Les Miserables

Les Miserables Summary and Analysis of Part Three: Marius (Chapters V - VIII)

Chapter V: The Virtues of Misfortune.

Marius spends a few years in terrible poverty, but this only serves to enhance his natural sense of compassion, justice, and goodness. After he finishes at university, Courfeyrac helps him get a job translating articles, which pays a small but decent salary. Having become frugal during his time in poverty, Marius works at this job because it leaves him time to walk around the city and ponder things.

As for Monsieur Gillenormand, he was heartbroken at the departure of his grandson, and missed him terribly - though he would never admit this to anyone, and instead forbade his daughter from ever mentioning the young man again. He wishes to make up with Marius, but he cannot overcome his pride to do so.

Meanwhile, Marius is proud of the little life he has created. He has his own small space and his friends, Courfeyrac and Monsieur Mabeuf.

Mabeuf himself is uninterested in politics, but he loves books. He derives a tiny income from the publication of a manuscript on the plants of France, which he generally uses to buy himself yet more books; he has an incredible collection. His second love is plants, which helped form the basis of his friendship with Marius' father. However, the financial recession caused by political instability results in a halt on sales of Mabeuf's books - he suddenly has no money. He is forced to abandon his house and moved to a little place in Austerlitz.

Marius rents a room at the Gorbeau tenement and, seeing the impoverished Jondrette family about to be evicted, secretly pays their rent for two months. He has become a reflective and kindhearted young man, and his interest in politics has waned.

Mademoiselle Gillenormand decides that her favorite, Théodule, should become Monsieur Gillenormand's replacement for Marius. She advises Théodule to agree with everything that Gillenormand says. Gillenormand launches into a long glowing appraisal of the royalty and a critique of young revolutionaries. Théodule agrees with everything he says, but in the end, Monsieur Gillenormand tells him that he is a damned fool.

Chapter VI: Conjunction of Two Stars

Despite his good looks, Marius is extremely shy around girls, and has never had a girlfriend. He mainly likes to take walks around the Luxemborg garden, sometimes alone and sometimes with Courfeyrac.

On these walks, he often sees an elderly man with white hair and a young girl in a black dress. Marius and Courfeyrac humorously nickname the two Monsieur Leblanc and Mademoiselle Lenoir.

Marius spends some time away from the Luxembourg garden, and when he returns, he sees that the young girl has transformed into a beauty. She looks at him and their eyes lock. Marius becomes ashamed of his shabby clothes for the first time in his life, and he buys a new suit to wear in the Luxembourg gardens.

Though he never speaks a word to the girl, he gradually falls in love with her. He imagines that she feels the same way - she often glances at him when he walks by, and keeps her eyes on him even when she is talking to her father. He tries to move closer to her and follow her, but Monsieur Leblanc her guardian is suspicious and ushers her away. Marius finds a handkerchief on the bench she sits on, with the initials "UF" embroidered in it. He imagines that his beloved's name is Ursula, and invents a whole backstory for her.

One day, Marius boldly follows the woman and her father back to their apartment. Her father eyes his suspiciously, then closes the door. The next day, Marius returns to the apartment to inquire about the name of the young woman, but he is informed that she and her father moved out last night.

Chapter VII: Patron-Minette

Human society has its understage, its catacombs like those of Paris. The upper levels belong to the philosophers and thinkers who shape society, but below this is an abyss. This abyss is created by poverty, and it gives rise to twisted and warped human beings.

Of these wicked human beings, the gang of Patron-Minette are the worst. It is composed of four men. Babet is a former tooth-puller who has also sold plaster busts and shown freaks at fairs; he is thin, supple, and absolutely without morals. Claquesous is a ventriloquist behind a mask; Montparnasse is young, good-looking, and ruthless.

The gang rules the underworld of Paris, and engages in every kind of criminal activity.

Chapter VIII: The Noxious Poor

Marius' beloved and her father have not appeared in the Luxembourg gardens for months, and Marius despairs that he may never see her again. Once he thinks he sees Monsieur Leblanc in workmen's clothing, but the man disappears before Marius can confirm his identity.

