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BOOK FIFTH: The Excellence of Misfortune
Marius becomes desperately poor to the point of borrowing an old coat from Courfeyrac. The coat is green, so he limits his outdoor activities to the night when it will look black. Thus he can remain in mourning for his father. He receives an occasional stipend of 60 pistoles from his aunt, but he always returns them, saying he does not need the money. Eventually he becomes a lawyer and by sheer will power also learns to reach German and English, thus finally earning the small salary of 700 francs a year.
For 30 francs a year, Marius is able to pay his own rent in the Gorbeau House. He has a small room with no fire place and eats as frugally as possible. He avoids debt at all cost. Along with his father’s name, the name Thenardier is engraven on his mind. He is able to discover that the Thenardiers ran into bankruptcy and lost their inn, but is unable to track them beyond that. He fantasizes about giving himself in some sacrificial manner to the man who saved his father.
Three years pass. Marius and his grandfather never meet, so Marius never realizes his grandfather’s true feelings toward him. In spite of Gillenormand’s harsh demeanor, he worshiped Marius and soon regrets the dutiful obedience of the household in response to his command to “never speak of him.” Marius himself continues a solitary life, refusing a better paying job which would provide him with a better room but also limit his freedom. He remains on friendly terms with the ABC group, but does not attend their meetings. He feels more kindly toward his grandfather but is determined to have nothing to do with “the man who was cruel to his father.” His only real friends are Courfeyrac and M. Mabeuf.
The room Marius occupies in the Gorbeau House shares a wall with the Jondrette apartment. Marius feels sorry for them and pays their rent when he hears that they are about to be turned out for nonpayment.
Aunt Gillenormand plots to have Theodule replace Marius in her father’s affections, but this is unsuccessful as Gillenormand considers Theodule a fool.
Although he is in the military, Theodule is not unlike the courtiers of the previous age. He has little motivation, no real ideals of his own, and tries to say whatever he thinks his listener wants to hear. Although this sort of individual would be no stranger to Gillenormand--who probably engaged in more than his share of similar behavior, he has no use for Theodule. Further, Theodule is the “obedient” child, willing to do whatever it takes to please his uncle enough to get his hands on some of his uncle’s money. If Gillenormand were really so much opposed to Marius, it would seem that he would welcome the obsequious loyalty of Theodule. Such is not the case however.
Gillenormand reveals his awareness of the changing times in one of his discussions with Theodule. He goes on at some length criticizing the “Revolution,” calling France a “maiden who comes from a brothel;” and the young republicans “greater connoisseurs in liberty, equality and fraternity than the ax of the guillotine.” If the old man really believes his impassioned words himself, then he is closer to Marius’ ideals than he has been willing to admit. At any rate, Theodule’s hasty agreement reveals the younger man’s ignorance and brings Gillenormand’s tart response that Theodule is “a fool.”