The Effects of Dream Mingled with Happiness
When his younger daughter sought to marry Georges Pontmercy, M. Gillenormand was not happy. When she bore Pontmercy’s child, he wanted to cut her off completely. The marriage had born fruit and could not be happily annulled. But under this government, what else could he do but tolerate the brigands? They were in charge. He did not descend to see the family, however - that would have been a step too far.
Pontmercy was away in 1810, sent back into Germany for reasons his wife never understood beyond that he was especially trusted by the Emperor. When she came to the childbed, she was attended only by the midwife and had no one waiting for the outcome.
The child had a healthy set of lungs and was just the expected colour, but the midwife took a long time washing him. Mme Pontmercy was tired from her long late night ordeal, but the cries of the child kept her from drifting off. “Why will you not give him to me? He must be hungry.”
Finally, the midwife brought over the child, tightly wrapped. “Let the child feed. But I want to examine him again in the full light of morning.”
“There’s something wrong?”
“I hope not. Do not unwrap him, or he will catch cold.”
The first-time mother, chastened by the authority of the midwife, did not unwrap the child. He soon had his fill at her breast and went to sleep, as did she.
When she woke, the midwife had returned with a doctor. “Something is wrong.”
“Just let us see.”
They took the child into the only other room in the cottage. Mme Pontmercy could hear their voices indistinctly. Finally, the doctor brought the child back to her.
“The child is healthy. However, he is deformed.” He unwrapped the baby. “Either these are very small male genitals or a very large clitoris.”
“But he has no - no - ” She was uncertain how to politely say “testicles”, though she had seen her husband’s often enough.
“In these cases, they usually descend at maturity. That is why it is so difficult. If the child is male, he will be treated terribly by his peers and may never have children. If the child is female, she will undoubtedly be a great trial, oversexed, inattentive, wild.”
“You mean you cannot tell?”
“No one can tell for certain until maturity. It is a pity the child is so lusty - in these cases, it is always better when the child does not survive infancy.”
“What must I do?”
“Since it cannot be drowned, the best you can do is select a name you can change easily enough. As children grow, like attracts like. You do not see little boys and little girls playing together. In a few years, the child’s behaviour will tell you what it is. I would not get too attached to this neighbourhood - if you start as a girl and it turns out a boy, it would be best for everyone, especially the child, if you find new lodgings. The fee is ten francs.”
Ten francs for the advice her child would be better off dead! Mme Pontmercy paid, though she could ill afford it, and the doctor left her to her misery.
“What should I do?” she asked the midwife.
“Hope the child dies before your husband returns home. I wouldn’t have a castrato or a tribade on my hands for anything. You can’t even exhibit it at the fairs!” Another ten francs for the midwife for such advice!
Mme Pontmercy refused to think too much on what the experts said. Georges so wanted a son, therefore a son Georges would have. The child was christened “Marius”, and when Pontmercy returned home, she explained what the doctor had said about the deformity, that in these cases, it corrects with maturity. Pontmercy was disappointed, of course, but his wife was in good health, as was the boy. Such a lusty pair of lungs could only belong to a male of martial temperament.
He went back to the wars, and his wife breathed a sigh of relief. The midwife had been wrong; Georges was not angry. Little Marius grew, his father still in the wars, and as the doctor had said, like chose like - he sought out the other little boys of the neighbourhood for adventurous play, though everyone said he had the complexion of a girl. But like had found like, and Mme Pontmercy went to her grave in 1815 knowing that she had made the right choice.
When Pontmercy returned home, on half pay, under surveillance, to a fresh grave and a grave child, he knew he had no choice but to give Marius up to the demands of M. Gillenormand. The old man did not want to hear anything Pontmercy had to say, but once the soldier made the boy’s deformity clear, Gillenormand just shrugged and walked away. It was only right - God was punishing the old soldier for his defense of disorder by preventing his son from following the same path.
The elder Mlle Gillenormand, an old maid by this time, was given charge of the boy. She had never seen normal male genitalia and thus noted nothing odd - some putti in the Italian paintings of the age of Michelangelo have such abbreviated genitals. The boy was given tutors and never sent out to school, for his own protection.
