I couldn’t agree more, Pie!
I was about to quote Vargas Llosa aswell!, but you saved me from translating it. I also feel like shouting at him sometimes (his opinions on éponine? Please!), but I think he really hits a point here, when he says that Marius is surrounded by Super Humans (in the nietzschean sense): Valjean, javert, Enjolras… and then there he is, all plain human and flawled trying to catch our sympathies. I always wonder why so many people think that the characters in Les Misérables are so extraordinary complex. 99% of the characters in the brick are totally flat. (that’s the main thing I disliked when I first read it. I was expecting some Flaubert, Stendhal, Maupassant, Balzac…, and instead I had to face that: sort of moral fable populated by flat unrealistic characters) . Marius is an exception among the main characters. And for some reason it doesn’t really work.
Marius purity: well, yes, that’s young Hugo. He was a virgin when he married Adèle. There is even this letter he sent her when he was 20, where he says that he would despise a woman who accepted to marry a man who wasn’t pure and virginal (we certainly can’t accuse Hugo of being sexist, can we?).
Nevertheless, I am one of the people who hate Marius. But not because of the way he treated Valjean. I perfectly understand it. Come on! Even nowadays people have a lot of prejudices, but that was the 19th century. Your position in society could be threatened by so many things. And to worry about that wasn’t frivolous or snobbish. It was real life. Social rules were strict. Also, nobody seems to remember that Marius thinks that Valjeans has killed Madelaine and that cosette’s fortune is stolen money. Who would want such a person under his roof? Even so, I think that he is very tactfull with Cosette, he maneouvres so that she isn’t hurt and doesn’t miss her “father”. What I don’t really get his moral issues about Valjean killing Javert at the barricade. Hello, boy, you also shoot people at the barricade, didn’t you? And Javert’s execution was ordered and approved by your friends, remember?
Anyway, if I dislike Marius it is not because of the way he treats Valjean but because of the way he behaves before the barricades. He is SO annoying, and over dramatic, and so self-centered, and he thinks that he and his feelings are SO important. In short, I dislike him because of the pretended over sensibily that prevents him to understand his grand-father (come on, you’re just a chicken, boy! I could understand it when you were 7. But you are 18 and you don’t understand that your grand-father loves you?), because of his exagerated devotion to his father, because he is boooooring, and brooding, and unable to relate to anyone who is happy or positive, because he can’t do anything but think about himself for 4 years, because he is unbearably prudish, and stuck-up, and he thinks that he is better than anyone else.
I like his clumsiness, and I smile at things like his going out only at night because his coat is green. But that’s all.
I think that my main problem with Marius is that, being the only really human and complex main character in the whole brick, I feel that I should be able to relate to him. But I just can’t. I just can’t relate to that boring boy who willingly spends 4 years on his own, and spends his evenings with retired old generals. I just don’t understand him.
Of course, I am aware that Marius’s character belongs to a certain period and is prototipically romantic. He is the heir of Werther, and all those romantics suicidals… But I just can’t relate or like him.
About Hugo being unaware that Marius would be an unsympathetic character, well, let’s face it, Hugo was monstrously full of himself. His voice in Les Misérables is like the voice of God. He though of himself as someone inconmensurably important and an admirable person. He probably never though that his youth flaws would make him, or his character, unlikable.
Gary-stu? Well, Marius is certainly the idealized version of young Hugo. He has some small flaws, but his flaws remind me of a hot-tempered, or atoo impulsive Mary-Sue. Little things that make him more charming. Nothing really bad. He even gets to play revolutionary, something that Hugo never did. Oh! and his dark thick hair! That’s the more gary-stuish thing ever. Specially if you remember that Hugo was half bald!
And Marius intellectual achievements have something gary-stuish about them too. Yes Hugo was a very brilliant student. So, he didn’t really idealised Marius. But. Hugo also had intellectual weakenesses. And it is really interesting what he did with them.
When I was writing Grantaire’s intro for the masterwork, I read his sentence about his father and mathematics, and I made up that grantaire’s father wanted him to get into the école polytechnique but he never had a chance because he was so bad at mathematics. Well, afterwards I found this anotated french edition online where they explain that this was actually what happened to Hugo (and then I read a little more about it in his bio). Apparently his father wanted him and his brother to get into the Polytechenique, and he had them both taking a lot of mathematics lessons every day (and by a lot, I mean, 4 or 5 hours, six days a week!!!), but Hugo was completely hopeless and never had any chance to enter the school. And what does Hugo do in Les Mis? He transfers his own real flaws to another character! (by the way, am I good reading between the lines or not! I totally guessed what that sentence was about . Yep. I’m stupidly proud of myself and my reading skills
So, my vote is: Yes! Marius is a Gary-Stu