Les Miserables 54: The Conjunction of Two Stars

In a previous post we noted that Marius’s political fervors were dying down.  Though he was still a Bonapartist and he still worshiped his father, he did so with significantly less zeal these days.  Victor Hugo describes the transition as follows:

Every passion, except of the heart, dissipates in reverie.  Marius’s political fevers were over.  The Revolution of 1830, by satisfying and soothing him, had helped.  His opinions remained unchanged, but without the fervor.  Properly speaking, he no longer held opinions; he had sympathies.  To what party did he belong?  To the party of humanity.  Among humanities he chose France; within the nation he chose the people; of the people he chose woman.  His pity went out to her above all.

This is the first hint which Victor Hugo gives us that something big is about to happen in Marius’s life–he is about to fall in love.

Marius had reached the age where he had started to become handsome, but he didn’t know it yet.  So whenever women looked at him he thought they were looking at his old clothes and laughing at him.  What he did not know was that they were really admiring him.  Because of this misunderstanding, he took pains to avoid women.  Courfeyrac teased him about this; whenever this happened he would avoid Courfeyrac as well.  But there were two women he would not avoid; one was the old woman who swept his room, and the other was a girl that he did not know.

Marius had acquired the habit of going to the Luxembourg to walk, and there was one rather deserted path that was his favorite.  Every day when he went to walk he would see an old man sitting with a girl of about thirteen or fourteen.  The old man looked handsome and his face looked kindly, though it did not invite approach.  The girl was nothing much to look at; she looked very homely dressed in a boarding school uniform.  Marius paid no attention to her.

Courfeyrac knew about this couple and had nicknames for them; he called the girl Lanoire because of her black dress, and the old man Leblanc because of his white hair.

(Here Victor Hugo gives us two clues that might help alert readers recognize these two characters:  The girl had the uniform of a convent boarding school; Cosette had attended a convent boarding school.  The old man had exactly white hair; Jean Valjean had exactly white hair.  Not enough to establish the identity of these two characters, but enough to give alert readers a feeling that we may have seen them before.)

Then Marius inexplicably broke off his daily habit of walking at the Luxembourg.  Six months later he returned, and found the old man and the girl still there.  The old man was the same, but the girl had changed.  She was beautiful now.  Marius had to do a double-take to make sure that it was the same girl; at first he thought that this was a sister.

Marius walked by their bench every day, and one day when the girl looked at him, it was all over.  He was in love.

But Marius was inexperienced in the ways of love, and he made some mistakes that cost him dearly.  The old man, whom he suspected was the girl’s father, set some traps for him and he walked right smack into each of them.  First, he moved to a different bench and Marius followed them.  Then, he came alone, without the girl, and when this happened Marius would not stay.

One day the old man dropped a handkerchief with the initials “UF” stitched into it.  Marius thought this was the girl’s handkerchief and came to guess that her name was Ursula.

Through all of this, Marius and the girl never spoke to each other.  At one point they even had a lover’s quarrel with their eyes only; this was triggered by a gust of wind that had exposed part of the girl’s leg as she walked past.

Then Marius committed the most egregious blunder of all.  He tried to follow her home.  He tracked her to a place on the Rue de l’Ouest.  He knocked on the door and asked the doorkeeper about them, and found out that they lived on the third floor.  After that, the man and the girl stopped coming to the Luxembourg altogether, but Marius watched for them in the Rue de l’Ouest.  A week later, they had moved.