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Beyondian
04-30-2007, 07:25 AM
What are your thoughts?
Is Javert
1. An obsessed policeman
2. The villain
3. A gypsy
4. Misunderstood
5. Oddly schizophrenic
6. An extraordinary detective

I've been studying the passages with Javert in them for a while, and I can't help but notice that he often seems full of contadictions. One minute Hugo tells us all that he is a rigid, simple man; and the next, Javert is off running around Paris laying convoluted traps and dressing up as beggars.
What do you think? Why has Javert been classified as the villain of the novel? Why does Hugo kill him off at the end, the only character (except Le Cabuc) who dies a truly lonely death? Why does he seem to change character?

The Grift
05-01-2007, 11:49 PM
Been awhile since I've read it, but I'll bite. Javert is not just an obsessed policeman, he is The Police with a capital P. He has lost himself in his job, and therefore has lost his connection with humanity. Why else would he relentlessly pursue a man like Jean Valjean? He is not simple in the execution of his ideas, he is simple in his ideas. There is no room for debate or opposing points of view. He has his Weltanschauung, and it is narrowly focused. When he discovers that there is more to the world, he reconnects with his humanity, but it is too late and he dies the way he lived.

That do anything for you?

Beyondian
05-02-2007, 12:19 AM
Thanks for replying, Grift.
One of the reasons I asked, was that I've been studying his character and I've discovered a certain disparity between the Javert we're shown and the Javert we're described.
For instance: when introducing the character for the first time, Hugo describes him as an unbending fanatic with a rigid outlook on life and a grim, simple philosophy.
This kind of man, the kind that Hugo unerringly describes (except in book four, chapter 10) would be expected to act officially (if not officiously) all the time. Why, then, does Javert almost never act in accordance to the way he is described? His manner of speech is very informal, and riddled with spates of muttering to himself about inconsequential things or bursts of sharp humour. He seems to have some kind of death wish most of the time and definitely is extraordinarily clever.
We - or rather 'I' - am left with the feeling that Javert is either Schizophrenic or Hugo was a tad confused. Did he indulge his admittedly fantastic strength in characterization while Javert was merely wandering around investigating things, and then over-emphasise the man's robot side when it had some bearing on the novel's moral point?
Also, just a little quibble with your comment about him relentlessly pursuing a man like Valjean: I'm afraid I can't agree with you there. It is plain from the book that he did not pursue Valjean for 20-odd years as is so popularly believed.
Book-wise, he met up with Valjean in the following ways.
In Toulon, where Valjean was a sullen, surly, angry chap who escaped five times and probably made the guards lives hell. Who knows what happened to the men who went out and tried to re-arrest Valjean 'Le Crick'?
In M-sur-M. Coincidence. Javert recognises something about Valjean and begins to investigate. We, the readers, know that Valjean is a good guy now. However, as far as Javert knows, he's a man who robs priests and little children.
In the Gorbeau Tenements (take1) Coincidence again. Javert was not really expecting to see Valjean here. Also, note that Valjean, when taken to court, was accused of being a member of a group of robbers in the hills. He didn't deny it. These robbers would burn the families until they were told where the valuables were. Not nice people. So, can you blame Javert for wanting to put this fellow back behind bars?
Gorbeau Tenements (take 2) Now, Hugo is just getting carried away. Javert has been pottering on quite happily thank you for the past eight or so years. He just wants to catch Patron Minette! And Valjean is there? Coincidence or plot device?
The Barricade: Heck, Javert wasn't even after Valjean here.
The Sewers: Same again. Javert was following Thernadier.
So, as can be seen from the timeline of the book, Javert was the victim of circumstances beyond his control (namely, his author hated him :D). He had no reason to believe that Valjean had become a 'nice guy'. His duty (yes, I used that mantra-word of his) required him to capture a dangerous escapee.
What do you think? I agree that Javert was a harsh man in many ways, but don't you think that perhaps popular culture has over-villified him a little?
I'd be really glad to hear your opinions. Thanks again for replying (oh, and sorry if this post got a little long and rambly :o)

The Grift
05-02-2007, 12:27 AM
I wasn't referring to the myth about him constantly pursuing over 20 years, but rather the fact that he did have an obsession with him, at least from what I remember, when he did find him. But, I could be mixing the different media in my head. However, you're right, Javert's view of Jean is markedly different than the reader's.

