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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 1, Book 6 : Fantine (Javert) | Summary



Fantine is very ill and has been taken to Madeleine's infirmary, where he watches over her. He has written to the innkeepers and paid the bogus bills Thénardier has sent, including doctor's bills for his daughters who have been sick, although Thénardier claims they are for Cosette. Madeleine asks him to send the child, but Thénardier has no intention of letting go of his money machine.

Meanwhile Javert has asked to see Madeleine and wants the mayor to fire him. He says he was angry at the mayor and incorrectly identified him as Jean Valjean, denouncing him to the Paris police. The ex-convict disappeared after robbing a bishop and then a chimney sweep. Javert says he remembered Jean Valjean from Toulon, when he was guard over a chain gang. Apparently the real Jean Valjean, now using the name of Champmathieu, is currently being tried for stealing apples and faces life imprisonment as a repeat offender. The man was identified by another ex-convict, and Javert is also convinced he is the same man. Madeleine learns Father Champmathieu will be tried beginning the next day. He then tells Javert to leave but refrains from firing him. Javert adamantly argues he doesn't want kindness and angrily refuses to take the mayor's hand, since he sees himself as a spy and informer who abused his position of power.


Javert's machinations have called to Madeleine's attention the fact that another man is currently standing trial, partly in his place. While the man may have stolen the apples, the gravity of the offense is increased because of the law's mistaking his identity. This presents a moral dilemma for Madeleine.

Javert's excessively rigid moral code requires that he treat himself with the same harshness he treats others, and the police inspector is no hypocrite: he realizes his decision to accuse the mayor, before he had collected enough evidence, was based on an affront to his pride. As a result he wronged an innocent man and deserves to be punished for letting personal feelings affect his professional judgment. Moreover, the fact that he thinks he was wrong in his first identification means he has acted as a spy and informant and ought to be treated accordingly. While Javert lacks compassion for himself, the mayor treats him with compassion; Javert is incapable of appreciating his gesture because of the narrow confines of the worldview in which he lives.

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