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Free Study Guide for Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: "Les Mis"

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Book Fourth: Friends of the ABC


The Friends of the ABC was a student society of young men who considered themselves “friends of the people” (the “abased”), and their goal was to raise the people both materially and spiritually.

Enjolras is 22 and represents the logic of the revolution in the society. He is an idealist who abjures women and is passionate about what he believes to be right.

Combeferre is the philosopher. He is humane and wants a peaceful solution to the controversies of the day. He prefers to let progress do its work rather than hasten revolution by means of war.

Jean Prouvaire is a subdued student who is addicted to the idea of love. He seems well read and is fluent in the classic languages including Greek and Hebrew. He spends his days pondering social issues, dresses boldly and is very timid in spite of also being rich.

Feuilly is a fan maker, an orphan and self-educated. He is a working man who has made himself a “teacher of justice.” Other members of the “Friends” are Courfeyrac, Bahorel, and Bossuet whose goal it to “succeed in nothing.” One other, a sceptic named Grantaire, makes it a point to believe in nothing.

Marius himself is enrolled in law classes. He meets the Friends when interacting with Bossuet (also called L’Aigle) who is lounging against the doorway of a café as Marius passes by. That evening, Marius moves into a room in a hotel where he will be roommate to Courfeyrac. He then begins to attend the Friends’ meetings and listens to the discussions of political issues. Marius is amazed at the pointless conversation and at the derogatory references to Bonaparte. One day they mention Waterloo in the same negative tone, and Marius vents, criticizing them for their attitudes and glorifying Napoleon as ‘the man who made France a great nation.” Their true intent, however, strikes home when after a long speech in which Marius asks what could be more gand than to have been a part of the enterprise of Napoleon, Combeferre says simply, “to be free.” The words plunge Marius into a state of self-doubt, between “religions” as it were. He has only recently come to know his father and to believe in the good of Napoleon and is already being drawn in another direction. He stops attending the meetings at the Café Musain. By this time he is also out of money and unable to pay additional hotel bills, so he sells all the personal belongings he can spare and resolves to learn English and German so he can take work for a bookseller who needs a translator. Then he leaves the hotel.


The acquaintance with the Friends brings Marius face to face with the tri-part division of Paris in the 1800's. The Bourgeois to which his grandfather belongs is one. The empire for which his father fought is another. And the new republic represented by the rather aimless students and working class is another. Marius seems not to have thought of the motivations of any other the groups, and feelings for his father certainly influence him in that direction. Nevertheless, the students and the cause of freedom which they espouse forces him to reconsider his father’s loyalties. The problem for Marius at this point is that he doesn’t truly know what he believes or where he belongs. We have somewhat of a Hamlet image here as Marius struggles to establish himself without first creating debt to another.

Book Fifth: The Excellence of Misfortune


Marius becomes desperately poor to the point of borrowing an old coat from Courfeyrac. The coat is green, so he limits his outdoor activities to the night when it will look black. Thus he can remain in mourning for his father. He receives an occasional stipend of 60 pistoles from his aunt, but he always returns them, saying he does not need the money. Eventually he becomes a lawyer and by sheer will power also learns to reach German and English, thus finally earning the small salary of 700 francs a year.

For 30 francs a year, Marius is able to pay his own rent in the Gorbeau House. He has a small room with no fire place and eats as frugally as possible. He avoids debt at all cost. Along with his father’s name, the name Thenardier is engraven on his mind. He is able to discover that the Thenardiers ran into bankruptcy and lost their inn, but is unable to track them beyond that. He fantasizes about giving himself in some sacrificial manner to the man who saved his father.

Three years pass. Marius and his grandfather never meet, so Marius never realizes his grandfather’s true feelings toward him. In spite of Gillenormand’s harsh demeanor, he worshiped Marius and soon regrets the dutiful obedience of the household in response to his command to “never speak of him.” Marius himself continues a solitary life, refusing a better paying job which would provide him with a better room but also limit his freedom. He remains on friendly terms with the ABC group, but does not attend their meetings. He feels more kindly toward his grandfather but is determined to have nothing to do with “the man who was cruel to his father.” His only real friends are Courfeyrac and M. Mabeuf.

The room Marius occupies in the Gorbeau House shares a wall with the Jondrette apartment. Marius feels sorry for them and pays their rent when he hears that they are about to be turned out for nonpayment.

Aunt Gillenormand plots to have Theodule replace Marius in her father’s affections, but this is unsuccessful as Gillenormand considers Theodule a fool.


Although he is in the military, Theodule is not unlike the courtiers of the previous age. He has little motivation, no real ideals of his own, and tries to say whatever he thinks his listener wants to hear. Although this sort of individual would be no stranger to Gillenormand--who probably engaged in more than his share of similar behavior, he has no use for Theodule. Further, Theodule is the “obedient” child, willing to do whatever it takes to please his uncle enough to get his hands on some of his uncle’s money. If Gillenormand were really so much opposed to Marius, it would seem that he would welcome the obsequious loyalty of Theodule. Such is not the case however.

Gillenormand reveals his awareness of the changing times in one of his discussions with Theodule. He goes on at some length criticizing the “Revolution,” calling France a “maiden who comes from a brothel;” and the young republicans “greater connoisseurs in liberty, equality and fraternity than the ax of the guillotine.” If the old man really believes his impassioned words himself, then he is closer to Marius’ ideals than he has been willing to admit. At any rate, Theodule’s hasty agreement reveals the younger man’s ignorance and brings Gillenormand’s tart response that Theodule is “a fool.”

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Ruff, Dr. Karen S. C., D. A.. "TheBestNotes on Les Miserables". . 09 May 2017