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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 3, Book 4 : Marius (The Friends of the A B C) | Summary



Change is in the air in Paris, which is "in the process of moulting ... [as] Royalists became liberals, liberals became democrats." In this atmosphere springs up the Friends of the A B C, a secret society of revolutionaries who meet in a back room at the Café Musain. The letters of the society are a play on the sound of the word abaissé, which means abased or downtrodden. Most of the Friends are students. Enjolras and Jean Provaire are both only sons of rich families. Enjolras is the group's leader and a true revolutionary—beautiful, charming, intimidating, and idealistically pure. If Enjolras "represented the logic of the revolution, Combeferre represented its philosophy. ... his motto was 'Revolution, but civilization.'" Jean Provaire ponders the great questions and leans toward romanticism. Feuilly is a fan maker who taught himself to read and write. Courfeyrac, the "center" of the group, is from a well-to-do bourgeois family. Bahorel is a spendthrift with a peasant background, supposedly studying law. Bossuet (also called Laigle) has lost the house and land left to him by his father and is making his way through law school. Joly is a hypochondriac who studies medicine. All the men revere the French Revolution, except for one skeptic, Grantaire, who "lived in irony"; nonetheless he venerates Enjolras, drawn to him by his pure character, which is the opposite of his own. Marius meets Bossuet and Courfeyrac by chance and rents a room at Courfeyrac's hotel. The two become friends, and he introduces Marius to the group.

On one particular evening, the group is discussing Napoleon, and Marius is roused to defend him at length. He asks what could be greater than the conquest of the legions of Napoleon, and Combeferre answers, "To be free." He then sings a song whose message is it's better to love one's mother than glory. Enjolras says, "Citizen ... my mother is the Republic." This conversation depresses Marius; having won a new philosophy so lately, he is not ready to replace it just yet with the one espoused by his friends. He stops going to the café, but remains on good terms with Courfeyrac, who helps him sell some of his things and promises to help him get work as a translator. Although Marius's aunt finally tracks him down and sends him his first allowance of 600 francs, he returns the money and says he can get by on his own, even though he has but three francs in his pocket.


The Friends of the A B C gather around 1830 or 1831, and the June Rebellion will follow in 1832. The group is preparing itself for the next insurrection, although in this early stage it seems as if Enjolras is the only fully committed member. Revolutionary groups like the Friends were the most radical faction of the Republican movement and planned to incite riots at the right moment for the purpose of overthrowing the Restoration government. The Friends of the A B C are mostly from the upper or middle classes: both Enjolras and Jean Provaire are rich, and even Bahorel is the son of wealthy peasants. The only revolutionary from the working class is Feuilly. In France, as well as in other countries, the leaders of revolutions generally come from the more privileged classes, since they have the education, time, and resources needed to launch an overthrow of the government. They generally also have the most to gain. While the working classes always take part in the fighting and dying when a revolution occurs, they are usually not prominent in leadership positions.

Enjolras is an idealized depiction of a revolutionary; a beautiful, avenging angel of the poor, he has an aspect of a high priest, and the narrator notes he is celibate: "... he did not seem to know there was a being on earth called woman. He had one passion only, justice ... He was the marble lover of liberty." Of course Enjolras must have his foil: Grantaire, a cynic "who took great care not to believe anything." But Hugo is a romantic, so Grantaire must believe in something, despite himself, and it turns out to be Enjolras: "Without understanding it clearly and without trying to explain it to himself, that chaste, healthy, firm, direct, hard, honest nature charmed him." Thus the author proves a statement he has made earlier: everyone must have faith in something.

Marius withdraws himself from the group because he is not "ripe" to embrace their radical position. He has only recently changed from a Royalist to a "Bonapartist democrat," which means he, like many of the French, cannot help but admire Napoleon for almost conquering the known world and bringing some of the democratic ideals of the French Revolution to other parts of Europe. While Marius will maintain ties with these new comrades, it will take a personal loss to push him to embrace their cause.

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