I haven’t had any time to write researched, thought-out blog posts this week due to Christmas and my brother’s/best friend’s wedding on Saturday. So in lieu of something substantial, I give you the ramblings of my overly-romantic imagination….
In Les Miserable, if Inspector Javert had had a wife, then he never would have committed suicide. Furthermore, he would have given up his chase for Jean Valjean a lot sooner. And he would have been infinitely happier for it.
This isn’t a new thought to me. It’s not just because I saw the movie on Christmas and Russell Crowe is one of my long-time Hollywood boyfriends (and pretty much dream casting for the part of Javert in my mind). I’ve actually held this opinion for over 20 years, ever since the first time I saw Les Mis on stage when I was in high school.
Let me preface the rest of this by saying that I have never read the book and I could be about to make a major fool of myself. Victor Hugo may have had a very different take on things than I do. But having seen the stage show three times, listened to the complete symphonic recording at least a million times, and having just seen the movie, this is my take.
First, we know that Javert was born in a prison. One can assume that his mother wasn’t the most savory sort. In the awesome duet that Javert has with Valjean after Fantine dies (which, by the way, was the most disappointing part of the movie to me due to terrible directing decisions), Javert describes himself as being born with scum like Valjean and being from the gutter too. So he had the worst beginning that society could hand to a man.
But he rose above it. He became a police inspector. The only way a man is going to rise above his birth like that is if he works tirelessly and keeps rigidly to the straight and narrow. At some point he probably commended himself to someone in charge by his behavior and effectiveness. And he probably learned his personal moral code by seeing the worst of humanity, deciding it was wrong, and maintaining constant discipline about being the opposite of what he saw growing up.
Javert is not evil. In fact, I would describe him as Lawful Good. Annoyingly and rigidly so. Javert is an antagonist, not a villain. His goals and motivations are in direct conflict with Jean Valjean’s, but they are not based on hatred or spite or a desire to see Valjean suffer. Javert believes with his whole heart that he’s right, that the Law is right, and that Valjean, as a law-breaker, is wrong. Black and white with no middle ground at all.
In fact, it’s that manic adherence to black and white that destroys Javert in the end. He realizes that there are shades of gray, that Valjean is a good man in spite of having broken the law, but by that point in his life his black and white belief system has become so deeply ingrained in his soul that he can’t handle the paradigm shift. He kills himself.
It’s also interesting to note that all signs indicate that Javert was also a deeply religious man, like Valjean. He was most likely devoutly Catholic. And at that time suicide was not only morally and spiritually condemned, I’m pretty sure it was outright illegal. So after a lifetime of defining himself by the laws that he sought to uphold with absolute rigidity, Javert breaks the law and commits a mortal sin. Perhaps he still believes that the world can only be absolute black and white, and that if Valjean is right then he, Javert, must be wrong. The only thing he can do to maintain his black and white worldview is to commit the gravest sin and break the most sacred law he knows. Suicide.
Of course, all of this would become a moot point if Javert had experienced love. I don’t think he did. I don’t think he knew how. He was a robot. I’d be willing to bet that he was a virgin too. I seriously doubt, given all the facts about his life, that he would have consorted with prostitutes. They were on the other side of his moral fence. He wouldn’t have committed the sin of having sex outside of marriage either.
But if the right woman had come along it would have changed everything.
Here’s my theory. To catch Javert’s attention a woman would have had to be of sterling moral character. She would have had to be a hard worker, devoted to her job. I don’t think she would have been upper class because he would have seen her as being too far above him. She would have had to have come from a similar background as him, and like him she would have had to have risen above her birth through discipline of character. I’m pretty sure she would also have had to have had a docile temperament and a quiet disposition. And she would probably be a neat-freak.
Assuming such a woman came into his life, it would then take some kind of extraordinary extenuating circumstance for him to admit his love, even to himself. She would have had to find herself in some kind of peril, moral or actual, for him to declare himself. In true black or white fashion, a situation would have to arise in which she would either fall to ruin or become his wife. Javert would, of course, have done what he needed to do to maintain the right.
Javert was an extremely obsessive personality. Once he married that woman, he would have loved her with the same energy that he poured into hunting Jean Valjean. He would have loved their children as obsessively too, although he would have been a strict and somewhat unapproachable father. The point is, that his energy would have had a secondary outlet besides the ruthless pursuit of justice.
But the real kicker would have been the feminine influence in his life. The kind of woman that would have attracted him would have tempered his extreme sense of justice with compassion. It wouldn’t have been overt, but the daily exposure to something softer than the law would have had an impact on him. His decision-making process would probably have changed to include doing what was right for his family. This is a man who would have taken his job as head of household extremely seriously.
And so it is likely that Javert would have ended up at a desk job somewhere. It would have given him the ability to focus on maintaining the law and bringing lawbreakers to justice while also providing for his family and raising his children to be good, law-abiding citizens. His path may never have crossed Jean Valjean’s again.
There you have it. My rewrite of the life of Inspector Javert. There are probably a thousand extenuating circumstances in the actual book that blow my theory out of the water. Hugo may have even given him a wife that I don’t know about, but ah well, c’est la vie! And I’m sure plenty of people have a much harsher take on Javert’s personality than this romantic. But after seeing the way Russell Crowe portrayed Javert, I’m more convinced than ever that a fully human heart beat under that stiff uniform, and all humans thrive with love.