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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 5, Book 5 : Jean Valjean (Grandson and Grandfather) | Summary



Grandfather Gillenormand remains at Marius's bedside for three months and finally gets the good news from the physician that he is out of danger. He is overjoyed, and as soon as Marius is well enough to argue with his grandfather, he again asks for permission to marry. To his surprise his grandfather readily agrees, saying Fauchelevent (Jean Valjean) has been asking about his health every day, and Cosette has been beside herself in fear he would die. He agrees Cosette is a jewel and they may marry as soon as Marius is well enough.

Cosette and Marius are reunited that very day. The grandfather regrets that, while they can live well enough on his annuity while he is alive, there will be nothing after his death. His daughter is the one with the large fortune. Upon hearing this, Jean Valjean steps up and says Cosette has a dowry of several hundred thousand francs. The narrator then reminds the reader Jean Valjean had buried his fortune, which he was able to withdraw in time under his name Monsieur Madeleine, in the forest at Montfermeil. He has been living on that money and just recently retrieved the remaining sum, along with the bishop's candlesticks. Now he has handed almost all the money over to the young people.

Jean Valjean feels safe after having read Javert committed suicide, although he doesn't imagine it has anything to do with him. He creates a civil paper trail for his adopted daughter, making her legally the daughter of the other Fauchelevent, and he says the dowry has come from a dead benefactor. Marius's aunt now decides to make him the heir to her estate, so the young people are doubly endowed. Marius has again taken up his search for Thénardier, whom he still feels beholden to, and he learns the Thénardiess has died in prison while her husband is still at large. Marius doesn't remember a lot about June 5th and 6th, and he begins to think the man at the barricades whom he thought was Fauchelevent was someone else. He knows he was picked up by a police officer after an unknown savior carried him through the sewers, but he cannot find this man either.


Part 5, Book 5 juxtaposes Grandfather Gillenormand with Javert. He also is a man who has held a rigid belief system his whole life, which includes 18th-century ideas about class and marriage and an undying loyalty to the monarchy and hatred of revolution and Napoleon. He is a lot older than Javert, yet he changes his views. Suddenly he sees Cosette as an angel and the perfection of womanhood. He bites his tongue on the subject of the Republic, and although his political opinions have not really changed, he is able to accept his grandson's opinions and learn to live peaceably with him again in the same house. He softens in his harsh treatment of Marius as well, finally expressing the depth of his love for the young man. And of course the reason Gillenormand changes is because he is motivated by the love he feels for his grandson. He is so grateful Marius recovers and has been brought back to him, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to repair the relationship. Unfortunately, Javert has no one in his life to love and care for, so it is not surprising he takes his life after he loses the only thing that gives him meaning: his belief system.

Hugo reserves the funniest dialogue in the novel for Gillenormand, and the wit of the old man is evident as he expresses his change of heart. He tells Marius, after he reiterates his desire to marry, "You have arranged your little plot; you said to yourself: I'm going to make it known bluntly to that grandfather, to that mummy of the Regency ... he has had his levities too ... his love affairs ... his Cosettes ... You take the bull by the horns. That's good. I propose a cutlet, and you answer: 'A propos, I wish to marry.' ... You had reckoned on some bickering. You didn't know that I was an old coward ... still more stupid than yourself."

Unlike his grandfather, however, and more like Javert, Marius retains his rigidity. He can't believe, for example, that Fauchelevent could actually have been the man at the barricade, and it would seem by now he would know it was no longer necessary to pursue a chimerical obligation to Thénardier. Neither does he reflect on what he has done at the barricade, which he did out of despair rather than a genuine commitment to revolution. In the end his rigid thinking will cost Jean Valjean his life.

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