Marius grew, and in his solitude, surrounded only by the elderly, he lost any childish wildness that his mother had so rejoiced at. Her death had hit him very hard, and after her passing, he had never again felt the love and warmth that her very presence had provided. His upbringing was religious and austere, and without comrades of any sort, he never discovered that he was in any way different.
As he matured, Gillenormand called in a doctor. The looked-for testicles never did descend, but the doctor said that sometimes, in these cases, it never happened. The looked for facial hair was slow to develop, but to look at his complexion, one was not tremendously surprised. “He is growing into a man,” the doctor said, swayed by the boy’s upbringing as much as by his physiology. “Some are just slow. These cases are never one like another.”
Marius went off to the law school, and his history there is well-documented. Let us not trample again such familiar ground.
“Do you think Marius is weird?” Courfeyrac asked Lesgle one day as they headed to the theatre to protect Marion Delorme from interruption by the philistines - and the possibility of a riot.
“It is the definition of his existence. Shouldn’t you be the one who knows? You live with him.”
“Well, yes, he is weird, but I mean, well, do you think there’s anything wrong with him?”
“Did he faint at the sight of a girl’s ankle again today?”
“Not for several months.”
“He’s getting better.”
“Yes, I’m so proud. No, what I mean is - physically.”
“Isn’t this better addressed to Joly? Or Combeferre?”
“Combeferre won’t diagnose without an examination. Joly - well, you know Joly better than anyone.”
“No one wants a treatise on whatever the disgusting subject of the week has been. But what do you mean?”
“Well - how do I put this?” Courfeyrac twisted his cane back and forth, toying with the threads that held the sword inside the stick. “Have you ever seen Marius piss?”
“No. But I wouldn’t entirely expect to - the boy doesn’t drink.”
“He can’t afford it.”
“That has never stopped me.”
“He’s also Marius.”
“Well, uhm, I think I’m trying to ask - do you think Marius is a girl?”
“He squats over the pot.”
Lesgle made a face. “Do you have a new fetish I don’t want to hear about?”
“Oh god, no! Ew! It’s one of those things you can’t help noticing, you know? It makes a different sound when it hits the porcelain from on high than does from down low. It’s not that I’m listening, but you can’t always avoid hearing, you know?”
“Maybe he’s also shitting at the same time.”
“This is how you ruin my evening? Making me contemplate Marius’ defecation habits?”
“He also barely shaves.”
“I don’t think Jehan ever shaves.”
“He does, just not frequently. He once tried to grow a beard - it wasn’t pretty.”
“Then see, you know better than anyone that just because Marius has skin a girl would kill for doesn’t mean he’s one himself. Does he have tits?”
“No. Well, I don’t know. He never fully undresses in front of me.”
“If you were a prude, would you fully undress in front of you?”
“No. I’m a lout. So you’re right. Marius is just weird, not necessarily wrong weird, just Marius weird.”
“Can we never bring up this conversation again? I’m not sure I can look at the actresses without having inappropriate thoughts.”
“Sorry. Won’t happen again.”
Courfeyrac did, however, manage a few days later to get Combeferre alone. “I was just wondering - have you ever heard of a girl pretending to be a boy?”
“Pretending? Courfeyrac, you’ve seen those ridiculous plots on the stage any number of times.”
“Pretending maybe isn’t quite what I mean. Living as a man?”
“Like George Sand?”
“No, like - like a man. Like looks mostly like a man, talks like a man, dresses like a man, has a public identity as a man, but has a pussy instead of a prick.”
“I believe it has happened, yes. Can we please be clinical in our terminology? To be clinical is to be neutral, and I would prefer that when speaking of an acquaintance.”
“Fine. Do you think Marius is one?”
“You live with him. Shouldn’t you be able to tell?”
“Is it possible for a man to not have a penis?”
“Yes,” Combeferre replied firmly. “There are a variety of defects of birth. Just as the cleft lip and club foot are determined in the womb, sometimes it is the genitals that are mutilated. Let me clarify - in most cases, it is not that there is not a penis, but that the penis terminates abruptly, almost as soon as it has begun. Sometimes it can be confused with an enlarged clitoris, as it is said the Turkish women of the seraglio are bred to have for self-pleasure, though it is doubtful one can continue to breed such deformities. Man is not a dog. Have you seen it?” he added with an eagerness Courfeyrac did not entirely like.
