic the sensationalist journalism of the time, which thrived on relating the darker side of Parisian life. Significantly, all the members of the criminal underworld change identities with ease, which reminds us that despite our warm feelings for Valjean, he is still considered a criminal. Although Valjean is certainly not immoral like Thénardier and his cronies, he also has a criminal background that emerged from poverty. The skills they have in common remind us that Valjean is, early in the novel, not so different from the men who soon try to rob him.


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