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Marius meets a group of fellow law students who, like
him, are becoming increasingly involved in politics at the expense
of their studies. One of these students, Courfeyrac, becomes Marius’s
neighbor and introduces him to a secret political society called
the Friends of the ABC. Led by the fiery Enjolras, the group believes
ardently in social change. Marius thinks he has found an outlet
for his political frustrations. One day, however, he argues with
the other members of the group over Napoléon. Marius defends Napoléon
and calls his empire a glorious episode in French history, while
the other members are more interested in absolute democratic freedom.
Disappointed by the Friends of the ABC, Marius quits the
group and begins to live on his own. He passes his law exams with
flying colors but continues to live in utter poverty. He saves money
however he can, but he often finds it is not enough. Marius’s grandfather misses
him and his aunt often tries to send him money, but he refuses to
accept his family’s support. The narrator concludes that poverty has
been a blessing in disguise for Marius: freed from social obligations,
he has been able to see what kind of man he really is. He becomes
friends with the churchwarden, Mabeuf, who helps him through difficult
times by getting him a job at a bookstore.
Despite his poverty, Marius develops into an attractive
young man who often turns women’s heads as he walks down the street.
He is indifferent to women, however, until the day he sees Cosette
sitting next to the elderly Valjean on a park bench in the Luxembourg
Gardens. Marius is inexplicably drawn to her and goes to the gardens every
day to catch a glimpse of her. He does not know Cosette’s name,
so he calls her “Lanoire,” a nickname (coined by Courfeyrac) which
means “the black one,” because of her dark clothes. Courfeyrac has
dubbed her companion “Leblanc,” (“the white one”) because of Valjean’s
After a six-month absence, Marius returns to the gardens
to find that the girl has blossomed into a beautiful young woman.
Marius instantly falls in love with her. He discovers a handkerchief
with the letter “U” stitched into it, which he believes to be hers,
and Marius renames her Ursula. He improves his wardrobe and begins
to follow the couple around the gardens. Leblanc quickly figures
out what is going on. The following day, he sits at a different
bench to see if Marius will follow. When Marius follows, Leblanc
gives him a cold stare. Marius cannot help himself and follows his
love home one day, asking the caretaker of the building on what
floor the girl and the old man live. About a week later, the couple
moves out without leaving a forwarding address.
The narrator introduces the criminal underworld of Paris,
with its four ringleaders, Montparnasse, Babet, Claquesous, and
Gueulemer. Each of these shadowy figures has his own subversive
talents, but they operate together, like one monstrous figure with
four heads. As a group, they are collectively called “Patron-Minette.” They
control all of the crime in their district of Paris and specialize
in ambushes. Whenever anyone in their area wants to plan a robbery, he
presents his plan to Patron-Minette, and the four men refine and execute
Marius’s change in political allegiance from the Bourbon
monarchy to the Friends of the ABC signals his break from the identity
that others have imposed on him. Although Marius does harbor a growing
interest in politics, he quickly grows tired of the rhetoric of Enjolras
and the other Friends of the ABC. He begins to realize that his
interest in politics has less to do with his views about freedom than
with his sense of debt to his father, Pontmercy. Nonetheless, Marius’s
brief affiliation with the Friends of the ABC is beneficial since
the experience teaches him to articulate his own personal beliefs.
Marius’s rift with Gillenormand, his refusal to accept money from
his family, and his sudden adulation of his father are all manifestations
of his attempts to figure out who he is and what his beliefs are.
In breaking away from Gillenormand, Marius takes his first steps
toward independence, and the ideas he explores and then rejects
with the Friends of the ABC further enhance his self-understanding.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Les Misérables!