||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (January 2013)|
|Les Misérables character|
Javert – illustration from original publication of Les Misérables, after a painting by Gustave Brion (1824–1877)
|Created by||Victor Hugo|
Javert (French pronunciation: [ʒavɛʁ]) is a fictional character and the primary antagonist of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables, loosely based on the famous real-life French detective Eugène François Vidocq. He is a police official whose responsibilities increase in the course of the novel. The narrator and the novel's other characters refer to him as "Javert" or "Inspector Javert". Hugo does not give him a first name. Javert serves, along with Thénardiers, as one of the two opposite nemeses of the novel's principal character, Jean Valjean. Javert represents the justice system that would punish Valjean, while the Thénardiers represent the lawless subculture of society that would blackmail him.
Unlike other villains in classic literature such as Iago of Othello, Javert is portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic antagonist having "nothing ignoble about him" with "formidable" legalistic goals and viewpoints, arguably an anti-villain. Summing up his views, Javert claims that being merely kind to others is easy while being "just" is a higher, more difficult task. When Valjean saves his life, Javert finds himself unable to reconcile his life's work pursuing criminals with the nobility and justice shown him by the man he thought was a criminal; he then takes his own life by jumping off a bridge into the river Seine. Javert's character has been portrayed by many famous actors in both the stage and the screen, and he is the first major character to sing in the stage musical.
Hugo provides several descriptions of Javert. When arresting Valjean at Fantine's hospital bedside, he sketches his character:
Javert, though frightful, had nothing ignoble about him.
Probity, sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed; but which, even when hideous, remain grand: their majesty, the majesty peculiar to the human conscience, clings to them in the midst of horror; they are virtues which have one vice, – error. The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance. Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.
Javert has been described as a legalist, in that his "moral foundation... is built strictly on legalism". He is "one of the most tragic legalists in Western literature" and "the consummate legalist".
The character of Javert is loosely based on Eugène François Vidocq, a criminal and adventurer who became a police official, though Vidocq wrote that he never arrested anyone who stole out of need. Hugo also drew on Vidocq's life for the character of Valjean. In the novel, Hugo describes Javert as "a marble informer, Brutus in Vidocq."
Javert in the novel
Part One: Fantine
Javert was born in a prison around 1780, with his mother a fortune-teller and his father a convict serving on a galley. The narrator explains that "he thought that he was outside the pale of society" and had a "hatred for the race of bohemians whence he was sprung." Feeling condemned to stand outside normal society either as a criminal or a policeman, Javert chose to enforce the law and proved successful in that career. As an assistant guard in the Bagne of Toulon, he saw Jean Valjean often and noted his extraordinary strength and his way of walking.
Years later, in 1815, Valjean is living under the name Monsieur Madeleine and serving as the mayor of a small town identified only as M____-sur-M__, where he is a successful manufacturer. Javert arrives in 1820 to serve as an inspector with the local police. Valjean recognizes him and avoids him. Javert suspects Madeleine's true identity from the start, though not completely certain at first, and he becomes convinced when he watches Madeleine demonstrate extraordinary strength by lifting a loaded cart off of a man trapped beneath it. Madeleine also antagonizes Javert by dismissing his attempt to arrest Fantine, a prostitute detained for having a violent row with a street idler. Javert decides to denounce Valjean as an ex-convict but learns from Parisian authorities that they have already arrested someone who calls himself Champmathieu whom they believe is really Valjean and whom several former convicts have already identified as Valjean.
Unsure, Javert goes to Arras to see Champmathieu and satisfies himself that this is the real Valjean. He returns and visits Madeleine and asks him to dismiss him from the police because he "has failed in respect, and in the gravest manner, towards a magistrate" by suspecting Madeleine. He tells Madeleine: "You will say that I might have handed in my resignation, but that does not suffice. Handing in one's resignation is honorable. I have failed in my duty; I ought to be punished; I must be turned out." He condemns himself at length— "if I were not severe towards myself, all the justice that I have done would become injustice"— and begs to be dismissed. Madeleine refuses to condemn him and calls him "a man of honor".
