In one way or another,
everyone in Hugo's France was talking about crime. Hugo's Les Miserables
offers us several points of departure for talking about crime in peoples
lives and the criminals that influenced the new fascinating trend of
fictionalized "true" crime:
First, take a look at Vidocq,
named by some as the father of crime literature in France, others as
the father of forensic science in crime detection. Criminal, detective,
writer and celebrity, Vidocq instilled fear and admiration in criminals
and in Hugo, who drew on Vidocq's life and memoirs for at least one
of his characters in Les Miserables.
For instance, there
is Jean Valjean, Hugo's reformed
galley-slave. Using disguises and wit to keep out of prison, Valjean
employs many of the methods Vidocq wrote of in his memoirs.
The other side of
this coin is Javert, Hugo's authority
extraordinaire. Javert's reputation among criminals and successful
detection mirror that of Vidocq in his later years working for the
Hugo's bohemian hero, represents another aspect to crime in daily life.
His interactions with the Jondrette family (his criminal neighbors)
and his flight to a new tenement in the face of police investigation
show us both the perceptions of the lower classes regarding criminals
and the close association between the conditions and perceptions of
what the bourgeoisie term the "dangerous classes."
Marius' flight may
seem excessive, but a real life story of an innocent man in proximity
to criminals serves to shed light on Marius' fears. Joseph
Lesurques was condemned and executed for a crime he did not
commit. His only contact with the crime -that he had once dined with
an accomplice to the deed.
However, not all members
of the "dangerous classes" were innocent or driven
to their crimes by conditions of poverty. Montparnasse,
Hugo's vicious dandy, presumably committed his bloody crimes merely
to maintain his fine wardrobe.
These more glamorous
connoisseurs of crime were inspired by the flashy killers of the time
like Lacenaire. With his eloquent
speeches and chilling charisma, Lacenaire captured the hearts and
minds of many, including finer society ladies.
Hugo wasn't the only author
who picked up this thread of true crime. Alexandre
Dumas was fascinated with true crimes, and his book The Count
of Monte Cristo recounts the famous tale of a man's revenge for
Here is the true
story behind The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of Pierre