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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Javert (c. 1780-7.6.1832) is a fictional character from the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. He is a prison guard, and later policeman, who devotes his life to the law. He is always referred to just simply as "Javert" or "Inspector Javert" by the narrator and other characters throughout the novel; his first name is never mentioned. Javert is the main antagonist of the novel, to Jean Valjean, the novel's protagonist.

Some consider Javert misguided rather than evil, although his inflexibility and cruelty throughout the novel moves in parallel to Jean Valjean's kindness. Those who consider Javert misguided believe that the distinction of pure evil in the novel more appropriately belongs to the greedy and treacherous Thénardiers. Others consider the Thénardiers dishonest, petty criminals; although their actual impact is minor compared to the significant levels of spite and mercilessness Javert inflicts on those he encounters.


Javert in the novel

Part One: Fantine

Javert was born approx. 1780 (he is said to be 52 in 1832) inside a prison. His mother was a Gypsy fortune-teller, and his father was a galley slave. The text states that this experience convinced Javert that he must choose between attacking society, or defending it; given this belief, he joins the police.

Javert is initially an assistant to a guard in the Bagne of Toulon where Jean Valjean is imprisoned. He remembers Valjean for his extraordinary strength and rather gloomy and terrifying demeanor.

In 1815, Valjean is released from prison and decides to begin anew by taking advantage of the opportunity for redemption. He moves to Montreuil-sur-Mer, a small seaside town in the North of France assumes the name of Monsieur Madeleine and reforms himself as a manufacturer and later Mayor of the town. Here he once more meets Javert, who through a curious accident of fate happens to become an inspector in the Montreuil-sur-Mer police in 1820, but Valjean pretends not to recognize him.

Javert recalls Valjean almost instantly after meeting him again, but he cannot quite convince himself that this is the man he remembers from the galleys all those years ago, and he would not allow himself to write a denunciation to Paris authorities without stronger proof than just his own vague memories plus some circumstantial evidence. This evidence includes the mayor's obvious origin from the working class; being an excellent shot; having informed himself about families from Faverolles, Valjean's birthplace; the mayor dragging his right foot (which convicts did because of chains) etc. However, further proof is furnished to him after Valjean performs a feat of strength: he lifts a loaded cart to free an envious businessman trapped underneath it. Javert informs him that only one man in his entire life's experience could have performed such a feat, hinting that he may know the mayor's secret. Javert finally decides to denounce Valjean as an ex-convict after Valjean frees Fantine, a prostitute detained by Javert for having a violent row with a street idler. Bizarrely, the Parisian authorities then inform Javert that he must be mistaken in his identification, as the "real" Valjean has already been captured and identified by several people who used to know him back in prison.

Javert is summoned to the court to help testify against the "real" Valjean. The man does, indeed, look very much like Valjean should have looked, had he not become prosperous after his release from prison. This is nothing more than a coincidence: he is just an old beggar who was caught by the police with a branch of apples believed to have been broken off an apple tree in a private orchard. This offence would have merited no more than several days in jail had someone in that same jail not mistakenly identified the beggar as Valjean. For someone with prior convictions, breaking a bough of apples from someone's tree would in fact constitute an act of recidivism, which would merit life in prison.

Appalled by the idea of an innocent man going to prison in his stead, Valjean travels to the court of assizes where the beggar is being tried and discloses his identity publicly in the courtroom. After no one makes a move to detain him—Javert had by then already left town to return to Montreuil-sur-Mer—Valjean leaves the courtroom. Javert receives the order for his arrest the next morning and arrests him at Fantine's deathbed. Valjean asks for three days to bring Fantine's daughter Cosette to her, but Javert refuses to let him do so out of distrust. His revealing the mayor's true identity makes Fantine die of shock. Valjean escapes from the city jail. He is recaptured some time later and sent off once more to the galleys, from which he, however, escapes within several months.

