Chapter 1 It was Eponine who had originally pointed the Rue Plumet home out to Marius, enabling him to finally enter Cosette’s garden. Now, he enters every evening that May of 1832. They only hold each other’s hands and profess the kind of inanities common to people in love. Marius attempts to compliment Cosette, and they often laugh easily and familiarly. In general, they idolize each other.
Once again, the narrator describes the scenes of love between Marius and Cosette benignly, but also with a touch of skepticism, suggesting that while love can be touching and good, there’s also a chance for it to slip into pure idolatry, which would mean ignoring others in need.
Chapter 2 Marius had told Cosette that he was an orphan and lawyer, and that he was on bad terms with his wealthy grandfather, but Cosette cares little about these worldly attributes. Marius feels the same: it doesn’t even occur to him to tell her about the night at the Thenardiers’ and her father’s strange flight. The lovers tell each other everything but what’s related to reality, and they never ask what their love will lead to.
“Reality” for Marius and Cosette has little to do with the complexities and difficulties dealt with by Valjean, for example, but this inattention is also what allows their love to continue. They are unhampered by the revelations and confusion that would occur if Cosette learned more about her father’s activities.
Chapter 3 With Cosette happy again, Valjean suspects nothing and is content himself. The couple hides in the garden for hours, and Marius usually doesn’t go away until after midnight. Courfeyrac notices his friend’s change of habits and jovially asks what “her” name is, but Marius stays silent.
While Courfeyrac considers this new love affair as one of many among his friends, for Marius it is sacred enough that he refuses to tell his friend anything about Cosette or his feelings.
One day Marius is on his way to the garden when a girl greets him: it is Eponine, whom he hasn’t thought of since the day she led him to Cosette’s. The narrator notes that love can bar someone from enacting evil, but it can also make him too thoughtless to be good. Marius greets Eponine with the formal “you.” She exclaims, “Say—” but then pauses, trying to smile, abruptly says good evening again, and hurries away.
Here, the narrator explicitly states one of the drawbacks of the sentiment of love, which, in the novel, is often a somewhat ambivalent phenomenon. As readers, we are far more aware of Eponine’s own struggles and unhappiness than Marius is.
Chapter 4 The next day is June 3rd, 1832. That night, Marius once again catches sight of Eponine on the way to the Rue Plumet, so he ducks out of sight. Eponine follows him, unsuspecting, and watches him slip into the garden. Towards ten o’clock six men enter the Rue Plumet together and begin to talk softly, asking if this is the place, and if there’s a “dog” in the garden—if so, another one says, he has a “ball” that they’ll make him eat. One of the men comes up to the garden entrance, but suddenly Eponine shows herself to the man—it’s her father, Thenardier.
After having escaped from prison, the men of the Patron-Minette find themselves once again ready to enact whatever kind of crime they can. Speaking in slang, they cannot be understood by many, but in another of the novel’s coincidences, Eponine happens to find herself at the very place where they’re plotting, and she is well-suited (having grown up a Thenardier) to understand the criminal dialect.
Thenardier asks what Eponine is doing there, and says she shouldn’t hinder them, but she asks sweetly how he managed the escape, and how her mother is doing. She hugs him, and then turns to the five others, including Brujon and Montparnasse. She says she’s made inquiries, and there’s nothing in this house—it’s poor folks who have little money. Eponine entreats Montparnasse not to enter, and finally says firmly that she won’t allow it. She’ll scream, beat the door, and have all six seized. She’s not afraid, even of her father. She’s used to being hungry and cold and couldn’t be bothered if she died the next day.
The narrator is quick to differentiate Eponine from her father and the other members of the Patron-Minette gang. Acting out of love for Marius (even though he’s in the garden with his own lover, Eponine’s rival), she is willing to lie or scream in order to protect him from the criminals. The narrator her shows just how desperate Eponine, abandoned by her family and society, has become.
Montparnasse flashes his knife and tells the others to go in and do the job: he’ll stay and take care of Eponine. Thenardier says nothing. But Brujon, who has the reputation of never turning back, seems thoughtful and suggests that they go away. Eponine watches them retreat into the dark and gloom.
Thenardier is pretty roundly condemned in terms of morality here—he says nothing to protect his own daughter, even as Montparnasse suggests he’ll “take care of her” with his knife.
Chapter 5 Then the Rue Plumet becomes calm and sleepy again. The previous scene recalls the forest, where wild nature feeds off gloom, bestiality, and hunger in search of prey.
The narrator makes a surprising analogy here, as he compares Paris to the opposite of the urban, thus stressing its more wild and bestial aspects.
Chapter 6 Meanwhile, Marius had found Cosette weeping in the garden. Her father has business that may require them to go to England. For six weeks Marius has been living outside life, now he’s forced to return to it. He coldly asks if Cosette will join him, speaking with the formal “you,” and she asks what he expects her to do—she’ll go with her father. Then he’ll go elsewhere, Marius says. Cosette says he can go away with them, but he replies that she’s mad—he’s in debt, has few clothes, and can’t afford a passport. Marius throws himself against a tree, then turns around to see Cosette sobbing. They swear they love each other; Marius says he’ll die if she leaves. He says not to expect him tomorrow: he has a plan. He gives her his address in case something happens, engraving “16 Rue de la Verrerie” on the wall.
