peasants of the Asturias believe that in every litter of
there is one dog, which is killed by the mother, lest on
up it should devour the other little ones. Give a
face to this dog son of a wolf, and you will have
would have arrested his father if escaping from the
and denounced his mother for violating her ticket of
And he would have done it with that sort of interior
that springs from virtue.... a fierce honesty, a
informer, Brutus united with Vidocq."
from Les Miserables)
Javert is the
ever-diligent arch-nemesis of Hugo's Jean Valjean.
Time and again in Les Miserables, Javert jeopardizes the new
peace and joy that Jean Valjean finds with each new identity he assumes.
Beyond portraying a nasty guy who does more harm than good, Javert seems
to embody the quintessential notorious crimesolver. Many people believe
that it was Vidocq who inspired this
limelight detective; there are some clues that point to similar
1. Early associations
with a life of crime: Before Vidocq was a man of the law, he spent
years in and out of prisons, and committed various minor crimes. Javert,
according to the text, was "born in a prison," (Hugo,148)
son of a fortune-teller and a galley-slave.
reputation among criminals: Vidocq was incredibly successful at
infiltrating criminal plots and turning over their perpetrators. In
spite of having himself arrested several times and put in prison (to
prove he was not a police spy, presumably), his success was widely celebrated
and publicized. Was Javert notorious?:
will be easily understood that Javert was the terror of all that
class which the annual statistics of the Minister of Justice include
under the heading: People without
a fixed abode. To speak the name of Javert would put all such
to flight; the face of Javert petrified them."
With the popularity of true
crime in 18th and early 19th century Europe, writer's had many real
figures in crime and law to draw inspiration from. A character like
Javert would be both familiar and exciting to a Parisian, and his exploits
would be viewed from various perspectives:
On the one hand,
the upper classes would be glued to Javert's dashing entrances and
formidible appearance. Yet Hugo shows both his own sympathy for criminal
classes and presses the fears of "threatened" upper classes
by letting Javert fail repeatedly and even fall briefly at the underclass'
On the other hand,
the lower classes would both be scared and thrilled by Javert's resemblance
to figures of authority in their own lives, and would revel in his
many misfortunes and near-misses.