Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 3, Book 3

By Victor Hugo

Part 3, Book 3

Grandfather and Grandson

  • We jump to a little French town called Vernon, where we meet a man with a scar down his face. This man is always walking around with a tool looking to do some kind of job. He's clearly poor from his clothing and he lives alone.
  • The man's name is Georges Pontmercy and he is a former officer in Napoleon's army. He is also the father of Monsieur Gillenormand's grandson, Marius.
  • And here's another crazy coincidence. Remember that scene from earlier in the book where the scoundrel Thénardier robs a dying man on the battlefield but unintentionally saves his life? That guy was Georges Pontmercy.
  • We find out that Georges Pontmercy loves his son Marius, but Monsieur Gillenormand has threatened to cut Marius out of the family inheritance unless he (Marius) lives with Gillenormand and never sees his father. Pontmercy has agreed to this because he wants his son to have a good life.
  • Pontmercy writes letters to Marius, but Gillenormand keeps them and never passes them on.
  • Meanwhile, Marius grows up with a good education and all the advantages of upper-class French life, eventually studying law at university.
  • When Marius is seventeen, he comes home one night to have his grandfather tell him that he'll be going to the town of Vernon the next day. It looks like Marius' father is dying.
  • Unfortunately, his father dies before he gets there. Seeing his father's dead body, Marius reads one last letter that his father wrote to him. It claims that his father was made a baron by Napoleon, but that this title hasn't been acknowledged since Napoleon's defeat.
  • It also tells the story of how the man's life was saved by someone named Thénardier at Waterloo. The man's dying wish is for Marius to find Thénardier and repay the favor.
  • Oh, this is going to be good.
  • Once his father is buried, Marius doesn't give him another thought. After all, his father ignored him all his life, right?
  • Then one day at church, he accidentally sits in a pew that is reserved for another parishioner named Monsieur Mabeuf. Mabeuf explains that he has a special fondness for this pew because it is where a man named Pontmercy used to come to get a glimpse of the son he loved so much but wasn't permitted to see. Marius realizes that Mabeuf is talking about his (Marius') father. Guess daddy loved him after all!
  • The next day, Marius lies to his grandfather and says he's going out hunting with some friends for a few days. Monsieur Gillenormand assumes Marius is going to visit some girl, and being the former ladies' man that he is, the old man gives him the old wink-wink nudge-nudge of approval.
  • After three days, Marius returns to Paris and goes directly to the library to look up old copies of a newspaper called the Moniteur. He learns about his father's heroic career and starts to really admire him.
  • He's not seeing much of his aunt and grandfather during these days, but his grandfather just assumes he's macking on a girl.
  • The more he reads about his father, the more Marius comes to identify with the French Revolution's ideals of freedom. His whole life, he's been taught by his grandfather to look down on his father and the Revolution. But that's all changing now.
  • As an act of loyalty, Marius tries to honor his father's dying wish by tracking down Thénardier, but when he gets to Thénardier's old tavern, he finds that the place is closed and the Thénardiers have moved away.
  • It turns out that Monsieur Gillenormand has another young relative, a grand-nephew named Théodule who works in the military. One day, Mademoiselle Gillenormand gets so curious about what Marius is up to that she asks Théodule to spy on him and find out where he's been going. Théodule agrees, since he assumes Marius has a sweetheart and he wants to get a good ogle at the girl.
  • Surprise! Marius isn't visiting a girl at all. He's visiting the grave of his father.
  • Théodule is so shocked that he doesn't write any message to his aunt telling what he saw. And as the book tells us, that incident would have just passed by if it weren't for another coincidence.
  • When Marius gets back home, he accidentally leaves behind a black ribbon that's attached to a locket he wears around his neck. When Gillenormand opens the locket, a folded piece of paper falls out. It's Pontmercy's dying message to Marius.
  • Monsieur Gillenormand is super angry with his son for showing such devotion to his disgrace of a father, but Marius stands up for his beliefs and for his dead father, saying that the French Revolution was the greatest event in human history.
  • Big mistake. Gillenormand kicks Marius out of the house and tells him never to come back. Marius says this won't be a problem, since he's had just about enough of Gillenormand's dumb ideas.
  • Marius leaves the house at the ripe old age of seventeen with nothing but a single travel bag, the clothes on his back, and thirty francs in his pocket. Gillenormand orders his housekeeper to send Marius a little money every month, but Marius never accepts it.