Friday, January 9, 2015

Why I Love (well, LIKE)...{Marius Pontmercy}

While Les Misérables is not quite my favorite musical (though I do love it), and certainly not my favorite book, one character with whom I was impressed was Marius Pontmercy.  (What mainly impressed me was how Victor Hugo developed his character...which is interesting since my main complaint against the book was the disappointing lack of character development.  Yes, I did just go there.)  I know, I know, Marius is generally regarded as a slightly wimpish guy who is in addition sporting a most unbecoming idiocy about him.

But I am here to tell you a horrifying truth, one that may well alienate from me any staunch Mizzer who reads this:

I liked Marius, at least in the book, vastly more than Enjolras.

Oh, see the rotten tomatoes fly.

I won't go into why I didn't like Enjolras in the book, because my reasons are not sufficiently developed (heh.  I've been using that word a lot.), and I have a feeling that they are too flimsy to support any logical argument.  I would, however, like to state my reasons for liking Marius (and this will be mainly from the book's perspective):

"An ardent but reserved young man, high-minded, generous, proud, religious, impulsive; aloof to the point of asperity, uncompromising to the point of unsociability."

I will be the first to admit that Marius is a flawed, flawed, flawed man.  He is perhaps too easily swayed by a new doctrine, and when Valjean tells him that he is really an escaped convict, he quickly (but naturally) assumes the worst of his father-in-law and does not attempt to stop him from leaving Cosette's life.  And then, of course, there is the uncomfortable fact that he can carry on a blissful romance with a complete stranger through scrolled garden fences while remaining oblivious to the obvious affection of the friend he's actually known for longer than a half hour *ahem*.  


Marius is passionate, and, perhaps as a direct result, he is sometimes too influenced by others' passions, yet there is something philosophic in his nature as well.  He tests what he hears and contemplates it, and when he does "go wrong," he does so with the best of intentions:  "There are ways of falling into error while pursuing the truth."

Now then, about Éponine.  Clearly, Marius's actions in regard to her are clueless at best, in fact idiotic in many people's estimation.  He's also regarded as a loser because he doesn't realize that his best friend is in love with him.  And I'd agree that from the movie's perspective, Marius is a bit of really an idiot.  I mean, Éponine is gorgeous, head over heels for him, and a wonderful friend.  But from the perspective of the book (the "original" or "real" Les Mis, if you will), it's a bit different.  (Though here I may begin to give faulty information, as I have only read the book once and it's been a while.  There are many people much better-versed in the book Les Mis, so I freely confess that I might have misread certain parts.)  In the book, Marius has really not known Éponine much, if at all, longer than Cosette.  Certainly, he has spoken to 'Ponine, but their relationship can hardly be described as lifelong, enduring, or close friendship.  I believe I only read about three encounters between the two of them (Marius and 'Ponine) before the barricades.  She admires, even loves him, which is clear to us as the readers, but while he pities her, he has never "thought of her in that way," and can we blame him?  ("Yes, we certainly can!"  "Hush, Little Person.  We are defending Marius here.")  Now, please don't misconstrue what I am about to say.  I am a staunch lover of Éponine, and I feel abundantly sorry for her, and I think she is a wonderful person, and all that, but these facts remain.  Victor Hugo describes her as someone whom poverty and neglect have made unattractive, both in face and in conduct.  She's coarse, uncultured, and slightly ribald.  None of which is her fault, in ANY WAY.  But it is only natural, even if it isn't right or what we would wish, that she wouldn't quite be Marius's first thought for matrimony.  

And regardless of my attempt at justifying this, let us not forget that many well-beloved men in period drama are just as oblivious as Marius.  *coughcough* Arthur Clenham *ahem*  

And now the last complaint with which I will deal:  Marius's reaction to learning Valjean's true identity.    He doesn't behave well here, but he is understandably repulsed and he is trying to protect Cosette.  And when he learns of his mistake, he's all humility and repentance:  

"'Cosette, did you hear what he said?  He asked me to
forgive him!  And do you know what he did?  He saved my life and, even more, he gave me you!  And then he sacrificed himself by withdrawing from our lives.  He ran hideous risks for us and now he asks me to forgive him, graceless, pitiless clod that I have been!'"

So no, Marius is definitely not perfect, and yes, he at times behaves idiotically.  But there's an inner nobility to him and a thoughtfulness.  And he is quick to admit his mistakes once he's made aware of them, which shows tremendous strength of character, if you think about it.  Some people (myself included) find it inordinately difficult to acknowledge when we are in the wrong or have hurt people, even if unwittingly.  

So there you are, the second installment in my little series Why I Love  :D

5 comments:

  1. It's quite refreshing to hear someone actually defend Marius! Though I didn't care much for him in the movie (the whole Cosette/Eponine thing annoyed me greatly), when I read the book I soon grew to love him.
    Of course he has flaws, but he is also noble and kind (he gave his last money to Eponine to buy dinner) and sticks to what he thinks is right.
    And by the way, you're right - in the book he had already been in love with Cosette for a while when he met Eponine.
    All in all, great and well thought through post.

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    1. I agree--in the movie, he's not that great, but in the book, something about him really drew me to him. He's just a good, upright character.
      Aw, why thank you:D

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  2. THIS.

    Okay, so...you may have seen that I finished the book, and I needed to vent about some things, so there's a long review I published this morning, but I had to scroll back to this post and comment, because I agree with your points very much. YES.

    I haven't quite decided whom I like better when it comes to Marius and Enjolras. I like both of them. But I can deeply appreciate all the Pinterest memes making fun of Marius, because, even in the book, he can be SO trying. What a terrible son-in-law! ;)

    And yet, prior to meeting Cosette, he was so devoted to his dead father, and he was kind to Eponine.

    I haven't seen the movie(yet), but one trend which irritates me on Pinterest is how hyped up the whole "Marius is friends with Eponine and how terrible that he forgot his best friend for Cosette" thing is, when really in the book, they weren't even exactly friends(at least not on Marius's side). I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that way;)

    Anyways, great post!

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    1. (I thought I'd responded to this ages ago, sorry about that!)

      YES. I know. Your review was basically perfection, btw ;)

      I think that's what most irritates me, too--'Ponine and he really weren't as bosom friends as the musical makes us think. They just weren't.

      Thanks so much for commenting, Meredith!

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  3. Ok, I know this is an old post, but I have to say I *reluctantly* agree with you. :) I spent the whole book wanting to THROW things at Marius!!!! Great post
    ~Merry

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