Les Miserables

Les Miserables Summary and Analysis of Part Five: Jean Valjean (Chapters V - IX)

Chapter V: Grandson and Grandfather

Marius lays in a fever in his grandfather's house, whispering Cosette's name in his delirium, and Monsieur Gillenormand remains at his bedside in a state of terrible anxiety and love. There is only one visitor to the house: a white-haired, well-dressed man who brings rags for bandages.

After three months, the doctor declares that Marius is out of danger, and will live. Marius' long illness has accomplished two major changes: Marius himself has abandoned any political aspirations, and the ordeal has mended the long estrangement between Marius and his grandfather.

Marius' love for Cosette has not changed. His reunion with his grandfather is tampered by the old man's previous refusal to let him marry Cosette. Marius finally confronts the old man about this, announcing his plans to marry, and is shocked when Gillenormand agrees to the match. This leads to an emotional heart-to-heart, and Marius at last calls Gillenormand "Father."

Gillenormand arranges for a visit from Cosette, who arrives ecstatic to see Marius. Valjean is by her side, a bittersweet smile on his face. The two lovers reunite joyously, and Cosette waxes lyrical about her love for Marius. Even Gillenormand is charmed by the beautiful girl. Without any ceremony, Valjean lays 600,000 francs on the table and explains that Cosette is rich; she has the finances to marry into Marius' family.

The two older men set about planning the wedding of Cosette and Marius; Gillenormand providing luxuries and Valjean looking after more practical concerns. Valjean confronts a thorny problem - that of Cosette's paternity; the stain of illegitimacy might prevent the marriage. Quietly, Valjean completes paperwork indicating that another Fauchelevent is Cosette's father, and that she is currently an orphan. At any other time, Cosette would have been devastated to learn that Valjean is not her true father, but at present she is so caught up in thoughts of her coming marriage that this revelation does not bother her.

In the days leading up to the wedding, Cosette visits Marius everyday with Valjean as chaperone. The two main men in Cosette's life regard each other coolly: Valjean still harbors some resentment towards Marius for taking Cosette from him, and Marius remembers the coldness with which Valjean shot the policeman at the barricade (Marius does not know that Valjean let Javert go free).

Marius is preoccupied by his moral duties: he still wants to repay Thénardier for saving his father, and he also wants to offer a reward to the man who saved his life on the barricade. Marius does not recognize Valjean as the man who saved him from the barricade; darkness and caked mud made Valjean unrecognizable to everyone, even Gillenormand. Valjean, for his part, says nothing about his courageous actions on the night the barricade fell.

Book VI: Sleepless Night

The day of the wedding dawns clear and blue. Alas, Valjean claims an accident; he cannot sign any of the wedding documents, because his arm is in a sling (this is a ruse: he would be committing a crime if he signed these documents). The wedding and reception are a joyous occasion: flowers and music fill the house, and Gillenormand waxes lyrical about the wonders of marriage. No one notices when Valjean slips out of the room.

Back at his empty apartment, he wanders from one room to another. He takes out the black child's clothes he bought for Cosette when he rescued her from the Thénardiers, and buries his face in them and weeps.

He has given up Cosette to a husband, a painful loss. Even more painful, Valjean must decide whether or not to disappear from their lives, allowing them to revel in their happiness. To remain in their lives would be revealing his identity as an ex-convict to the happy young couple; it will be difficult to continue his relationship with them without doing so. But it is also possible that revealing this secret may drive away Cosette forever. Valjean has lost so much and overcome such odds. How much, he wonders, can God demand of one man? How much sacrifice can one human being take?

Book VII: The Bitter Cup

The morning after the wedding, Valjean arrives at the home of Marius and (after yesterday) Cosette. Marius greets him warmly, but Valjean remains solemn. Marius tells Valjean of his great happiness with Cosette, and invites the other man to move in with him.

Valjean knows what he must do. He explains his situation as an ex-convict, showing his uninjured right hand as proof; he was never actually hurt, he simply could not afford to break the law by forging documents. He explains that he is not Cosette's father, nor is he related to her. His name is not Fauchelevent, but Jean Valjean. He adopted Cosette when he discovered she was an orphan (even now, Valjean will not say or do anything that might jeopardize Cosette's happiness). He says that the 600,000 francs are a trust for Cosette, and how he came by them is unimportant.

Marius as stunned. Why has Valjean revealed himself in such a way? Valjean replies that this is a matter of honesty. He wants to live with Cosette and Marius; but suddenly he bursts out that he can never have such a life, he is sundered from all mankind forever. Valjean continues to ramble, explaining how easy it would have been to lie, how happy he could have been, but that he has become an outcast from life. When Valjean finishes, Marius shakes his hand, saying he will use his grandfather's connections to get Valjean a reprieve.

The men are interrupted by Cosette, who playfully inquires what serious discussion they have been having. Cosette's appearance fills Valjean with terror at the impending possibility of their separation, and begins to weep. Marius ushers Cosette from the room; Valjean becomes distraught at the possibility and promises him that he will not reveal this secret to Cosette.

This kind act is undercut by Marius' steely expression, despite the thanks he gives to Valjean for the money. Valjean meekly asks if he will be allowed to see Cosette again, and Marius cooly says it would be better if he did not. In terrible desperation, Valjean explains how close he was to Cosette for nine years, and how odd it would look if Marius' father-in-law never visited. At last, Marius allows the old man to visit Cosette every evening.

After Valjean leaves, Marius ponders the maelstrom of emotions he feels. He has respect for his father-in-law, to be sure, but Marius cannot fully trust an ex-convict, especially when he recalls Valjean's cold-hearted execution of Javert on the barricades. He is disturbed by the fact that Cosette has grown up next to evil. Additionally, Marius is suspicious of the huge sum of money that Valjean has bestowed on him and Cosette - Marius starts to believe that Valjean has murdered a businessman named Monsieur Madeleine to obtain this sum. Marius realizes that he is utterly repulsed by Valjean.

