Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 3, Book 8

By Victor Hugo

Part 3, Book 8

The Noxious Poor

  • Back to mopey Marius. He keeps going back to the public gardens where he used to see the dream girl, but it's no use. She's vanished.
  • One evening, Marius goes for a walk. Two ragged-looking girls pass him, one telling the other that the cops nearly caught her. He doesn't pay them much attention, but then finds something on the ground that one of them must have dropped.
  • It's a bundle of papers containing letters written by different people talking about their misfortunes and asking for help from someone rich. The thing is that all of the letters are written with the same handwriting. How weird.
  • Early the next morning, Marius hears a tap at his apartment door. In walks a disheveled young woman with a raspy voice. She hands him a letter. He opens it and finds that it has come from his neighbor Jondrette, thanking him for paying his rent a few months back.
  • The girl delivering the letter is Jondrette's daughter, and it really seems like Jondrette is pimping her out to Marius in exchange for more rent money.
  • Marius recognizes the young woman from the night before and realizes that her father, Jondrette, is someone who writes all kinds of letters under different personas describing his misfortunes and asking for money. It's kind of like an email scam back before email was invented.
  • Meanwhile, the young woman walks around Marius' apartment and looks through all of his stuff. To make her go away, Marius gives her a five-franc coin.
  • After the girl leaves, Marius goes to one of the walls of his room, which has a peephole looking into the apartment next door and which is not at all creepy. Compared to his own apartment, the Jondrettes live in total squalor.
  • While Marius looks in, the eldest daughter (who visited him earlier) comes running in and shouting about how a generous philanthropist is coming to visit the family and give them money.
  • Hearing this, the father tells the whole family to trash the apartment to make it look even more pathetic. The eldest daughter even cuts herself up breaking one of the windowpanes.
  • Finally, Monsieur Jondrette goes to the door to welcome an elderly man and a young woman. And guess what? It's Marius' dream girl!
  • The elderly man gives Monsieur Jondrette a bag full of household supplies – mostly stuff to keep warm. But Monsieur Jondrette is looking for more, so he lectures the elderly man about how horrible his family's life is.
  • The elderly visitor agrees to pay the Jondrette family's entire year of rent, but he doesn't have all the money on him at the moment, so he says he'll come back.
  • When the girl and man leave, Marius runs downstairs and tries to follow their cart. But he's not fast enough on his own and he can't afford another cart to follow them. (Gee, maybe if you'd taken the well-paying job, Marius.) Once again, he feels like he's lost the love of his life.
  • Heading back into the house, he sees Monsieur Jondrette speaking with a man Marius recognizes as a dangerous thief. He returns to his apartment to find the girl from next door saying she'd like to repay him any way she can, if you know what we mean.
  • Marius doesn't, though. Instead, he asks her if she can find out where the elderly visitor and his young female companion live. Bummer for the neighbor girl.
  • Once the girl is gone, Marius goes back to the peephole and hears Jondrette swearing that he knows the elderly rich man from somewhere. As soon as he whispers to his wife who they are, she gets super angry.
  • As the Jondrettes talk, Marius realizes that they are setting a trap.
  • Marius heads downtown to the police station and informs them of what's about to happen. The police officer gives him two pistols and tells him to fire them into the air when it looks like things are getting bad. He needs to catch the men in the act of robbing the elderly gentleman, so he and his police team will hide until it's time to spring into action.
  • The last thing the police officer tells Marius is that his name is Javert. Gasp!
  • Marius goes back to his apartment and takes his shoes off to keep the neighbors from hearing that he's home. He has to hide at one point when the eldest daughter comes into his apartment to make sure he's not there.
  • The elderly man returns alone. Jondrette chats up the man while more and more of his criminal buddies come into the apartment with their faces smeared with soot. It's clear that the elderly gentleman knows that something's wrong, but he acts cool.
  • After some menacing talk, Jondrette asks him whether he recognizes the family. It's the Thénardiers!
  • Oops. This is a real crisis for Marius, since Thénardier is the exact man he has devoted himself to finding and serving out of respect for his father's memory.
  • As Thénardier continues, he reveals that (obviously) the elderly man is Jean Valjean and now it's time for Thénardier to get his revenge.
  • Valjean moves for the window, but he's dragged back into the room by Thénardier's goon squad.
  • Just as Marius gets ready to fire his pistols, Thénardier orders the men not to hurt Valjean.
  • The goons tie him up and Thénardier gets him a pen. He wants Valjean to write a letter to Cosette, asking her to come to him at the Thénardiers' apartment. Thénardier plans on holding onto Cosette and using her to blackmail Valjean into giving him two hundred thousand francs.
  • When Valjean has written the letter, Thénardier gives it to his wife and tells her to take it to Cosette ASAP. When she comes back, she reveals that Valjean gave her the wrong address.
  • Valjean has simply stalled for time, because he has used his free hand (which he needed for writing the letter) to help cut his rope in other places. He springs up and seizes a red-hot fire poker, waving the attackers away with it. They get hold of him again, but only to have Inspector Javert and his police squad bust into the room.
  • While Javert inspects his prisoners, he doesn't bother to look at the victim (Valjean) who keeps his face lowered. When Javert's back is turned, Valjean takes the opportunity to leap out the window and disappear.
  • A few days after the incident, a young boy comes to the Jondrettes' apartment looking for the Jondrettes, his family. Hearing that they've all been sent away to prison, he shrugs and returns to the streets of Paris.