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A Digression on Javert's Suicide

Permit a digression. Okay, I won't do the Hugo thing and spend pages and pages rambling on an on about something only half-relevant to the story. He rambled about the Bishop of D---, about the Battle of Waterloo, about Paris, about the financial situations of M---- sur M----, about the Convent of the Petit Picpus, and about the Parisian sewers. (Those little lines also appear exactly the same way in my copy of the novel :-\) I am going to ramble about Javert's suicide.

You need to have read the complete unabridged version of Javert's suicide that Hugo wrote to gain the best understanding of this digression. If you haven't, stop here, and go read it. This page will be right here waiting for you when you come back. You can read this without knowing its basis, but it is better to know what Hugo wrote.

Anyway, I've rambled enough about the digression, let us go on to the actual digression. The gold text is copied directly from the novel. The classic and most popular translation by Hugo's friend Charles Wilbour (The Modern Library edition) is the one I am using.


We begin with an excerpt from Hugo.

[1138]

BOOK FOURTH
JAVERT OFF THE TRACK

I
Javert off the Track

Javert made his way with slow steps from the Rue de l'Homme Armé.

He walked with his head down for the first time in his life, and, for the first time in his life as well, with his hands behind his back.

Whoa. Obviously, something seriously drastic had to take place for Javert to suddenly change habits that he hadn't changed in YEARS.

These first few sentences alert the reader that s/he is about to read something shocking, astounding; definitely not what was predicted.

Why predicted? Well, you meet Javert on [146] and you say farewell to him on page [1147]. One thousand pages with Javert sprinkled here 'n' there in the plot. By [149] you discover that this man is extremely predictable. All through this book his predictability is proved. Because every time you meet him, you know EXACTLY what he's after, or what he's going to do. For it is always the same thing. And he never changes. So you're reading and reading. Eventually you reach [1133] and you see the following:

Jean Valjean, either to take breath or mechanically, looked out of this window. He leaned over the street. It is short, and the lamp lighted it from one end to the other. Jean Valjean was bewildered with amazement; there was nobody there.

Javert was gone.

And suddenly you think "Whoa. What happened here?! I didn't see that one coming -- usually this guy's predictable!" You expected the good Inspector to stay and wait for the old convict to finish his business... you did not expect him to leave. And of course Hugo has to pull a cliff-hanger on you and switch tack to tell you how good ol' Marius is doing at Grandpa's house. You get into the Marius thing a bit... so that when you turn the page onto [1138] you receive another shock.

JAVERT OFF THE TRACK

Yep. You read that right.

Yes I know I repeated that. I did so purposely.

All right. From [1138] to [1147] you get to read all of the agonizing details leading up to the infamous leap into the Seine. All of the mental torture and anguish and pain this poor Inspector is going through is presented by Hugo in such a way that you can't blink back the tears that begin to appear at the corners of your eyes. Everything that he has ever known has been undermined by this damned ex-convict. Why couldn't he just have left Javert alone... he knew damned well that Javert wanted to die at the barricades. If Jean Valjean was such a kind man, then why did he not do as Javert demanded and just shoot him? I mean, how much more plain than

"You annoy me. Kill me, rather."

can you get?! He even tried provoking him... *sigh* But what can you do?

So Jean Valjean unknowingly subjected this formerly upright member of the police to hours of inner torture. Seriously, Valjean ought to be ashamed of himself. But of course he didn't know what he did so I guess he can't be ashamed. But it is his fault that Javert killed himself.

So basically Javert is thinking "Well, here I am. I found the convict. But I didn't arrest him. But I should have arrested him -- it was my duty. But I could not arrest him -- conscience prevents me from arresting a man who has saved my life. What! am I now acknowledging that there is something in life beyond duty? There cannot be. But there must be; otherwise I would not still be alive..." Etc.

Could you stand having thoughts like this tripping over each other in your head? I know that I certainly couldn't. I'd jump off the friggin' bridge too if I were him. I don't blame him at all.

If ever there was a tragic character, Javert would be it. He is certainly pitiable, for he never learned anything beyond Justice and Duty. (Although both are certainly honorable virtues to possess, they are not the only ones.) He never learned to love, he never learned kindness, and was not shown any until it was far too late to save him.

"Damn you, Hugo... why could you  not write more of the history of Javert so that we could better understand why he is the way he is?!?!" -- me

And yet you have to admire the guy. He stuck by his values until he just couldn't anymore. If only Javert had never thought to wander onto that damned bridge...

----digression to perhaps be continued later...----