Book VIII: The Fading Light

When Valjean comes to visit Cosette that evening, they sit on two rickety chairs in a dank little room on the ground floor, in order to keep Valjean hidden from view of passers-by. She is stunned at how formally he treats her; he does not kiss her in greeting, and he calls her "Madame" rather than her name. She pleads with him to return to their former intimacy, but he refuses. Slowly, evening by evening, she resigns herself to this odd change. The new social connections she makes in her married life push away the affections she once felt for her foster father.

Marius, filled with disgust at Valjean, does a number of things to curtail the visits and show how unwelcome Valjean is. First, he reduces the duration of Valjean's visits to one hour. Cosette misses one visit when she and Marius take a trip. Then, the fire is left unkindled on a chilly day. The last straw is when the chairs are removed from the cold, dirty room. Valjean still aches with love for Cosette, but he cannot stand this icy reception. He stops coming to visit the young couple. Cosette inquires about him, but Marius lies to her and says that Valjean is traveling.

Book IX: Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn

Valjean languishes, without direction or love. He starts going on solitary walks, with become shorter and shorter. Soon, he does not eat or leave his room. His pulse grows weak. One night, convinced that he does not have long to live, he lights Bishop Myriel's candlesticks and spreads Cosette's clothes on the bed. With weak hands, he writes a letter to Cosette, explaining the source of his fortune. Suddenly he hears knock at the door.

Earlier that evening, Marius received a letter. It contains a smoky odor reminiscent of Thénardier, and promises revelations about one of Marius' family members. Joyful at the prospect of finally rewarding the man who saved his father's life, he invited Thénardier into his home. Ever conniving, Thénardier explains that he wishes to retire in America and needs money to do so. In return, he offers Marius a salacious secret: his father-in-law is a thief, murderer, and ex-convict named Jean Valjean.

Marius, rather disgusted at this point with the greedy Thénardier, says he already knows this information; Marius mentions that he also believes Marius murdered a businessman named Monsieur Madeleine and stole his fortune, and later killed Javert in cold blood. Thénardier self-satisfactorily explains that Monsieur Madeleine and Valjean are the some person, offering newspapers from the Champmathieu affair as proof.

Marius begins to realize that he was doubly mistaken: Thénardier, whom he admired, is no hero; Valjean, whom he despised, is a righteous man. Eager to ingratiate himself, Thénardier tells Marius that Valjean is indeed a murderer: he saw Valjean in the sewer the night the barricade fell, carrying the body of a young man he had murdered. And here, Thénardier proclaims, is a fragment from the cloak of the murder victim. Marius is stunned to discover that it is a piece from the coat he was wearing that night - he realizes that it was Valjean who rescued him and brought him to his grandfather's house.

Not thoroughly disgusted with the wheedling Thénardier, Marius offers him a huge sum of money if he will leave and never return, which Thénardier happily accepts. Later, Hugo tells us, Thénardier becomes a slave trader in America.

Marius is desperate to make amends to his father-in-law, who is not only a righteous man but also Marius' personal savior. He and Cosette make haste to the house of Jean Valjean, where they find the elderly man lying on his deathbed. Cosette embraces him and Marius calls him father. Cosette and Valjean express their love for each other, and the couple is stunned when Valjean tells them that he is dying.

With one last burst of strength, Valjean gets up and takes a crucifix down from the wall. To Marius, he offers assurance that his fortune is not tainted. To Cosette, he reminiscences about her childhood, thinking about their wonderful years together. At last, surrounded by love, he dies.

Even now, in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, one can find a small, anonymous tombstone. Respecting Valjean's wishes for modesty and anonymity, Marius funded its construction. The epitaph reads:

He sleeps. Although fate was very strange to him,

He lived. He died when he lost his angel;

It happened simply, as naturally as

The night falls when the day goes away.

This is the monument to the life of Jean Valjean.


The fates of many characters (Mabeuf, Enjolras, Éponine, Gavroche) have been resolved in tragic death, and now we see the resolution of the thorny emotional and social problems that plague the surviving characters. Numerous problems have been resolved: Cosette remains in France, Marius reunites with his grandfather, the impoverished couple receives a substantial amount of money with which to build their new life. However, the greatest challenge remains: the impact of Valjean's ex-convict identity on the young couple.

Valjean undertakes a number of small, significant acts to ensure that Cosette's independent life is a safe and secure one. Again, Valjean could have chosen to act selfishly: revealing Cosette's illegitimate status to Gillenormand could have resulted in the termination of the marriage, and he could have kept Cosette. But Valjean cannot bring himself to crush the young girl's dreams, though he may lose her forever.

Valjean does not want to explain to Marius that he rescued him. It is not entirely clear in the narrative why.

Marius' multilayered and complex reaction to Valjean's revelation is an excellent example of the emotional realism of the book. Marius vacillates between respect for the man who has raised his beloved Cosette, and disgust at what he perceives as a career criminal (feelings likely exacerbated by the envious feelings he already has towards Valjean). He offers at first to remove the legal taint of Valjean's ex-convict status, but later prohibits him from seeing his beloved daughter.

In this section, Marius loses some of his relatability. He is revealed as a rather poor judge of character: he joyfully receives the corrupt and terrible Thénardier, but he prevents Valjean - who is the very model of a righteous man - from seeing his beloved daughter.

Valjean suffers his worst trial yet: the total loss of his beloved Cosette. It is so painful that it ultimately leads to his death. However, perhaps in reward for a virtuous life lived, he has the final consolation of dying with his daughter and son-in-law in dutiful attendance at his bedside.