As far as his so called crazy behavior, yes he could be schizophrenic. Or he could simply be crazy from his devotion to his ideals. The job is more than just the rules, regulations, uniforms, and behaviors. The job comes down to one thing: pursuing and catching your prey. Everything else is just externalities. In my mind there is no contradiction between absolute focus/intensity and otherwise crazy behavior. In fact, they can complement each other. Look at any work about a great but crazy artist/musician/scientist/mathmetician. It is their focus and drive which makes them eccentric. It does not detract from their brilliance and may in fact enhance it. Just think of police work or hunting prey as another sort of art form.

Unfortunately, I am really not the right person to have this discussion. It has been many years since I have read Hugo, and so any subtleties to the conversation would be lost on me. Just thought I would help on getting you started. :)

Beyondian
05-02-2007, 01:22 AM
Yes. In a sense, Javert's eccentricities could definitely be placed at the door of his whole-hearted devotion (to the extent of excluding all else) to his work.
I really appreciate you giving the discussion a kick-start :). I thought it would be fascinating to find out what other writers think on the subject. As is probably apparent, I am a bit of a defender of Javert. Too often he gets villanised by popular culture and media, and I'm just a sucker for the underdog/black sheep.
You know, personally, I wouldn't say he's overly obsessed at all(just being totally abnormal here). I mean, what is more natural than a copper wanting to catch a dangerous criminal?
Of course, some obsession tends to come through in Hugo's description. And in the fact he tops himself. ;)

aruna
05-10-2007, 10:00 AM
I read this a long time ago and loved it. But sorry - too long ago to remember.

Inkdaub
05-10-2007, 03:17 PM
This is pretty simplistic, but Javert was always a guy who used his profession as a lifeline. I like how Grift called him 'the Police with a capital P'. That is pretty much what I mean as well.

When I become overwhelmed with the insanity of life in my small way I can look to the arts to ground myself. I think of a book or a movie or a painting...whatever as long as it inspires the mind to fly free...and feel better. I feel that the arts are the answer to why we are here and what we are doing. Javert views his profession in that way...being a Policeman is the reason and the answer. It keeps his feet on the ground and gives purpose to his world. It protects him.

But protects him from what? He may be suffering from mental illness. I never saw him as self-loathing but I do see him as being afraid of himself in a way. Many sufferers of mental illness are afraid of themselves. As long as Javert has his job...his prey to hunt...he keeps that fear at bay.

Or maybe...

Beyondian
05-10-2007, 03:55 PM
That's a very interesting point, Inkdaub... I've always felt it possible that he's suffering from some kind of mental illness, perhaps a neurological problem.
He certainly does display odd behaviour at times. He fiddles erratically with things when in a state of high distress (wood shavings on Madeleine's desk while asking to be dismissed. Javert's not the type to merely be looking for some excuse not to meet Madeleine's eyes), muttering to himself, freezing up (in the jail scene he goes stiff-solid for paragraphs, and turns blue in the face).
Or he could be eccentric... but he doesn't seem eccentric. Not for the sake of being eccentric, anyway. He's got that weird silent laugh, too. Never aloud, always to himself.
You're right, I don't think he came across as self-loathing. For what purpose? He might - however - have been afraid of losing control? Maybe afraid enough to keep a tight rein on himself except when in turmoil or in deep thought? Maybe. And maybe I'm reading too much into it ;)
It's a really interesting point, anyway. :)

army_grunt13
05-10-2007, 06:46 PM
This is pretty simplistic, but Javert was always a guy who used his profession as a lifeline. I like how Grift called him 'the Police with a capital P'. That is pretty much what I mean as well.

When I become overwhelmed with the insanity of life in my small way I can look to the arts to ground myself. I think of a book or a movie or a painting...whatever as long as it inspires the mind to fly free...and feel better. I feel that the arts are the answer to why we are here and what we are doing. Javert views his profession in that way...being a Policeman is the reason and the answer. It keeps his feet on the ground and gives purpose to his world. It protects him.

But protects him from what? He may be suffering from mental illness. I never saw him as self-loathing but I do see him as being afraid of himself in a way. Many sufferers of mental illness are afraid of themselves. As long as Javert has his job...his prey to hunt...he keeps that fear at bay.

Or maybe...
That is actually not uncommon, for someone to make their profession their life. It leads to obsessive compulsive disorders, like his maddening pursuit of Valjean. Such maladies are common in law enforcement, as well as the military, the later of which can lead to very difficult transitions to civilian life seeing as how one usually retires from the military at a much younger age than most professions.

