Study Guide

Les Misérables Marriage

By Victor Hugo

Marriage

They were an ugly and dreadful pair, the Thénardiers, a marriage of cunning and fury. (2.3.2.3)

The Thénardiers show us that marriage isn't always a good thing. Sometimes it can bring two awful people together and just make them even more awful in the process. We don't generally go around recommending divorce (it's not really in our job description), but in this case we feel fairly confident that it would be a good move.

If a man is a passionate lover of women but has a wife whom he does not greatly care for […] he has only one way of dealing with the situation and securing his own peace of mind, and that is to hand the purse-strings over to her. (3.2.5.1)

This is a pretty shady piece of advice, since it basically tells us that a man can get away with adultery if he distracts his wife by giving her access to all the household money. Then again, this is Monsieur Gillenormand's theory, which means that Hugo probably wants us to take it with a grain of salt. Or maybe the whole salt shaker.

No paradise becomes terrestrial in the age in which we live. The younger sister had married the man of her dreams, but she had died. The elder had never married at all. (3.2.8.2)

Surprising no one, Hugo tells us that it's really hard to find pure joy while we're on this earth. You want that, you're going to have to wait for heaven. After all, whenever someone gets what they want in this book, they tend to either die young or lose their happiness quickly.

"And so you want to get married – at the age of twenty-one. You've arranged it all except for one trifling formality – my consent. (4.8.7.58)

Marius loves Cosette and Cosette loves Marius. Happily ever after, right? The only problem is that in the world of nineteenth-century France, this isn't enough. Marius also needs the consent of his grandfather for the marriage to go forward properly. And after years of estrangement, his grandfather isn't really in the mood to pat him benignly on the head. (To be fair, a lot of parents these days might suggest you wait a few more years after achieving legal drinking age.)

"I beg of you, I beseech you in Heaven's name on my bended knees, to allow me to marry her!" (4.8.7.80)

Marius has his pride, but he want Cosette even more. He'll even get down on his hands and knees and beg his grandfather, a man who has manipulated him his whole life and who robbed Marius of a chance to know his father. Problem is, he has to learn to stand up for Cosette, not kneel.

"Two hundred pistols. Have your fun, and what could be better? That's how it should be. You don't marry, but that needn't stop you – you understand? (4.8.7.95)

When things warm up between Monsieur Gillenormand and Marius, Gillenormand suggests that Marius should take this Cosette girl as a mistress and not throw his life away by marrying her. Gee, Grandpa. That's someone's little girl—and it's exactly the kind of thinking that destroyed Fantine's life.

"Our marriage was impossible. I went to my grandfather, and he refused his consent. I have no fortune; neither have you." (4.14.7.10)

Marius doesn't know what he's going to do once his grandfather holds back his consent for the marriage with Cosette. It was a really, really big deal to marry against the wishes of your family, and walking away from Monsieur Gillenormand means that Marius will have no shot of inheriting the family fortune—meaning that he'd be dooming them to a lifetime of poverty and, yep, suffering.

Both were radiant in that supreme and unrepeatable moment, the union of youth and happiness. (5.6.2.6)

They're going to the chapel and they're finally going to get married. No cold feet, plenty of money, and (grand)parental approval: it looks like our young lovers are in for a long, happy life.

"A family! But I belong to no family, least of all yours. I am sundered from all mankind. There are moments when I wonder whether I ever had a father and mother. Everything ended for me with that child's marriage. (5.7.1.44)

Marriage makes a new family, but it destroys an old one. Valjean's situation is only an extreme example of this. Now that Cosette has a new family and Valjean must stay away from her to keep his checkered past from ruining her new life.

"Yet it would be wrong to blame Marius. As we have said, before his marriage Marius asked no questions of Monsieur Fauchelevent, and since then he had been afraid to question Jean Valjean. (5.9.1.2)

Is Marius cruel for keeping Valjean at arm's length after his (Marius') marriage to Cosette? Well, to us he does seem cruel. But you have to remember that Valjean asked him to do it, and Marius doesn't know about all the sacrifices Valjean has made over the years. All he knows is that Valjean is an ex-con who may have murdered a police officer—so, yeah, not exactly someone you want to have at Sunday dinner.