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BOOK SECOND: The Grand Bourgeois
The background of Marius is explained. Monsieur Gillenormand is a 90 year old member of the old Bourgeois. He jokes about how he survived the reign of terror only to be ruled by his two wives. From them, he had two daughters, the oldest an old prudish maid who still lives with him. Marius, who also lives with him, is his grandson. The old man has no use for the new “republic” and becomes black with rage when anyone close to him expresses sympathy toward it.
We receive extensive description of M. Gillenormand. The chapter begins just a year before the uprising that is the focus of a later section of the book. Later chapters will move backward to the time just before the great falling out when Marius leaves home and moves into the Gorbeau House. M. Gillenormand himself had his share of mistresses and frolicked with the aristocrats in his younger days. We are told that he worshiped the Bourbons, recalled the Revolution with horror and saved himself from the reign of terror with his gaiety and wit.
Even in his 80's he liked to think of himself as clever and appealing to the ladies--so much so that when one presented a baby boy to him and told him it was his child, he willingly acknowledged the child (although it could not possibly have been his) and provided financial support to the mother. One of his servants, Magnon, also claims two children by him, and we are not told if they really are or not, but simply that he accepts responsibility for them. He quotes the exploits of previous rulers who had regular affairs in their old age and considers himself almost their equal. He is really a very vain, stubborn, narrow minded old man who is part of another era. Yet his strength, as well as his weakness is his love for the grandson Marius, whose father he disowned.