Okay so I want to post about a thing that seems to get overlooked a lot: Marius has a fairly dismal childhood himself! He’s looked after and educated and so on, yes. But he’s extremely isolated, and M. Gillenormand is a terrible parent. He’s not Thenardiers-level horrific, of course, but he is emotionally and verbally abusive to the point where, while the reader understands that he secretly loves Marius, Marius is in his twenties before he has any inkling of this.
And this is where a lot of Marius’s fail stems from – he’s a sheltered teenager who literally doesn’t know what healthy relationships look like.
Obviously I’m not gonna change any dedicated anti-Pontmercy minds here, and that’s not really my goal – but I do think this is an important aspect of his character that a lot of fandom doesn’t take into account. Also I should emphasize that a lot of this meta does not originate with me but with manypalimpsests, who has all the clevers but does not have way too much time on her hands.
One morning it came to pass that M. Gillenormand spoke slightingly of the Convention, apropos of a newspaper which had fallen into his hands, and gave vent to a Royalist harangue on Danton, Saint-Juste and Robespierre. —"The men of ‘93 were giants,“ said Marius with severity. The old man held his peace, and uttered not a sound during the remainder of that day.
I really, really love M. Gillenormand’s rant (V.3.12) to Marius’ ‘corpse.' On one hand, it’s comical, because Marius is alive and everyone else in the room knows it. On the other, it’s deeply, deeply tragic, because I see Gillenormand’s wonderfully human cry of anguish as speaking for all those parents - real and fictional - who lost children in the unrest of those decades. I could easily see, say, Courfeyrac’s father fighting with similar sentiments.
Some excerpts. Hapgood copy-paste because I’m lazy:
He is dead! He is dead! He is dead! He has got himself killed on the barricades! Out of hatred to me! He did that to spite me! Ah! You blood-drinker! This is the way he returns to me! Misery of my life, he is dead! Pierced, sabred, exterminated, slashed, hacked in pieces! Just look at that, the villain!
…I am composed, I am a man, I witnessed the death of Louis XVI., I know how to bear events. One thing is terrible and that is to think that it is your newspapers which do all the mischief. You will have scribblers, chatterers, lawyers, orators, tribunes, discussions, progress, enlightenment, the rights of man, the liberty of the press, and this is the way that your children will be brought home to you. Ah! Marius! It is abominable! Killed! Dead before me! A barricade! Ah, the scamp! […] This is a child whom I have reared. I was already old while he was very young. He played in the Tuileries garden with his little shovel and his little chair, and in order that the inspectors might not grumble, I stopped up the holes that he made in the earth with his shovel, with my cane. One day he exclaimed: Down with Louis XVIII.! and off he went. It was no fault of mine. He was all rosy and blond. […] I talked in a deep voice, and I frightened him with my cane, but he knew very well that it was only to make him laugh. In the morning, when he entered my room, I grumbled, but he was like the sunlight to me, all the same. One cannot defend oneself against those brats. They take hold of you, they hold you fast, they never let you go again. The truth is, that there never was a cupid like that child. Now, what can you say for your Lafayettes, your Benjamin Constants, and your Tirecuir de Corcelles who have killed him? This cannot be allowed to pass in this fashion.
It is all the same to me, I am going to die too, that I am. And to think that there is not a hussy in Paris who would not have been delighted to make this wretch happy! A scamp who, instead of amusing himself and enjoying life, went off to fight and get himself shot down like a brute! And for whom? Why? For the Republic! Instead of going to dance at the Chaumiere, as it is the duty of young folks to do! What’s the use of being twenty years old? The Republic, a cursed pretty folly! Poor mothers, beget fine boys, do! Come, he is dead. That will make two funerals under the same carriage gate. So you have got yourself arranged like this for the sake of General Lamarque’s handsome eyes! What had that General Lamarque done to you? A slasher! A chatter-box! To get oneself killed for a dead man! If that isn’t enough to drive any one mad! Just think of it! At twenty! And without so much as turning his head to see whether he was not leaving something behind him! That’s the way poor, good old fellows are forced to die alone, now-adays. […] Yes, this age is infamous, infamous and that’s what I think of you, of your ideas, of your systems, of your masters, of your oracles, of your doctors, of your scape-graces of writers, of your rascally philosophers, and of all the revolutions which, for the last sixty years, have been frightening the flocks of crows in the Tuileries! But you were pitiless in getting yourself killed like this, I shall not even grieve over your death, do you understand, you assassin?
It’s very much a moment where I need to laugh so I don’t cry.