In midwinter, Marius witnesses two young girls in ragged clothing walking together, chatting about their recent escape from the police. They drop a bundle of papers that Marius picks up. He looks through this bundle to find their address or names, but instead discovers a set of begging-letters, requesting funds from wealthy donors. The letters are in four different names and describe four different circumstances, but they are all written in the same handwriting and on the same paper.

The next day, there is a knock on the door of Marius' apartment. A ragged young girl enters, the older daughter of the Jondrette family who lives next door to Marius. She is slender and delicate, but she is missing a few teeth and is dressed in tattered clothing. Marius recognizes her as the girl who dropped the package. She admires his possessions, especially his mirror, and tells him how handsome he is. Eager to show off, she demonstrates her ability to write: she pens "The cops are here" on a little piece of paper. Ignoring her attempts to impress him, Marius hands her the package of letters she dropped, and also gives her a little money for supper. She thanks him and leaves.

Marius meditates on the depths of misery and degradation that human beings can sink to. Curious about the repellent Jondrette family, Marius discovers a hole in the wall that separates his room from theirs and peers through it. He sees a small filthy apartment.

A sallow-faced, greedy-looking man sits at the table writing letters. He complains about the stinginess of the rich to his stout wife, who sits near their ill-looking daughter, who is lying motionless in bed. Suddenly the older daughter (the one who came into Marius' apartment) arrives, kicking snow off her ragged boots. She tells him that the philanthropist will be coming to their home soon. Her father congratulates her for persuading the man to come her, then orders his youngest daughter to put out the fire and knock out a window to increase the appearance of poverty in their home.

The philanthropist and his daughter arrive. Marius is stunned - it is his beloved, and her father Monsieur Leblanc! Jondrette pretends to be an out-of-luck actor, and begs the philanthropist for money to pay for clothing, food, medicine, and rent. Still, he looks suspiciously at Monsieur Leblanc, as though he recognizes him from somewhere else. Monsieur Leblanc puts five francs down on the table, and promises to return shortly with more.

Marius dashes down the stairs after Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter, desperate to find out the young woman's name. They leave in their cab; Marius has no money to hire one for himself, and so he dejectedly returns to his apartment.

Upon his return, he is surprised by the elder daughter of the Jondrette family. She tells him he looks sad, and asks if there is anything she can do for him. Marius asks her to find out the address of the young woman who just left with Monsieur Leblanc; he does not notice the look of disappointed that crosses her face when he asks this. Still, she departs to discover this information for him.

Through the thin walls, he can hear Jondrette and his wife heatedly discussing the philanthropist. Jondrette is certain that he recognizes Monsiuer Leblanc, and hatches a plan to extort vast sums of money from him. He plans an ambush with his friends from the gang of Patron-Minette, and leaves to further prepare for this plot.

Desperate to protect the father of his beloved, Marius heads to the police station and enlists the help of police officer. Marius offers his help, and the police officer tells him to return home and shoot a signal-pistol into the air when the robbery is about to take place. As an afterthought, the officer tells Marius his name - Javert.

Marius returns to his apartment. In the hallway, he notices four silhouettes in an empty room - probably the gang awaiting poor Monsieur Leblanc. Jondrette sets up two chairs and a table, and then waits.

At six o'clock, Monsieur Leblanc arrives with the promised money. Jondrette thanks him profusely, but while Leblanc's attention is diverted, Jondrette's wife sends away his cab. As Jondrette distracts Monsieur Leblanc through harmless chatter, a hulking shirtless man with a blackened face enters the room and sits down. Seeing Monsieur Leblanc's alarm, Jondrette assures him that this is merely one of the neighbors come to visit. Monsieur Leblanc accepts this explanation, but because more suspicious when Jondrette gives the same explanation for the appearance of three more threatening figures.

Suddenly, Jondrette bursts out, "Do you have your wallet? I'll settle for a thousand crowns." Monsieur Leblanc is startled, but Jondrette calms him - at least until three armed men walk into the room. With his full gang present, Jondrette reveals his true identity: he is not Jondrette nor a failed actor - he is Thénardier, whom Jean Valjean (the true identity of Monsieur Leblanc) once crossed.

Marius is stunned. He has been seeking Thénardier, who saved his father's life on the battlefield of Waterloo; one of his father's last wishes was to reward Thénardier for this act of heroism. Marius does not want to watch his beloved's father be tormented by these criminals, but he also does not want to cause the arrest of his father's savior. Though he could signal the police with a single shot of his pistol, he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.