“No. I just don’t particularly want to be living with a girl, that’s all.”
“Then why did you take in Marius? I’m sorry, that was sarcastic,” Combeferre apologised. “He behaves like an old woman too much of the time, but I do think he is safely of the appropriate gender. In any case, a woman of his age, living with a man, would be difficult to hide. I am not certain one could hide the menses so well. The monthly bleeding,” he explained to clear up Courfeyrac’s confusion.
“You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Cosette was innocent. Her childhood was of the convent; she grew to a woman under the careful eye of her father. All her knowledge was the knowledge of a child, gleaned from curious observation without adult understanding. Until her garden was pierced by two visitors in top hats, she had known only that which the nuns or her father had taught her. And even these two visitors did not bring the sort of knowledge that one can call corruption. The first taught her a form of pleasure, that is, play; the second taught her a form of romance, that is, love. To play and to love are the work of children, and children are innocent.
Because he knew her to be innocent, Marius did not tell her of his infirmity. What good would it do to put such a canker on their wedding night? It would only become an issue if they could not conceive children, and there would be time enough to call the doctors then.
M. Gillenormand said nothing of his grandson’s debility to M. Fauchelevent. He kept the thought to himself, “The poor girl will never know what she’s missing!” Indeed, the thought he did not articulate was that perhaps, if Marius proved as inferior as he must, that he himself might one day introduce the girl to what she had been missing.
Cosette was innocent, but she was not ignorant. Children observe their surroundings, and often they do not understand all that they see, though they remember it all. When her father was ill and had to be bathed, Cosette had noticed that what was between his legs was not the same was what was between her legs. And of course, she had had a thorough education in female anatomy from the first of the visitors to her garden.
Marius was innocent as well, but he was not ignorant, either. He had never touched a woman before Cosette, but he had received a thorough education in male and female anatomy from Courfeyrac. Courfeyrac had once brought home a mistress, forgetting that Marius was there, and their varied and enthusiastic lovemaking was as good as a front-row seat at an anatomical lecture. Marius did not speak to him for three days in the embarrassment, and it took all three days for Courfeyrac to figure out why he was receiving the silent treatment.
A wedding night is a beautiful event, blessed by God, relieved of awkwardness by love. The door closed behind them, left to themselves, Marius and Cosette stared at one another for the longest time, as if they would feed on each other’s image and seek no further nourishment all night. But Cosette was anxious - Dominique had all but disappeared when Marius began his visits - and she had not been touched in so long. She asked Marius to unbutton her dress, which he did with the reverence of true love.
He had not expected her to know precisely how to undress him to maximum effect. While wrapped up in a kiss, she had unbuttoned both sides of the fall of his trousers and thrust her hand between his legs. The pressure of her hand against his genitals was intoxicating. The fact that she withdrew herself and stared at him in shock was less so.
Marius was embarrassed and angry at the same time: she had discovered his secret, and she was not so innocent as to be ignorant of its meaning. He collapsed on the bed, his head in his hands, certain she was laughing at him and angry that he had been tricked into marrying a loose woman.
Cosette was laughing, but not at him. She sniffed her fingers and laughed again. She was giddy but sensible enough to recall that Marius was tremendously sensitive. She sat down next to him on the bed, clad only in her corset, shift, and drawers, and toyed with his beautiful dark hair until he would look at her again.
“Are you a girl?” she asked as carefully as she could. He glared at her rather than reply. “You smell like a girl.”
“I’m not a girl,” he said defensively.
“Then let me see,” she insisted softly, sliding his braces off his shoulders.
He pulled away and stripped down quickly, in a sulk, to confront her in only his stockings. Cosette examined him in curiosity. He was not well-muscled like her father. There was a softness to his bare chest, yes, but he did not have Dominique’s clearly defined, beautifully shaped breasts. His hips were slightly rounded, yes, but between his legs was a definite protrusion of flesh rather than solely a hairy mound.
“Is this what you wanted to see?” he snapped.
