Chapter 1 The narrator fills in the backstory about Marius. In the Rue de Saintonge a few old inhabitants still remember an even older man named M. Gillenormand, an 18th-century bourgeois who is over 90 years old in 1831. He had always had good health, and is passionate and hot-tempered. He has a 50-year-old daughter whom he chastises severely, and his wife is a flirtatious barber-ess. He enjoys discussing how civilization is essentially barbaric.
We move now from the Gorbeau hovel to another street on Paris’s Right Bank, plumbing another of the city’s secrets and embarking on another physiognomy of one of its inhabitants—this time, as in some other cases, one only tangentially related to Valjean’s and Cosette’s experience.
Chapter 2 Gillenormand now lives in the Marais, the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire. In his youth he had been a sullen husband but charming lover, so his wives had cheated on him, but never his mistresses. He follows the fashions, and dismisses the French Revolution.
Gillenormand is portrayed as a political conservative, someone from the old regime who continues to espouse its values rather than embrace progress.
Chapter 3 Sometimes Gillenormand recalls lovers from his youth, and speaks of them crudely.
Gillenormand has an antiquated, even misogynistic idea of love and relationships.
Chapter 4 Gillenormand despises all mention of 1789, and often says he hopes he won’t see ’93 twice.
As an anti-revolutionary, even the notion of the revolution upsets this reactionary.
Chapter 5 Gillenormand often says that the way to rid oneself of a disagreeable wife is to give her the purse-strings, so she becomes extremely busy and no longer bothers him. He had done just this, and his second wife had lost his fortune: now there’s just enough for him to live on with Basque, his male servant, and a few female ones, all of whom he calls Nicolette, regardless of their real names.
Though Gillenormand’s political leanings have been described in a somewhat disapproving manner, and the man seems somewhat ridiculous and absurd, the narrator also suggests that there’s room to sympathize with him—he’s comical rather than truly despicable.
Chapter 6 Gillenormand takes many liberties, and isn’t at all surprised when a servant-maid named Magnon accuses the 84-year-old of having fathered her child. He takes on the child, referring to several famous figures who had children at very advanced ages. But when the woman sends him another boy the next year, he sends them back along with a monthly maintenance. Gillenormand often gives alms, and is kind and charitable. He had a daughter by his first wife and another by his second. This second daughter had married a soldier who had made colonel at Waterloo, before she died around the age of 30 (Gillenormand calls him the disgrace of his family).
The narrator has previously suggested that men should bear much of the blame and the burden for getting women pregnant out of wedlock and so causing them misery, but here the narrator seems to portray Magnon as the one taking advantage of Gillenormand’s bumbling, forgetful joviality. Again the narrator stresses internal contradiction within characters: Gillenormand is both charitable towards the poor and harsh towards his own family.
Chapter 7 The narrator notes that Gillenormand is both frivolous and great, in the style of the 18th century. On abandoning society as a retired man, he eats at 5:00 each evening and only receives people afterwards, calling daytime “vulgar.”
The narrator classifies Gillenormand as a historical type, associating a certain attitude, politics, and lifestyle with an entire century, one to be distinguished from the present.
Chapter 8 As young women, Gillenormand’s daughters had been quite different: one charming, musical, and artistic, the other shrewd and hoping to catch a wealthy husband. The younger married the man she loved, but then died; the older never married. Now the latter, Mademoiselle Gillenormand is overly demure, not exposing any parts of her body whatsoever. She had never been malicious, and is now vaguely melancholy at her life that never really started. She lives with her father and with his grandson, a little boy whom Gillenormand idolizes, though he usually addresses him in a severe shout.
Gillenormand’s daughters conform to two distinct types, which are nevertheless different from the physiognomic description of their father. The narrator suggests that it is the lack of love that has prevented Mademoiselle Gillenormand’s life from ever really starting. Her sister’s life, on the other hand, is for the narrator redeemed by the fact that she married the person she loved—even though she died early.