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BOOK THIRD: The Grandfather and the Grandson
Marius’ father is Gillenormand’s son-in-law who is considered “the disgrace of the family” because he fought with Napoleon. His name was Colonel George Pontmercy, the fallen soldier Thenardier had saved in order to rob on the Plain of Waterloo. Gillenormand himself is popular and applauded everywhere for his sarcastic wit. He is raising Marius after disinheriting Pontmercy and has forbidden any contact between Marius and his father.
In 1827, shortly after Marius’ 18 th birthday, Gillenormand receives a letter from Pontmercy in which the dying soldier asks for Marius. Gillenormand sends Marius the next day, but it is too late. Marius, however, finds a scrap of paper in which Pontmercy describes the honor conferred on him at Waterloo and reveals that he was “rescued” by Thenardier. Pontmercy’s final letter instructs Marius to be of whatever service he can for Thenardier. At this point, Marius has no feelings for his father other than shame-an attitude learned from his grandfather.
A few days later, Marius attends mass and accidentally takes the chair of an old church warden named Monsieur Mabeuf. Mabeuf explains that the spot is special because there he observed a man who came regularly to watch and adore a child he had been forbidden to see. Marius realizes the man was Pontmercy. He takes a short trip away from his grandfather and visits a library as well as several of Napoleon’s former generals. Gradually, he discovers his father’s true personality and worth and also develops a different view of the Republic and of the empire under Napoleon.
While Marius is away, Theodule Gillenormand, a nephew shows up. Marius has been taking frequent trips by now, always to an undisclosed location. Theodule, who is in the military, is on route to a location which will take him though Paris. He stops to see his aunt who persuades him to watch Marius and try to find out what “girl” Marius may be visiting. The spying episode ends at a graveyard behind a church where Marius is putting flowers on his father’s grave.
Theodule does not bother to write to his aunt, but when Marius returns home, he thoughtlessly leaves his jacket and neck ribbon on his bed and goes out for a swim. Monsieur Gillenormand sees a small locket on the ribbon and assumes the contents will be a picture of a girl. Actually, it is the scrap of paper on which Pontmercy had bequeathed the title of “baron” to Marius. The jacket also contains 100 name cards bearing the title “Baron Marius Pontmercy.” Gillenormand is furious at this betrayal of the established order. When Marius returns home, the grandfather and grandson quarrel bitterly and Marius walks out.
This chapter sets up a subplot which will make it possible for Marius to see and eventually fall in love with Cosette. The story takes on a parallel plot between Grandfather and grandson and surrogate grandfather (Valjean) and granddaughter (Cosette). Gillenormand suffers the loss of his grandson because he cannot put his bourgeois ideas aside and allow Marius to have his own opinions and interest. Where. one grandfather has no room for personal sacrifice, the other performs it to extreme. Their plights are similar in that both old men belong to a world that does not quite belong in the 1830 French society.