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Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

“Marius,” Book Eight: The Noxious Poor

“Marius,” Books Four–Seven

“Saint-Denis,” Books One–Seven

Summary

[S]he wrote on a sheet of blank paper . . . “The cops are here.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Marius spends several months trying to track down Cosette, whom he only knows as his beloved Ursula, the young woman from the Luxembourg Gardens, but she has disappeared, and he has grown despondent. Marius cannot stop thinking of her until a visit from his neighbor, Eponine Jondrette, reminds him that other people’s troubles are worse than his own. Eponine comes to Marius’s room in the Gorbeau House to ask for money. She is so emaciated that she has the body of girl but the broken voice of an old man. To show off the fact that she is literate, Eponine writes “The cops are here” on a piece of paper. Marius fails to realize that Eponine is attracted to him and offers her his last five francs.

Marius decides to take a more active interest in the welfare of the Jondrettes. He finds a crack in the wall that separates their apartments and is horrified by the sight of the squalor and poverty in which they live. Through the crack, Marius sees Eponine enter with a philanthropist and a young girl. He immediately recognizes the philanthropist as Leblanc and the girl as Ursula. Jondrette pretends to be an unemployed actor and begs Leblanc for rent money. Though the amount Jondrette is asking for is much higher than the rent, Leblanc vows to return later that evening to give him the money.

Marius overhears Jondrette plotting to rob and kill Leblanc when he returns that evening. Clearly, Jondrette and his wife recognize both Leblanc and Ursula from some past incident, and they seem infuriated to see their old acquaintances so well off. With the help of Patron-Minette, the local mob, the Jondrettes form a plan to coerce Leblanc into giving them a large sum of money. Although Marius does not fully understand the connection between the Jondrettes and Leblanc, he runs to the local police station. He tells an inspector about Jondrette’s plan. The inspector, who turns out to be Javert, gives Marius two pistols and tells him to return to the Gorbeau House. Javert tells Marius that when the robbery has reached its peak, he should fire one of the pistols to signal to the police to enter the building and arrest the thieves.

Marius returns to his apartment. When Leblanc returns to the Gorbeau House, Jondrette and a number of local hoods—among them the members of Patron-Minette—ambush him. Leblanc calmly refuses to sign over any of his money, saying that he has none. Jondrette angrily reveals that his real name is Thénardier. Leblanc denies that he has ever met Thénardier before. Marius, recognizing the name Thénardier from his father’s note, is faced with the dilemma of whether to help Leblanc or to protect the man who saved his father’s life.

The Thénardiers force Valjean to write a note summoning Cosette to the apartment. Thénardier’s messengers return with the news that Valjean has given them a false name and address. Thénardier is on the verge of killing Valjean when Marius sends Eponine’s scribbled message—“The cops are here“—flying through the window. When the criminals read that the police have arrived, they try to flee, but Javert makes his entrance and arrests them all. In the confusion, Valjean slips out the window.

Analysis

Thénardier’s attempt to rob Leblanc is the climax of the “Marius” section of the novel, and it pulls together all the loose threads and unexplained coincidences that have occurred in the previous chapters. The episode shows Hugo’s remarkable ability to use the smallest details from the past to make the most far-fetched parts of his story plausible. The incident is based on an extraordinary series of coincidences: Both Marius and the Thénardiers move into the same building where Valjean once lived; Thénardier happens to ask for money from Valjean, who is the father of Marius’s beloved; the inspector for the precinct happens to be Javert; and Thénardier turns out to be the man who Marius’s father thought saved his life at Waterloo. Although the overlap of so many different story lines is improbable, it is not inconceivable. For example, it makes sense that Marius and Thénardier might be neighbors, since Thénardier would appreciate the anonymity of the Gorbeau House and Marius would appreciate its low rent. Similarly, it is not surprising that the dogged Javert is still working in the last precinct where he knows Valjean lived. Lesser details also have a plausible explanation. Eponine has likely scribbled many warning notes in her criminal career, so writing “The cops are here” to prove her literacy is a logical choice for her. Thus, though the episode involves an unlikely combination of coincidences, Hugo roots the robbery so thoroughly in his earlier chapters that we can believe it.

The robbery scene forces Marius to choose between his different allegiances. While the climax does not resolve all of these conflicts, it does give us insight into Marius’s character, especially his ability to find a middle ground. Marius does not, for instance, fire the pistol at the appointed moment since he does not want to betray his father’s dying wish that he assist Thénardier in any way possible, but he does throw Eponine’s letter into the Thénardiers’ apartment. This split-second decision indicates Marius’s newfound ability to balance his various allegiances while staying true to his own beliefs. While Marius does not betray Thénardier, he does prevent him from harming Valjean, whom Marius wishes to protect due to his love for Cosette. While Valjean and Javert are unyielding in their principles, Marius is more flexible and comes up with a way of thinking that is distinctly his own.

The Thénardiers’ intricate schemes against Valjean show how thoroughly jealousy drives their criminal behavior. Unable to feel love and compassion themselves, the Thénardiers retaliate by plotting against those who are capable of such emotions. Mme. Thénardier’s enraged reaction upon seeing that Cosette is better clothed than her own daughters represents her materialistic interpretation of the fact that Cosette is purer and more righteous than her children. Rather than try to learn how to become upstanding citizens themselves, the Thénardiers view respectability as an affront and try to drag Valjean and Cosette down to their own debased level of existence. The only members of the Thénardiers who do not suffer from these jealous urges are Gavroche, who no longer lives in the Thénardier household, and Eponine. Eponine’s visit to Marius at the beginning of Book Eight foreshadows the selflessness she displays later in the novel.

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gavroche

by kiiiiid, January 30, 2013

and gavroche dies and the rest of france build a barricade and end the french revolution

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15 out of 67 people found this helpful

Les Miserables Analysis

by Adi31415, March 28, 2013

Les Miserables is based around the turning point in French history, and it explores the nature of this change in terms of society, and uses this as a basis for explaining the revolution. It explains how the ‘miserables’, or ‘victims’, damned into a life of thievery and being the scum of the Earth aren’t inherently bad. The society which has not given them a chance forces them to be bad, or do bad things. Instead of understanding their inner goodness and their plight to change their ways, or giving them some kindness or hope, they a... Read more

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250 out of 266 people found this helpful

Correction to Note 1 in Study Section

by IleneRM, October 24, 2013

It says: "Fantine falls in love with Tholomyès, a debonair upper-class student who obeys upper-class social customs and leaves Fantine even though she is pregnant with his child." This is wrong. Fantine was not pregnant. Ten months after the affair ended, Cosette was almost 3 years old; therefore she was already born when he left Fantine.

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2 out of 3 people found this helpful

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