Madeleine/Valjean travels to the court in Arras, discloses his identity, and saves Champmathieu. He returns to M____-sur-M__, where Javert arrests him the next morning at Fantine's hospital bedside. Valjean asks for three days to bring Fantine's daughter Cosette to her, but Javert denies his request. When he reveals Madeleine's real identity, Fantine dies of shock. Valjean escapes from the city jail, is later recaptured and returned to the galleys, and escapes a few months later, though the authorities think he has drowned.
Part Two: Cosette
Javert's good memory and presence of mind recommend him well to the Parisian police, and he is recruited to be an inspector in the capital. Javert is informed of Valjean's presumed death (which the latter had feigned during his last escape) not long after it happens. Early in the year 1824, Javert hears of an alleged kidnapping, a foster child taken from the couple that kept her. When he hears that this is supposed to have taken place in Montfermeil (Valjean was captured just as he was trying to get there), he visits the Thénardiers, but Thénardier does not want to become involved with the police and tells Javert that the girl was fetched by her grandfather and that he saw the man's passport. Javert returns to Paris, scolding himself for being an idiot. In March of the same year, he hears of a man nicknamed "The beggar who gives alms". Curious, he takes the place of an old beggar turned police spy and half recognises Valjean when the latter gives him alms. He follows Valjean to a gloomy Parisian suburb where Valjean rents a room at Gorbeau House. Although he does not manage to get another glimpse of Valjean, he follows him and Cosette when they make their escape; Valjean having recognised Javert. Javert chases Valjean and his ward into what seems to him a dead end, Valjean evades capture by climbing over the stone wall of a convent and pulling Cosette up over the wall on a rope. Javert is stumped; days of searching bring nothing, and he gives up. Valjean and Cosette remain in the monastery for several years, Valjean as a gardener and Cosette as a pupil in the school run by the nuns.
Part Three: Marius
In 1832, Javert chances to meet Valjean once more while leading a squad of policemen in the capture of a gang which had been terrorizing Paris for years: Patron-Minette. The Thénardiers, who have lost their inn, also moved to Paris, and now live at Gorbeau House, were also associated with the gang. Unbeknownst to Javert, the venerable elderly gentleman whom the Thénardiers and Patron-Minette were in the process of torturing with the intent of extortion was none other than Valjean. When Marius sees the gang capturing Valjean, he informs the police of the crime, and is introduced to inspector Javert, who gives him two pistols to fire a signal for when he and his team should enter the building. Learning Javert's name and seeing him save Valjean from the Patron-Minette, Marius develops a deep trust for Javert. Javert does not have the opportunity to recognize Valjean upon saving him from the gang, however, Valjean recognizes Javert almost immediately and makes a quick escape out the window of the attic where the confrontation was taking place.
Part Four: St. Denis
During the 1832 June riots, Javert, working undercover to gather information about the revolutionaries, joins a group of them at the barricade they have erected in the angle of a street outside a wine tavern. Armed with an unloaded rifle, he takes part in the preparations for battle without speaking a word. Gavroche, a street urchin, recognizes him as a policeman and denounces him. The rebels tie Javert to a pole in the tavern.
Part Five: Jean Valjean
When Valjean appears at the barricade with the secret intent to find Marius, the beloved of his adopted daughter, Javert is more amused than incredulous: the barricades seem like a perfectly fitting place for Valjean, whom he considers irredeemably evil.
This staunch belief is dealt a fatal blow when Valjean, after performing a sharp-shooting feat that saves the barricade from immediate destruction without shedding any blood, requests from Enjolras, the leader of the revolutionary movement, the privilege of slaughtering the police agent. Enjolras acquiesces, and Valjean leads Javert away from the barricade and into a side street. There, instead of killing Javert, Valjean cuts his bonds and implores him to run and save himself. He also gives Javert his address, in the unlikely case that he survives the uprising. Valjean then fires a shot into the air and returns to the barricade, where he tells everyone that the policeman is dead. Upon hearing this, Marius, who did not see Javert at the uprising, is devastated to hear of Javert's supposed death since he saw Javert saving Valjean from the Patron-Minette gang, which led Marius to respect Javert.
