I may not have drawn little hearts in my middle school notebooks labelled “Leah + Inspector Javert” but I’ve loved him far too much since the first time I saw Les Miserables. (And, this year, I immediately dibsed his part when organizing a Les Mis flashmob). But some of the things I’ve loved most about the adamant Inspector are the things I’ve had to set aside in order to be a Christian. So, to mark the occasion of the movie’s release, I wrote three meditations on the strengths-that-turn-out-to-be-weaknesses of Inspector Javert and me.
- Javert: No Quarter Asked or Given – “Valjean and Javert are both offered unexpected grace, and Javert chokes on it… He refuses to become visibly imperfect in the service of a higher perfection.”
- Give Me (and Javert) a Firm Place to Stand – “[T]he Javert of the book and the musical isn’t a heathen; he’s a heretic. (Probably a Pelagian).”
- Javert and Valjean at Prayer – “Javert is a grotesque echo of something beautiful and truly desirable He lives in the moral uncanny valley.”
Coda: After a New Yorker writer went after Valjean for being so virtuous as to be boring, I came to his defense (“But Aren’t Saints Dreadfully Dull?”) – “It’s a poor sort of virtue that can triumph only when the temptation feels titanic. Valjean’s nobility inspires us because it is ultimately expressed in the quotidian and the domestic.”
Final Reprise: I ended up writing a piece for First Things on Javert, Valejean, and our criminal justice system’s contradictory impulses toward justice and mercy (the State can’t do either of these very well). Also at that link, a vignette about one line in Les Mis really informing my prayer life.
Also, I must apologize to everyone for leaving Hark a Vagrant’s Javert comics out of this whole discussion. Allow me to rectify this now; my favorite of the five is below.