Part Two: Cosette

Javert's good memory and presence of mind recommend him well to the Parisian police, and he is recruited to be an inspector in the capital. Javert is informed of Valjean's presumed death (which the latter had feigned during his last escape) not long after it happens. Early in the year 1824, Javert hears from an alleged kidnapping, a foster child taken from the couple that kept her. When he hears that this is supposed to have taken place in Montfermeil (Valjean was captured when trying to get just there), he visits the Thénardiers, but Thénardier does not want to become involved with the police and tells Javert that the girl was fetched by her grandfather and that he saw the man's passport. Javert returns to Paris, scolding himself for being an idiot. In March of the same year, he hears of a man nicknamed "The beggar who gives alms". Curious, he takes the place of an old beggar turned police spy and half recognises Valjean when the latter gives him alms. He follows Valjean to a gloomy Parisian suburb where Valjean rents a room at Gorbeau House. Although he does not manage to get another glimpse at Valjean, he follows him and Cosette when they make their escape; Valejan having recognised Javert. Javert chases Valjean and his ward into what seems to him a dead end, Valjean evades capture by climbing over the stone wall of a convent and pulling Cosette up over the wall on a rope. Javert is stumped; days of searching bring nothing, and he gives up. Valjean and Cosette remain in the monastery for several years, Valjean as a gardener and Cosette as a pupil in the school run by the nuns.

Part Three: Marius

In 1832, Javert chances to meet Valjean once more while leading a squad of policemen in the capture of a gang which had been terrorizing Paris for years: Patron-Minette. The Thénardiers, who have lost their inn, also moved to Paris and now live at Gorbeau House, were also associated with the gang. Unbeknownst to Javert, the venerable elderly gentleman whom the Thénardiers and Patron-Minette were in the process of torturing with the intent of extortion was none other than Valjean. Javert does not have the opportunity to recognize him, however, as Valjean recognizes Javert almost immediately and makes a quick escape out the window of the attic where the confrontation was taking place.

Part Four: St. Denis

During the 1832 June riots, Javert assumes an undercover identity and joins the stream of revolutionaries heading to build barricades, in order to gather information on them. Armed with a useless unloaded rifle, he takes part in the preparations for battle without speaking a word to anyone; nevertheless, he is recognized by a street urchin, Gavroche, as a policeman. The rebels tie Javert to a pole in the restaurant where they are holed up and leave him standing there overnight.

Part Five: Jean Valjean

When Valjean appears at the barricade with the secret intent to find Marius, the beloved of his adopted daughter, Javert is more amused than incredulous: the barricades seem like a perfectly fitting place for Valjean, whom he considers irredeemably evil.

This staunch belief is dealt a fatal blow when Valjean, after performing a sharp-shooting feat that saves the barricade from immediate destruction without shedding any blood, requests from Enjolras, the leader of the revolutionary movement, the privilege of slaughtering the police agent. Enjolras acquiesces, and Valjean leads Javert away from the barricade and into a side street. There, instead of killing Javert, Valjean cuts his bonds and implores him to run and save himself. He also gives Javert his address, in the unlikely case that he survives the uprising. Valjean then fires a shot into the air and returns to the barricade, where he tells everyone that the policeman is dead.

As the army storms the barricade, Valjean manages to grab the unconscious Marius, who had been grievously wounded, and dives into a sewer, where he wanders with Marius on his shoulders, despairing of finding an exit. A stroke of luck brings him face to face with Thénardier, whom he already met when Thénardier was part of the Patron-Minette gang captured by Javert and his squad. In the dark and muck of the sewer, neither party recognizes the other. Thénardier assumes that Valjean is a robber who had just killed a well-to-do young man, and he offers to let Valjean out of the sewer if Valjean splits the loot found on Marius' person in half. Valjean pays him, and Thénardier opens for him a sewer grate with a stolen government-issued key.

Valjean's joy at finally being out of the sewer does not last long. As he struggles to regain his bearings on the surface and ponders what to do about the bleeding, unconscious boy, he notices that he is observed by a tall figure, which, predictably, turns out to be Javert. This is almost too much; Javert takes a long time to examine the filthy man emerging from the sewer and finally is satisfied that he is, indeed, looking at Valjean. Far from trying to evade arrest, Valjean repeats that he is ready to surrender, but he asks for Javert's help in delivering the wounded boy to his family first. Javert agrees, looks up the address of Marius' family from an address book he finds on him, and they set off.