As a bit of an alibi for Javer, one must look at the background story as well. All of this was taking place during the early stages of the French Revolution, and for most it probably felt as if the whole world had gone mad. For Javer there was solace and a sense of order to be found by immersing himself completely in his profession. While he is certainly Valjean's antagonist, I never really saw him as a villain, and I don't think you are meant to.

josephwise
05-10-2007, 11:31 PM
I don't think Javert was mentally ill in any way. Being self-contradictory is a natural human trait. It comes from having a self-image of one's self that is slightly unrealistic. Plus, we're all subject to our subconscious moods.

Javert probably saw himself as unyeilding and just, but his own nature made him veer from that self image sometimes. Thus the nervousness and the struggles with inconsistency.

As has been stated, he didn't really pursue Valjean with the unnatural tenacity that's often ascribed to him. But every time circumstance brought him and Valjean together, Javert's reaction was one of intense guilt. He SHOULD have been feverishly pursuing Valjean, by his own standards. So he acts as if he's always been focused on the hunt, when in fact basic human nature had allowed him to turn his focus to other matters, and forget about Valjean for long periods of time.

It's perfectly human to be distracted by a new focus, and to lose focus of passions that aren't accessible.

Hugo's narrative analysis of Javert reads, in my opinion, like a criticism of Javert's self-image. But the true Javert is just as inconsistent as any normal person. No schizophrenia needed. Nor any villainy. He's a noble figure, I'd say, who realized too late that he had been forcing his life into a narrow scope. He had never allowed himself to be what he really was...a normal man.

Beyondian
05-11-2007, 01:04 AM
And this is definitely why I posed the question in the first place! :D Such different ideas and opinions, and all of them so interesting.
Army_grunt13 - you're right that it is easy to forget the setting and time period of the book. It was a very unsettled and unsettling time.
josephwise - I like your point. He never got a chance to be normal (virgin at 52 years old, right?) . I personally think he's a wonderful character.
An interesting point is, if the book was being written by one of us today, who do you think the story would centre on? The ex-con trying to live a normal life, or the policeman trying to do his job? Both are very interesting characters, but I think Hugo didn't explore Javert's character as much as he could have. There were a lot of questions unanswered. What was it like being a Toulon guard when you're half-gypsy, half-thief? Why did the Prefect in Paris take so much interest in Javert? Why did he go to M-sur-M?
There was a lot of interesting themes there that were never really explored. I think its a pity.

josephwise
05-11-2007, 01:20 AM
I have a theory that Javert and Valjean are primarily the SAME person, shown in two different circumstances.

Beyondian
05-11-2007, 09:02 AM
I have a theory that Javert and Valjean are primarily the SAME person, shown in two different circumstances.

Did you know that Hugo based them both off Vidocq, the criminal-turned-head-os-the Surete? Valjean was Vidocq's past, always on the run from the law and fighting the stigmata of his time in prison, and Javert was Vidocq's law-upholder side, a brilliant and revolutionary (as in - using new tactics, not his political leanings) investigator.
It is interesting that Hugo seperated Vidocq's humanitarian side from his detective side. If you read Vidocq's memoirs, he was quite compassionate as a detective as well. All of his agents were ex-cons.
So, the feeling that they're both the same man is definitely based on fact. :D

josephwise
05-12-2007, 01:57 AM
Did you know that Hugo based them both off Vidocq, the criminal-turned-head-os-the Surete? Valjean was Vidocq's past, always on the run from the law and fighting the stigmata of his time in prison, and Javert was Vidocq's law-upholder side, a brilliant and revolutionary (as in - using new tactics, not his political leanings) investigator.
It is interesting that Hugo seperated Vidocq's humanitarian side from his detective side. If you read Vidocq's memoirs, he was quite compassionate as a detective as well. All of his agents were ex-cons.
So, the feeling that they're both the same man is definitely based on fact. :D

I didn't know that. Interesting.

It's possible that the two characters resulted from some "what ifs." Maybe Hugo thought Vidocq drew his compassion from his "miserable" days. Javert could be Vidocq without the benefit of having been down-trodden. Valjean could be an example of what men like Vidocq could accomplish in various other roles of leadership.

Of course, Javert really did have compassion, he just didn't know that it was useful because he had had things easier than Valjean. Different circumstances.

Anyway, it's fun to think about.

Beyondian
05-12-2007, 02:17 AM
Of course, Javert really did have compassion, he just didn't know that it was useful because he had had things easier than Valjean. Different circumstances.