As the army storms the barricade, Valjean manages to grab the unconscious Marius, who had been grievously wounded, and dives into a sewer, where he wanders with Marius on his shoulders, despairing of finding an exit. A stroke of luck brings him face to face with Thénardier, whom he already met when Thénardier was part of the Patron-Minette gang captured by Javert and his squad. In the dark and muck of the sewer, neither party recognizes the other. Thénardier assumes that Valjean is a robber who had just killed a well-to-do young man, and he offers to let Valjean out of the sewer if Valjean splits the loot found on Marius' person in half. Valjean pays him, and Thénardier opens for him a sewer grate with a stolen government-issued key.
Valjean's joy at finally being out of the sewer does not last long. As he struggles to regain his bearings on the surface and ponders what to do about the bleeding, unconscious boy, he notices that he is observed by a tall figure, which, predictably, turns out to be Javert. This is almost too much; Javert takes a long time to examine the filthy man emerging from the sewer and finally is satisfied that he is, indeed, looking at Valjean. Far from trying to evade arrest, Valjean repeats that he is ready to surrender, but he asks for Javert's help in delivering the wounded boy to his family first. Javert agrees, looks up the address of Marius' family from an address book he finds on him, and they set off.
During the trip, Javert finds himself, for practically the first time in his life, at a complete loss. On the one hand, he cannot allow Valjean to go free. Over the course of the decade during which Javert knew him, Valjean had committed, to Javert's limited but accurate knowledge, breaking and entering, violent robbery of a small child, multiple counts of fraud, child "kidnapping" and numerous escapes from prison; to make matters worse, just several hours ago Javert found him with the rebels on the barricade—an offence which in itself merits the death penalty. Yet, Javert cannot bring himself to turn Valjean in, since Valjean had saved his life by setting him free on the barricades instead of shooting him, and then rescued another man for no personal gain. After they deliver Marius to his grandfather's home, Valjean asks for an opportunity to say goodbye to Cosette. Javert agrees; they arrive at Valjean's house, and Javert says that he will wait for Valjean to come back downstairs. Nevertheless, when Valjean looks out of the window, Javert is gone.
Javert wanders the streets in emotional turmoil: his mind simply cannot reconcile the image he had carried through the years of Valjean as a brutal ex-convict with his acts of kindness on the barricades. Now, Javert can be justified neither in letting Valjean go nor in arresting him. For the first time in his life, Javert is faced with the situation where he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. Unable to find a solution to this dilemma, and horrified at the sudden realization that Valjean was simultaneously a criminal and a good person—a conundrum which made a mockery of Javert's entire system of moral values—Javert decides to resolve the dissonance by drowning in the river Seine; his body is later found.
Since the original publication of Les Misérables in 1862, the character of Javert has been in a large number of adaptations in numerous types of media based on the novel, including books, films, musicals, plays and games.
In the stage musical of the same name, Javert is a central character, the first principal to sing. His character is largely unchanged, except for the addition of strong religious motivations which are absent from Hugo's novel. Along with the Thenardiers, he does not appear in the Finale.
- Volume I, Book VIII, Chapter 3
- Cabanilla, J.Q.; et al (2000). World Literature. Goodwill Trading Co., Inc. p. 68. ISBN 9715740308. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
- Byers, Andrew (2011). Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint. InterVarsity Press. p. 53. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
- Swindoll, Charles R. (2003). Simple Faith. Thomas Nelson, Inc. p. 258. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
- E. F. Vidocq, "Mémoires"
- Robin Walz, "Vidocq, Rogue Cop", introduction to François Eugène Vidocq, Memoirs of Vidocq: Master of Crime, AK Press, 1935, xv
- Les Miserables, vol. 1. Cricket House, p.135.
- Javert (Character) at the Internet Movie Database
- Behr, Edwar (1989). The Complete Book of Les Misérables. NY: Arcade. p. 165.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Javert (Character) at the Internet Movie Database
- Search for Javert at the Internet Broadway Database