We’ve seen how Marius’ and Cosette’s love for each other has prevented them from fully engaging in reality, but now, they’re required to confront themselves with very practical matters rather than remaining in their idyll of the last few weeks. Initially, the narrator shows how love actually makes Marius act more harshly, speaking out of the pain that’s closely connected with love. However, he’s able to overcome this sorrier side of love, and it’s suggested that he may be able to find a way to turn reality to his advantage through his plan.
Chapter 7 Gillenormand is over 91 years old and still lives with his daughter. He’s been waiting for Marius for four years, confident that the young man would ring the bell at some point, though feeling incapable of taking the first step towards reconciliation. He has a portrait of his other daughter in his room, and one day tells Mademoiselle Gillenormand that the portrait has a likeness to Marius. But when she asks if he’s still angry with Marius, Gillenormand cries that he’s an ingrate, a wicked scoundrel.
Gillenormand is portrayed, as he has been before, as stubborn, proud, and petty, but ultimately capable of great love. However, it is because he cannot bring himself to forgive Marius that, according to the logic of the novel, he is forced to suffer greatly and deny himself the very possibilities of love that should theoretically be open to him.
Still, Mademoiselle Gillenormand’s attempt to insert Theodule as the new heir hasn’t worked. Theodule is vulgar and gloats too much about his mistresses; finally Gillenormand tells his daughter not to invite him anymore. One June evening, Gillenormand is thinking lovingly but bitterly of Marius, when the butler asks if M. Marius may come in. He stammers yes, and Marius enters. Gillenormand is overwhelmed with happiness. He thinks that Marius seems noble and distinguished despite being clothed in rags.
Though Gillenormand claims he harbors no kind feelings towards Marius, the fact that he refuses to replace Marius with Theodule as his heir underlines how much he prefers the former. Marius has come to occupy almost a dream-like position for Gillenormand, who’s idolized him—and hidden his own idolatry from himself—for years.
Gillenormand’s joy is not clear in his harsh words asking why Marius has come—and Marius says it’s not to beg his pardon. With grief and anger, his grandfather asks what he wants. Marius asks him to have pity on him. These words are too late, however. Gillenormand rises up, saying that Marius has all the advantages of youth whereas he himself is wasting away, and he has no right to ask for “pity.” As he’s speaking, he realizes that his harshness will probably drive Marius away. This increases his despair, which only makes him more furious—he cries that Marius has become a dandy and debtor. Finally, Marius says he wants to ask for permission to marry.
This scene is depicted as a tragic example of miscommunication, in which most of what Gillenormand is thinking either doesn’t get translated into words or becomes distorted in his attempt to articulate what he means. Gillenormand continues to be torn between his love for his grandson and the accumulated manners and morals of his generation, political creed, and sense of French history.
Gillenormand rings for his daughter, who looks at Marius, frightened. Sarcastically, Gillenormand remarks that Marius has come merely for a formality. He asks if Marius earns anything by his trade of lawyer, and Marius says he does not. Gillenormand exclaims that he’s 21, has no profession, and lives on only 1,200 livres a year (which, in fact, Marius has never accepted). Marius begs his grandfather to permit him to marry, crying out, “Father!” but he cries, “Never!” Marius loses all hope, and slowly exits the chamber. At the moment when he opens the door, Gillenormand seizes him by the collar and drags him back into the room, ordering him to tell him all about his situation. It was the word “Father” that enacted this change, and suddenly Gillenormand takes on a paternal, though brusque, kindness.
Even after turning Marius out of the house, Gillenormand had, as we’ve seen, taken solace in the fact that Marius was doing all the necessary steps to prepare to become a successful lawyer. Now, he finds that Marius’s politics appear to be more radical than he feared—and Gillenormand is not even aware that Marius had told his aunt, without his grandfather’s knowledge, that he wouldn’t accept a monthly stipend from his grandfather. Gillenormand’s change of mood is somewhat disturbing in its suddenness, but it also underlines his hidden hopes for how Marius thinks of him.
Marius begins to tell Gillenormand about Cosette. Gillenormand responds that it’s right to be in love at his age: Marius must simply come talk to him, and he’ll iron everything out. The old man then starts laughing and tells Marius to make the woman his mistress. Marius turns pale, picks up his hat, and says that Gillenormand has insulted his wife: he can ask nothing more of him. Gillenormand remains stunned and motionless, and then races out the door, but Marius is nowhere to be seen. Gillenormand raises his hands to his head with an anguished expression, and then falls back into an armchair in a faint.
This scene takes on tragicomic proportions, as Gillenormand’s hopes for a repaired relationship with Marius are thwarted yet again. This time Gillenormand knows he’s directly at fault for assuming that Marius shares his cavalier attitudes (and those of, in general, a certain subset of Parisian aristocrats in Gillenormand’s generation) about the treatment of women and men’s proper relation to them.