Les Miserables – The Introduction of Javert

This morning, I got to the portion of Les Miserables that I was looking forward to, the introduction of Police Inspector Javert. Hugo spends almost an entire chapter devoted to both his physical presence and his mental/emotional makeup.

As I read through this section of the book, I am highlighting passages that I think could be important to me as I construct my version of the character for the production in March. One of the things I’ve highlighted involves Javert’s belief that because he was born outside the norms of society, he would be excluded from it forever:

As he grew up, he thought that he was outside the pale of society, and he despaired of ever re-entering it. He observed that society unpardoningly excludes two classes of men – those who attack it and those who guard it; he had no choice except between these two classes.

I find this idea interesting, and it is certainly something that can help me build a performance.

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Les Miserables – The Purchase of a Soul

In my reading yesterday, I came across the book passage that is sort of the fulcrum (both in the book and musical) for the change in Jean Valjean’s life as he goes from being an angry prisoner to a warm, kind, generous soul.

Jean Valjean, after being treated with generosity by the Bishop of Digne, repays that generosity by stealing a basket of silver flatware from the Bishop’s house. When he is caught and returned, the Bishop makes a curious decision. He tells the officers who have caught Valjean that he gave Valjean the silverware, and that Valjean had forgotten the two silver candlesticks he had given as well.

When the officers leave, and Valjean is left alone with the Bishop, confused as to what has happened, the Bishop utters these words:

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

In the original text of the musical, the Bishop sings the following to Valjean:

“But remember this my brother. See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs. By the Passion, and the blood, I have raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.

In both passages, I have emphasized the Bishop telling Valjean that he has bought Valjean’s soul. In the film version of the musical that was released in 2012, the lyric is changed to “I have saved your soul for God.”

I’m sure that this was changed because there are some Christians who have an issue with the idea of buying someone into Christianity. I don’t think that was the way Hugo meant the “transaction” to come across.

The Bishop is talking to a common man. Hugo spends a portion of the novel detailing Valjean’s history before he was sent to prison, where he did menial jobs for very little money in order to provide for his widowed sister and her seven children. He is unable to read until he spends time learning how in prison. I believe that the Bishop is using the language that a common man would understand in order to get his point across. I don’t believe that the Bishop believes a soul can be purchased…he was using the language as a sort of parable. The silver is so expensive and will go so far in changing Valjean’s life, that he has no choice but to change his ways.

I prefer the language of “bought” to “saved”, because, as a Christian, I don’t believe that a Bishop can save a soul anymore than he can purchase one. A common man such as Valjean may have seen the Bishop’s claim of “I have saved your soul for God”, as meaning that he didn’t have any work to do. At least with the language of a purchase, there is a sense of something more to do, for the Bishop to get his “money’s worth.”

Les Miserables – Jean Valjean: Parkour Enthusiast

I was reading Les Miserables today, and was inspired to write something. If you’ve never read the novel, let me warn you, Hugo’s writing is very dense, and sometimes hard to get through. However, I seem to have embraced it more than I did the last time I tried to read this ponderous tome, which was, I believe, in 2004.

Hugo is not just telling a story, he is also giving clues as to why he is telling the story. The narrator often breaks in, with the intent of giving extra information or to ask philosophical questions about a character, situation or incident. He also gives in depth history to even minor characters.

The novel is broken up into varying segments. The largest are “Volumes,” each of which is named after a major character. The volumes are than broken up into “Books,” and the books broken up into chapters.

In Volume 1 – Fantine; Book Second – The Fall; Chapter Seven, Hugo spends time outlining the physical strength of Jean Valjean, which is important to both the plot of the novel and musical. He talks about how Valjean was worth four men in the galleys where he was sentenced to hard labor. His comrades nick-named him Jean the Jack-screw, as he was able to replace the mechanical implement of the same name when necessary.

One passage struck me as fascinating from a modern day perspective, and it is thus:

Certain convicts who were forever dreaming of escape, ended by making a veritable science of force and skill combined. It is the science of muscles. An entire system of mysterious statics is daily practiced by prisoners, men who are forever envious of the flies and birds. To climb a vertical surface and to find points of support where hardly a projection was visible was play to Jean Valjean. An angle of the wall being given, with the tension of his back and legs, with his elbows and his heels fitted into the unevenness of the stone, he raised himself as if by magic to the third story. He sometimes mounted thus even to the roof of the galley prison.

The emphasis is mine, and is there to show that Hugo, in a novel published in 1862, basically just perfectly described Parkour. As a fan of the sport, and someone who would love to practice it one day, I find it endlessly fascinating that this discipline, which only recently came to prominence, was being promoted 150 years ago. If Jean Valjean were a real person, and alive today, he’d probably compete on Sasuke, or its American cousin, American Ninja Warrior.