Anyway, it's fun to think about.

Well... not much easier than Valjean. He was brought up in prison with less-than-savory connections, after all. I doubt it would have been easy to be a Toulon guard with a criminal dad and a gypsy mother.
Pity Hugo never really told us what happened.
I figure Javert had to fight for everything he ever got, a self-made man so to speak.
But, you're right. It is fun to think about. Also rather a fun idea to split a person into two halves and see what happens. (Figuratively, not literally, of course. :D)

DwayneA
04-05-2009, 01:51 AM
I remember reading this book in school. I believe it goes by another more famous name: Les Miserables.

It's the story of the title character who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed hungry children. When he finally escapes, he attempts to rebuild a new life for himself, even adopting a prostitute's daughter, raising her, and watching her fall in love, all while being pursued by an obsessive policeman.

I should try to read this book again if I can find a copy. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Sophia
04-05-2009, 01:54 AM
It's one of my favourite books. Not only is the story compelling, but the standard of prose (in the English translation) is incredible and inspiring to me.

Kaiser-Kun
04-05-2009, 01:59 AM
Les Miserables is one of the most powerful books I've said. It shows that money doesn't defines you: You can be mean and poor, good and poor, mean and rich, good and rich...

blacbird
04-05-2009, 02:02 AM
Victor Hugo's work as a whole translates well into English, and all of it is worth reading. In addition to Les Miserables and Notre-Dame de Paris (better known among us benighted English-speakers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame), I highly recommend The Man Who Laughs. If you've enjoyed either of the two more famous books, you'll love it.

caw

mscelina
04-05-2009, 02:13 AM
Les Miserables is a classic. Confederate and Union soldiers used to read it aloud over their campfires at night during the Civil War. I'll second blacbird's recommendation: read The Man Who Laughs for a better insight into how Hugo's prose and turn of phrase works, even when translated into English from the original French.

shokadh
04-05-2009, 02:15 AM
Ah, this is one of my all-time favorite books! I will ever be indebted to the wonderful librarian of our primary school for stocking the shelves with the classics. I read this somewhere around the age of eleven or twelve and the ending reduced me to a puddle. I absolutely recommend it. My mum also found the entire 1917 edition collection in French and if there is one thing I would ask her to leave me in her will it would be this work.

Delhomeboy
04-05-2009, 04:02 AM
Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are awesome. French writers in the 1800's were on the ball, it seems.

LAWolf
04-05-2009, 09:42 PM
Love Les Mis. The book was magic for me in high school. Still is.

ElsaM
04-06-2009, 01:55 PM
Interesting. I didn't find Les Miserables an easy read. There were parts that dragged for me, and parts I ended up skipping altogether.

Maybe it's because I was already a fan of the musical before I read the book and wasn't tolerant of the differences - perhaps I spoiled it for myself.

DwayneA
03-08-2010, 09:58 PM
This book, written by Solomon Cleaver, is a shorter and more simpler to understand version of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables". We read it in school and watched the 1978 film version of it. The book even had black and white pictures from an older film version in it.

I liked it. Maybe I should read Victor Hugo's version of the story as well.

DwayneA
03-27-2010, 09:56 PM
I read this book for the first time ever, borrowing it from the library where I work and read it within two weeks. According to the inside flap, it was a shorter version of the full novel, containing only five of the ten volumes, yet still containing the full central story.

I remember borrowing the 1978 movie version from the library back home in Naicam and taking it to school for the class to watch. We were reading Jean Val Jean, an even shorter and simpler version of the story by Solomon Cleaver.

The version of the story I read began with Jean Val Jean entering a town where he is taken in by the kindly bishop after being rejected by tavern keepers and innkeepers simply because he is an ex-convict (not fair). From there, the story chronicles his path to redemption, all while Javert, a police inspector pursues him relentlessly for inadvertedly and unknowingly stealing a coin from a child, while adopting a little girl named Cossette and raising her to adulthood, Cossette's romance with a man named Marius who later fights in a revolution.

Like many old classics written over the last few centuries, Les Miserables was written in a style where in many places, made it hard for me to form pictures in my head as to the action taking place. Set in historical France, I never understood the meaning of certain words or the appearance of certain architectures. In some places, one character speaks long dialogue.

I also think it is unfair that a man who has repaid his debt to society is actually rejected by society for being an ex-convict. Talk about harsh!