Human Science

I had several thoughts while watching the 1998 film version with Liam Nilson:

Negative Response to Charity – Valjean as mayor decides to leave because Javert has come into his town. He buries his money. At the moment he offers to five the funds to the church -- i.e. as charity – he gets word that one of the workers is trapped under a wagon. He arrives on the scene, but now Javert recognizes him from prison, putting Valjean again in jeopardy of being hanged or imprisoned. Charity attracts negative response from life. (His later offerings of his money are not so much charity but just rewards to workers and others.)

Parallel Situations – There is a parallel between the man trying to evict Fantine, her landlord, and Javert’s current pursuit of Valjean. (These two stories will converge when Valjean later arrives on the scene just at the moment that Javert tries to arrest and put her in jail for 6 months after her landlord abused her. Valjean from that point is able to help her and her daughter Cosette.)

This story is more hopeful than those of the English authors like Hardy and Dickens. I was thinking in particular of Hardy’s Tess. We discussed how the best French novelists have a different perspective than the English. The story is rich with positive individual and social values -- even spiritual values.

Then there are countless instances of Valjean’s goodness. E.g. -

-When Javert asks for Valjean’s forgiveness because another man has now claimed he was Valjean (which was not true) and is on trial, Valjean is only concerned about the well-being of that man who could be hanged.

-Valjean shows great pity for Fantine’s situation (her illness, her daughter Cosette). Maybe it is more sympathy (which is Valjean's nature) than empathy. Earlier he had fired her (though he did not know who she was).

He always seems to learn from his mistakes -- i.e. improve conditions based on those errors in judgment. E.g. after abusing Cosette for taking up with Marius, he alters his perceptions. He has a deep sympathy for other’s feelings and situations.

We could say that all his goodness – i.e. his good deeds -- sprung from what he perceived to be the great evil he did while he was in prison. (He was actually good before that, , but that just shows his aspiration for doing what was right.)

-When he attends the trail and risks his life and saves the prisoner’s life by admitting he is the true Valjean.

-When at the very end he is more concerned with what Javert wants that what he himself wants, before Javert commits suicide. This is beyond extraordinary, and contributes to Javert’s decision to bring about his own end.

Other points:

I sensed at the end of the film that Valjean is ecstatic because he has known God – i.e. because the Divine has responded positively through Javert’s death to his years of effort and right action. The Divine is now truly alive for him!

I was moved by the utter richness of positive values in the heart of the author Victor Hugo.

--Roy 18:27, 30 December 2007 (UTC)


The incident of saving the old man (Fauchelevent) from under the wagon comes out more clearly in the book. F was a lawyer who came on hard times and was reduced to the status of a cart driver at a time when Jean Valjean was rising. Hugo describes him as one of JV’s enemies simply out of jealousy for his rising good fortune. Javert does come to seriously suspect JV after seeing him save the old man, but then decides he is wrong when the trial at Arras comes. It is a direct result of F’s jealousy, but ultimately no harm comes to JV because F is essentially a good man. When JV and Cosette escape to Paris, in an effort to escape Javert and the police pursuit they climb over a wall into a . F is now the gardener in this place where no other man can enter. He immediately recognizes JV and out of sheer gratitude breaks all the rules and hides him, then gets him a job there as his brother. It gives JV and Cosette 8 or 20 years of sanctuary. Ironically, when JV sees F, he does not recognize him. F says “Don’t you know me? You are ungrateful.” [F rightly accuses of JV of ingratitude in the sense that F remembers the man who saved him, but JV does not remember the man he saved. JV did it impersonally. F received it personally). It is an example of the positive as well as the negative side of the rule about helping.

JV’s goodness arises from an aspiration to become like the bishop rather than a real personal relationship with other people. He has not yet evolved to vitality, but he has accepted a high ideal and acts from that idea. His goodness is mental or religious.

No comparison between the English novels and the French. The French novels are full of vitality, ideas, ideals and aspirations. The English are flat and physical. They live in the physical, though at that level their values of integrity are extremely high. In the book I do not see his emotional sympathy, but I see his good intentions. It is the story of a pure (but positive) physical man evolving to vitality. He does it on a grand scale with total sincerity. He saves Marius for Cosette even though he would prefer to possess her for himself. He forces himself to overcome the selfish impulse no matter how painful it is. The narrative of his travel to Arras for the trial in the book is a masterpiece of literature. GJ