As I intimated in my last blog, I was lucky enough to hitch a lift with a certain famous Doctor and time travel back to
Guernsey in the year 1863. Once there I
was able to track down and interview Victor Hugo. This week I present the
second and final part of this interview.
Mr Hugo, may we now turn to one of your other major characters, Inspector Javert. What do you see as his role in your novel?
Javert represents the system. He epitomises the rule of law. He not only works for the law, he is the law. He enforces it exactly as it is written, rigidly and without fear or favour.
Thinking of him as a person, not just as a representative of the system, what do you see as his strengths?
He is very dedicated; nothing will stop him from doing his duty as he sees it. He is also incorruptible. He would never take a bribe or anything of that kind. He is completely just.
And his weaknesses?
On the whole, his strengths are also his weaknesses because he takes them to excess. He will carry out his duty without pity, regardless of the effect on other people or even on himself. He understands the legal concept of justice, but doesn’t understand the concept of mercy. For example, with Fantine. She has broken the law, so she will go to prison. He doesn’t allow himself to be effected by the fact that he may be condemning her child to death. He has no emotion, no kindness in him.
His other big weakness is his lack of flexibility. For example, he does not believe it possible for a criminal to change for the better; to turn over a new leaf.
You mean, in the way Jean Valjean was able to do?
Mr Hugo, staying with Valjean for a moment. We have already established that he was not an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted. He was both a poacher and a thief. Neither was he a model prisoner; his sentence was increased several times because he kept attempting to escape.
All true, but he underwent a total transformation after meeting the Bishop of Digne.
But let’s look at this from the point of view of Javert. He knew Valjean’s history. He then discovered that upon his release Valjean immediately returned to his previous path by stealing first from the Bishop, then from a young child. Isn’t it understandable that Javert should think Valjean irredeemable?
Yes. Yes, to a point I think you are correct. But Javert closed his mind to the very possibility of a habitual criminal being able to reform.
And yet in the end, Javert did let Valjean go free. At what cost to himself?
It destroyed him. The fact that Valjean, who he had hunted for many years, could spare his life was something he couldn’t come to terms with. But even worse was the fact that he, Javert, had been unable to bring himself to arrest Valjean.
So you might say he was destroyed by his own humanity? By the fact he showed mercy?
Yes. He couldn’t see past the fact that he had failed in his duty. For Javert, that was the worst possible thing he could do. He judged himself as harshly as he judged others.
In many ways, I see Valjean and Javert as two sides of the same coin. Both born as outcasts from society – as ‘Les Misérables.’
You’re correct. Valjean chose a life of crime, Javert chose to operate within the law. The big difference is that Valjean was able to change, to adapt to a new life. Javert was unable to do that because he was too inflexible.
But Valjean was helped by the Bishop. Without that help, he would almost certainly have been doomed. I know Valjean helped Javert by sparing his life, but what Javert needed was spiritual help. That he didn’t get. Had he encountered a Bishop of Digne, could that have helped him to come to terms with his confusion?
It wouldn’t have been easy for him to overcome a lifetime of unquestioning obedience to duty. But possibly. You appear very sympathetic to the character of Javert.
Yes. You give very little about his background, but enough for us to know that from his birth – and because of his birth - he was doomed to be an outcast. More so than Valjean. He made the choice he had to make and he was never given any real help or guidance. You used him to represent the system, but I see him as the most tragic victim of that very system.
You’re quite correct. People who operate within a system are often victims of that same system, but in a different way. I’m sure that is still true in the future from which you come.
It is indeed. Mr Hugo, I can’t thank you enough for giving me so much of your time. In parting, I should like you to accept this gift. It’s a book called ‘Barricades’ and it is Javert’s journey, based upon the background you give and with quite a bit of what we call ‘poetic licence.’
Oh. Well – thank you, my dear. ‘Poetic licence’ sounds a little worrying. Still, I’m sure I will enjoy reading it. Perhaps you will return in a few days time, and then I can tell you what I think.
Thank you, Mr Hugo.
Sadly I only had the one trip in the TARDIS and was unable to return to the
Guernsey of 1863, so I didn’t encounter Mr Hugo again and never learnt what he
thought of ‘Barricades.’ On the whole, this may be a good thing.