“Why must we argue?” she asked calmly. He allowed her to take his hand and put it between her legs. She missed Dominique very much in that moment, for she had to rub against his unresponsive hand as if it were an inanimate object with which to pleasure herself. And it was very hard to push one of his unwilling fingers inside herself, but she finally succeeded. Until he pulled away.
“That’s not how it’s done.”
“Oh? And how is it done?” She was hurt that he did not enjoy her attentions.
“My grandfather says a man must take the woman from above, push into her with manly force, otherwise she will never be satisfied and there will be no children.”
“Your grandfather is wrong. Let me show you. Please?”
“How do you know?”
Now it was Cosette’s turn for embarrassment. “A girl from school. Didn’t you learn anything from boys at school?”
“I never went to school.”
“Oh, how sad!” she cried.
They were in each other’s arms again, recriminations forgotten in the reminder of the loneliness that had brought them together. Cosette took the opportunity to again slip her hand between Marius’ legs, which he permitted this time, until she found his vaginal opening and withdrew her hand in triumph.
“Why have you stopped?”
“You are a girl!”
“No! I’m not!”
“You are! This is brilliant!”
“You are mad.”
“Give me your hand.” She ran his fingers over her own anatomy, ending with her vaginal opening, then ran his fingers over his own anatomy. “We’re the same.”
“No. No. We can’t be.”
“We are. This is so much easier! I know what to do with girls.”
“But - if you are right, then we are not married.”
“Don’t be silly. We stood before the priest and signed the papers at the municipal hall and everything.”
“But he would never have married two women.”
“What would you do? Have it all annulled and put on a dress? You’d look silly in a dress.”
“But what do we do?”
“We do nothing.” She kissed him. “Don’t you want to be married to me? I want to be married to you. Even if you weren’t a baron, I’d want to be married to you. And if you don’t say anything, then I’m a baroness! Everyone thinks you are a man anyway. Why do we have to tell anyone anything?”
“It isn’t right.”
“Which part? The lying? Or this?” And she rubbed her hand against his clitoris again.
“All of it,” he tried to say, though his knees were getting weak and it was very difficult to refrain from pulling Cosette down onto the bed and kissing her.
“But everyone has lied to you for your whole life. They said you were a boy. You make a very pretty boy. I have a friend, that girl from school, who is more of a girl than you are - she has such lovely breasts! - but she makes a better boy than she does girl, even. She looks ever so plain when she wears a dress, but in trousers, she’s very handsome. I think you are handsome like she is.” And for good measure, so that he would know it was meant as a compliment, she teased one of his nipples with her tongue.
The tingling went straight to his head, and Marius pulled her down onto the bed with him, kissing her and rubbing against her still-clothed hip to stimulate himself. For her part, Cosette pushed her tongue into his mouth and teased his nipples with her fingers.
Perhaps Marius was not a boy, as he had always believed. He did not particularly want to be a girl, with all the additional complications of legal status, but Cosette did seem to know precisely how to pleasure herself, and the same methods worked to pleasure him. It was much easier to believe that Cosette would not know so much about the male gender. And that girl, well, she had not been at the wedding, he was certain, so the acquaintance was quite over. It had been a very useful acquaintance in its time, but not one that would haunt him.
Cosette was intensely happy. She would have to train her girl-husband, but it was so much nicer to be married to a girl than she feared it would be to be married to a boy. There were no unpleasant surprises.
They did not sleep. How could they, when Cosette had so much to teach Marius about the pleasures he had not known? One might consider this an unnatural marriage, but Marius’ very existence was unnatural. Society itself is unnatural, Adam and Eve being unburdened by our ideas of morality and unclothed by our ideas of chastity. These two young people were in love; their lives had fitted them for one another. God had created Marius as he was, and Cosette had been fitted as a mate for him. Let us not consider them too harshly.
When Marius met M. Fauchelevent in the morning, he looked joyous though he had not slept. He had, instead, tasted the sweetness of love and acceptance he had thought gone forever when his mother died. For the lovemaking of the husband and wife is as innocent and natural as the kisses of the mother. Marius’ happiness was that of familial completeness. Valjean saw it in his face, and his heart broke all over again for the loss of Cosette.
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