Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
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.