Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 4, Book 8 : Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet (Enchantments and Desolations) | Summary

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Summary

Cosette and Marius now spend time together every day in the wild garden. Their love remains chaste, and the narrator says Cosette "talked with an exquisite perception and at times made all sorts of true and delicate observations." Of course Jean Valjean is completely in the dark about what is going on.

Eponine begins following Marius again and one night realizes he has entered the garden. She ponders this information while sitting outside the gate, hidden from sight. Then she sees six thugs gather in front of the garden and hears them discuss how they plan to break into the house. Eponine comes out of the shadows to distract the man who has found the loose bar—her father. The other five approach, the Patron-Minette and Brujon, all with tools in their hands. Eponine begins chattering to distract her father and then reminds him "there's nothing to do here." She begins arguing with the other bandits as well, saying there's no one in the house. When one of them points out candlelight shining through the upper-story windows, she says the women who live there are very poor. They tell her to step aside, but she puts herself in front of the grate and threatens to yell and call the police. The thugs hesitate, waiting to hear what Brujon says, since he is the one who put the job together. He decides Eponine's "squawking" is a bad omen and calls it off.

While this activity is going on outside, Cosette sadly tells Marius her father says they might have to go away, possibly to England. When she suggests he might come to England, he tells her how poor he is and that he even owes money to his friend. Then he gets an idea and says not to expect him for a few days, but gives her his address at Courfeyrac's hotel. Marius has decided to see his grandfather.

Gillenormand, now past 91, is pining for Marius. When Marius suddenly appears, he wants to run and embrace him, but instead he says harshly, "What has brought you here?" Marius asks for permission to marry. The grandfather immediately refuses but then softens, after Marius calls him "father," and asks about the girl. Marius speaks rapturously about his feelings. Gillenormand is happy to see his grandson in love, but tells him to take Cosette as a mistress. Marius becomes livid, saying, "Five years ago you outraged my father; today you have outraged my wife. I ask nothing more of you, monsieur. Adieu." Gillenormand is crushed when he leaves.

Analysis

Eponine's fierce defense of the residents at the Rue Plumet appears to come from her unwavering devotion to Marius. While she is passionately in love with him, her willingness to risk her life for Jean Valjean and Cosette may be for other reasons as well. Eponine has no hope of being chosen by Marius, but he represents an ideal—a dream of a more refined existence. Since she has been following Marius around, she aspires to something more than the life she has been shown by her parents. She has even stopped speaking in argot, the language associated with the dark and criminal life of the streets. Cosette, her rival, is well loved by both Jean Valjean and now this beautiful young man, so she also represents the ideal, and perhaps Eponine doesn't want to see her destroyed for that reason. Perhaps she also feels a sting of conscience with regard to Jean Valjean because she knows he's the man Thénardier tried to rob. She tells the thugs, "you won't get into this house because I don't like the idea. ... What is it to me whether somebody picks me up tomorrow on the pavement ... beaten to death ... by my own father ... or whether they find me in a year in the ditches of Saint-Cloud." She places little value on her own life but aspires to protect her dream.

Marius has been raised to be respectful of his elders, which is why he seeks his grandfather's permission to marry. He thinks if Cosette is married to him she cannot go to England with her father. Although neither of them have money, they are both young and strong and can find a way to survive. Marius can certainly get gainful employment, even if he has gotten out of the habit of working, first by pining and then by courting. His grandfather again blunders by suggesting Marius take Cosette for a mistress. The sensibilities and values of two generations and even two centuries collide: the grandfather is an 18th-century courtier with a notion that passionate love is reserved for mistresses, while the purpose of marriage is to make sensible and profitable alliances. Meanwhile the grandson is a 19th-century romantic and a son of the Republic, who believes he can marry only someone with whom he is passionately in love. But once again Marius gets too quickly on his high horse and refuses to come down. He doesn't take into consideration that his grandfather is from a different era and just needs to be won over.

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