Lorettes and society
Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers
The Privileged Class: Courtesans
Defining the courtesan
Courtesans in reality
Valjean:The Victim of Authority
This image features Jean-Valjean, now operating
under the name of M. Madeline in order to disguise his true
identity from Javert, the ruthless police officer who is out
to imprison him. This image was obtained from the illustrated
version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, available online
from the University of Virginia electronic text center at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/.
A prevalent theme
in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is each character's search for
freedom. Whether it is Fantine seeking to free herself and her child Cosette
from a life of destitution
and poverty, Jean Valjean's concealing his identity to preserve
his own freedom and avoid being imprisoned, each character rebels in their
own way to protect their lives. Though the causes of their searches are
very different, all of them are rebelling against moral authority.
Hugo believes that power corrupts, and authoritative figures are mostly
incompetent. This can be seen in the differences in writing style when
speaking about any of the "miserables", versus that of when
he speaks of Thenardier and Javert. In this section, I will highlight
Hugo's sympathetic portrayal of Jean Valjean in Book I of Fantine, in
direct opposition with Hugo's opinions on authority.
The image above of M. Madeline from the illustrated
1862 of Les Mis suggests a sympathetic portrayal of Jean
- Jean Valjean's
expression is stoic and void of emotion. He is not full of despair,
although he has reason to be.
- The hand
over the heart, the body turned to the side and the fact that
he is holding his hat in his hand suggests a reverence or respect,
possibly of a religious nature. Despite his constant struggle
to create a new identity and being forced to give up his former
life, Valjean appear to still have his principles intact.
- A more
sympathetic portrayal may have shown Valjean in the depths of
despair, instead he is depicted as a strong, stoic figure in
the face of life-changing circumstances. We feel for Jean Valjean
when we see him this way.
The cities...make corrupt men. The mountain, the sea, the forest,
make savage men; they develop the fierce side, but often without
destroying the humane side.... There occur formidable hours in
our civilization; there are moments when the penal laws decree
a shipwreck. What an ominous minute is that in which society draws
back and consummates the irreparable abandonment of a sentient
* This is
where we learn about Jean Valjeans's past, and how he was arrested
for stealing a loaf of bread. Hugo takes a Lockean approach here--man
in his natural state is savage, but not inhumane. In fact, they
are neutral. Society (personified in the reference to the city)
"make corrupt men". Automatically we see a negative
portrait of society, and since authority and legal matters are
branches of society, they must be corrupt too.
choice here "ominous", "consummates the irreparable
damage" is predominantly negative.The fact that Hugo feels
that laws can "decree a shipwreck" shows that he feels
legal decisions are often arbitrary and unfounded, and perhaps
targeted towards the dangerous classes.
Valjean is declared a "sentient being"--in other words,
he knows himself, and is capable of vast feeling. Hugo sympathizes
with his plight by referring to him in this way. After all,Jean
Valjean reached out to Fantine as a member of a dangerous
on to find out about Javert!