Monsieur Leblanc is unfazed. Thénardier taunts and mocks him, but Leblanc replies only that he is not a rich man and they are holding him in vain. However, he tries to escape out of the window when Thénardier is distracted; it takes three strong men to drag him back. They tie him to the bed. Thénardier draws a cunning conclusion from this incident - despite his terrible predicament, he does not cry out for the police, which must mean he has secrets to hide from the law. This will make him an easy target for Thénardier and Patron-Minnette.

Thénardier threatens Leblanc with a white-hot chisel, now demanding 200,000 crowns. He tells Leblanc that he must write a letter telling his daughter to come to the Thénardier house: she will serve as a hostage until her father withdraws the required sum. Grudgingly, Leblanc gives the address and writes a note telling his daughter to come. Madame Thénardier takes the letter and goes to get the girl. However, she returns after some time empty handed - the address was a fake!

Leblanc leaps to his feet. He used this distraction to buy time; he used a saw-edged coin to cut through the ropes binding him. Fearlessly, he holds the white-hot chisel to his own arm, demonstrating his strength and fortitude to a very shocked Thénardier. The gang attacks Leblanc, and Thénardier grabs a large knife.

Marius realizes he can no longer delay. His eyes fall upon the little piece of paper that the Thénardier girl wrote that afternoon ("the cops are coming") and he shoves it through a crack in the wall. The criminals stop and snatch this piece of paper, and Madame Thénardier cries out when she recognizes her daughter's handwriting. The criminal gang rushes to the streets - only to find Javert waiting, who arrests the lot of them, including Éponine, the ragged elder daughter of the Thénardier family who likes Marius so much.

The police can find no sign of Monsiuer Leblanc, the victim of the crime, which is peculiar. Javert decides that he would have been the best catch of the lot, if he drew all these other criminal elements together.

The next day, the mischievous little street urchin Gavroche stops by the apartment to see his parents. He teases the landlady as usual, but when he asks where his mother, father, and sisters are, she informs him that they are all in prison. He greets this news with equanimity, and returns to the snowy streets to continue his adventures.


The harrowing description of Marius' struggle to live on 700 francs per year may parallel events from Victor Hugo's own life: in 1821, after the death of his mother, Hugo refused to accept financial support from his father and endured a year of terrible poverty. Eventually his literary career took off, but this experience left him with a sharp sense of the struggles of poverty. The vivid detail in this chapter (the meals Marius eats, his falling-apart clothes, and so on) may come from Hugo's own life. Marius' voluntary poverty increases the reader's admiration for his sense of integrity and idealism.

It is this idealistic, romantic nature that causes Marius to be hit particularly hard by his first experience of love. He does not speak to this mysterious, beautiful blonde girl, nor does he even know her name, but he falls madly in love with her and seeks her every day. According to Hugo, the two have their own wordless romance, complete with small arguments.

Chapter VII, on the Patron-Minette gang, draws on images of the underworld from works such as Dante's Inferno to describe the Parisian underworld. The reader is introduced to some truly evil criminals, who will be woven through the narrative like a dark thread.

The scene in the Gorbeau tenement offers numerous examples of a common literary strategy that appears throughout Les Misérables - suddenly recognized identity. Thénardier is quick to recognize Valjean, though Valjean himself is not lucky enough to prevent himself from falling into such a trap. The "recognition scene" is a literary strategy that dates back to ancient Greek poetry and theatre - Odysseus disguised himself when sneaking back into his house on Ithaca, and his nurse recognized him by a scar on his thigh. This section offers a number of recognition scenes: the Jondrettes are shown to be the Thénardiers, Monsieur Leblanc is discovered to be Valjean, and the reader realizes that the screaming infant in the back of the Thénardier inn is Gavroche.

Hugo's characters come together and then split apart before meeting each other once more in new, sometimes completely reversed circumstances. Years ago, it was Cosette who was dressed in rags while Azelma and Éponine were coddled and cherished; now their situations have reversed.

Also intriguing is Monsieur Gillenormand's exchange with Théodule. Monsieur Gillenormand did not want someone to agree with everything he said, and he rebukes the stupid, groveling Théodule for doing so. He loved Marius for his keen mind, not for his submissive manner.