Chapter 1 February 16th, 1833, is the wedding night. The ceremony takes place in Gillenormand’s house on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent begins). The prior evening, Valjean gives the 600,000 francs to Marius, and a chamber in the Gillenormand house is set up for him. A few days before the marriage, Valjean had accidentally crushed his right thumb, but he hadn’t made a fuss about it, only carrying his arm in the sling. He cannot therefore sign the document, and Gillenormand does so instead.
This description of the wedding is concerned less with the love between Cosette and Marius than with the practical matters of an income, signed documents, and the like—all of which reflect the historical moment of marriage in 1832, when dowries and practical incomes were hugely important in terms of determining marriages.
At this time, the Rue Saint-Louis (between the Gillenormand house and the Saint-Paul church) is barred off for renovations, so the guests have to turn through the boulevard, where the Shrove Tuesday celebrations are taking place. The sidewalks overflow with pedestrians and children in disguise. A wagon full of masked people passes by the wedding carriage—a tradition stretching back to the earliest days of the monarchy, which the narrator disapproves of as buffoonery that provokes a crowd. One masker, a young girl disguised as a fishwife, remarks to her father (disguised as a Spaniard) that she’s sure she knows the man with his arm in the sling in the wedding carriage. The Spaniard tells his daughter to go follow the wedding cart, but she says that she’s hired—she’ll be arrested if she leaves the cart. Tomorrow, the father says, he must sneak back into his hole, but she is free—she must find out where the wedding-party went, and where the pair lives. He tells her she must try—and calls her Azelma.
Shrove Tuesday is better known to an American audience as Mardi Gras, a day of festivals and cheer before the beginning of Lent, a time of the year when Christians fast and give up revelry. A devout Christian himself, Hugo still ties this pre-Lenten revelry to the darker disguises that can be taken up by criminals and others in Paris. Once again, various threads of characters and plot points of the novel intersect, as Azelma and Thenardier reappear in another disguise (underlining the narrator’s point about the connections between disguise, merry-making, and crime). It’s suggested that Thenardier has recently been living in hiding, only able to sneak out of the darkness (material and moral) occasionally.
Chapter 2 Cosette and Marius both look young and lustrous, though Marius’s scars are still visible. Gillenormand confides to Fauchelevent that he is only interested in joy rather than sadness now—his political opinions are no more. As Cosette and Marius say their vows, their torments seem to come back to them, now converted into light—their suffering redeemed. They return home to a wedding party and begin to eat dinner. At one point, Gillenormand realizes that Fauchelevent is no longer there. Basque says his injured hand was paining him, and that he’d asked to be excused until tomorrow.
Although everyone in Paris seems to have forgotten about the barricades and the June insurrection, the narrator notes that this history continues to remain present in the form of scars on Marius’s face—reminders of his suffering and the loss of his friends, but also of his rehabilitation and recovery, and his newfound happiness with Cosette that is linked in the novel to the moral health of light.
After dessert, Gillenormand makes a toast, saying that they should be happy, and then delivers a winding speech about joy and goodness and love. He asks them to receive his blessing. A little after midnight, all have left, and the narrator notes that light shines on such houses on wedding nights, for God can be found in the joys of true marriage and love.
Although Gillenormand is employed here in his comic function, the points he makes about the relationship of goodness and love is further emphasized by Hugo, who considers marriage the true consummation of love, and therefore something to be promoted.
Chapter 3 Earlier, Valjean had gone up to the antechamber, where he’d arrived with Marius eight months before. He returned to the Rue de l’homme Armé, his former home, now empty. He went to a valise by his bed and opened it with a key. He drew out Cosette’s clothing from Montfermeil a decade earlier, laid it on the bed and called up memories: the moment he saw her shivering, carrying water, and the forest they crossed together, hand in hand. His head dropped and he began to sob.
Here Valjean recalls the entire trajectory of his recent past, in which he’d thought he had been born again (after faking his death) and given a new chance in life—to find love not in marriage, but in taking on the role of a father. Unlike marriage, this kind of love has an endpoint, he is now realizing, especially given Valjean’s own past.
Chapter 4 The narrator stresses how many times we’ve seen Valjean struggle against his conscience, beg for mercy, and resist darkness. He feels he is now passing through a final combat between good and evil. He had enabled Cosette’s and Marius’s happiness. But should he now keep Cosette as much as he can, living with them and bringing his convict’s past into their future? He is caught between egotism and his duty, struggling between sacrificing Cosette or himself. He remains at his bed until daylight, bent over it, motionless. All at once he shudders and kisses Cosette’s clothes—seen only by God.
Once again we witness Valjean at a moral crossroads, balanced between his own desires (even though these desires also include Cosette’s feelings, as she loves Valjean too), his sense that despite all his efforts, he has not been fully redeemed, and the reality that his past as a convict will continue to affect both his future and that of Cosette and Marius. The narrator stresses once again how thorny the path towards redemption can be.