Representations of Authority in Les Miserables

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality



Javert: The Predator

"He (Jean Valjean) asked himself whether human society could have the right to...seize a poor man forever between a defect and an excess, a default of work and an excess of punishment. Whether it was not outrageous for society to treat thus precisely those of its members who were the least well endowed in the division of goods made by chance, and consequently the most deserving of consideration."

As we just learned, Hugo portrays Jean Valjean as a victim in Les Miserables, and characterizes Javert as a figurehead of authority: the evil force responsible for Valjean's despair and broken spirit while he is imprisoned. As the quote above illustrates, Hugo definitely felt that authority unfairly targeted the impoverished, like Valjean. But who is this policeman exactly, and how is authority characterized within him? His name is Javert...


Here we see Inspector Javert, as he is first introduced in the illustrated version of Les Miserables. The item in front of him, is label "le loi", or "the law", which seems to suggest that he is in direct control of the law. Perhaps the illustrator is suggesting that one man in complete control of the law represents an abuse of power. Either way, Javert's face is cold and very harsh looking. He is not an attractive man, as evidenced in Hugo's description of him.


  • Javert is portrayed as a ruthless, totalitarian force in Les Miserables. There are so many examples of this pertaining to his bordering-on-the-obessive search for Jean Valjean. However, since the focus of this portrait of authority revolves around prostitution, the episode in which Javert arrests Fantine is the most topically relevant. This further proves Hugo's distrust and distaste for the police.
  • Inspector Javert is painted as somewhat of an automaton. True, he thinks things through clearly in his head, and admits he has a conscience, but his actions seem almost mechanical. For example, when he drags Fantine out of the town square, kicking and screaming, he pulls her away and says absolutely nothing. Despite her pleas for "mercy", his decision is unwavering and final.
  • The only thing that reverses his decision is the arrival of Mayor Madeline (Jean Valjean). This is an interesting characterization of good versus evil. Jean Valjean, who we immediately sympathize with due to Hugo's depiction of him, versus Javert, the emotionless, unmerciful police officer who causes these two characters so much grief. Here we see negative authority paying respect to positive authority.


But how does Javert measure up to actual police present in the time of Victor Hugo? In the next section of this site, I will examine the different types of law enforcers, concentrating specifically on those who arrested prostitutes, and monitored brothels.

Realities of policing in 19th Century Paris