During the trip, Javert finds himself, for practically the first time in his life, at a complete loss. On the one hand, he cannot allow Valjean to go free. Over the course of the decade during which Javert knew him, Valjean had committed, to Javert's limited but accurate knowledge, breaking and entering, violent robbery of a small child, multiple counts of fraud, child "kidnapping" and numerous escapes from prison; to make matters worse, just several hours ago Javert found him with the rebels on the barricade—an offence which in itself merits the death penalty. Yet, Javert cannot bring himself to turn Valjean in, since Valjean had saved his life by setting him free on the barricades instead of shooting him, and then rescued another man for no personal gain. After they deliver Marius to his grandfather's home, Valjean asks an opportunity to say goodbye to Cosette. Javert agrees; they arrive at Valjean's house, and Javert says that he will wait for Valjean to come back downstairs. Nevertheless, when Valjean looks out of the window, Javert is gone.

Javert wanders the streets in emotional turmoil: his mind simply cannot reconcile the image he had carried through the years of Valjean as a brutal ex-convict, with Valjean's acts of kindness on the barricades. Now, Javert can be justified neither in letting Valjean go nor in arresting him. For the first time in his life, Javert is faced with the situation where he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. Unable to find a solution to this dilemma and horrified at the sudden realization that Valjean was simultaneously a criminal and a good person—a conundrum which made mockery of Javert's entire system of moral values—Javert decides to remove the problem by removing himself from the problem. Towards the end of the book Javert drowns himself in the river Seine; his body is later found.

Javert in the musical

In the stage musical based on the novel of the same name, Javert is one of the central characters, billed second after Valjean. His part is mostly unchanged (other than strong religious motivations which differ from Javert in the novel, who, although respecting the church, answered only to the law and not God), and he acts as a foil and semi-antagonist to the hero, Valjean. Javert has the first sung line of any main character in the musical. After his death his ghost is generally not present in the finale, presumably due to his antagonistic role in the novel.

Songs in the musical

Javert features in several songs.

"Work Song"

This is the first song in the musical, as opposed to the book, where the scene is told after the beginning through flashbacks. Javert is the prison official presiding over the parole proceedings of the day. When Valjean arrives, he and Javert argue over whether Valjean's actions were justifiable, thus expositing Valjean's past to the audience. Javert corrects Valjean when the latter claims his parole means his freedom, saying, "[Your parole] means you get your yellow ticket of leave", hinting at Valjean's uncertain future. Also, in defiance of Valjean, Javert begins his habit of referring to Valjean only as his prison number, "24601".

"Fantine's Arrest"

Eight years later, Javert is a police inspector in Montreuil-sur-Mer. He and Valjean, the mayor and a factory owner under the name Madeleine, are familiar with one another. Valjean remembers Javert but pretends to only know him from Montreuil-sur-Mer, while Javert is fooled by Valjean's new identity; he even respects Valjean as an authority figure somewhat. Javert and several other officers arrest Fantine for attacking Bamatabois, and Javert dismisses Fantine's claims of having a child to support as the same lies he has always heard from criminals. When "Madeleine" arrives, pardons Fantine and has her taken to a hospital, Javert is still suspicious of her and attempts to protest to the mayor, to no avail.

"The Runaway Cart"

After witnessing Valjean saving Fauchelevant from a runaway cart, he tells "Madeleine" that the latter's strength reminds him of the real Valjean, whom he remembers from the prison years before. Unlike in the book, Javert merely notices a similarity between Valjean and Madeleine, and never truly suspects the mayor of being the prisoner as the man who resembles Valjean had been arrested previously and awaits trial.

"Who Am I? (The Trial)"

At the end of the song, the real Valjean steps before the court where Javert is testifying to the doppelganger's identity as Valjean. Though he has no speaking lines, Javert is still the one Valjean is addressing when he reveals his true identity and exonerates the man on trial.

"The Confrontation"

At the hospital, after Fantine has died, Javert arrives to find Valjean at her deathbed. Javert, who had once been compelled to respect Valjean as the mayor, is now able to look down on him once more as a prisoner. Javert scoffs at Valjean's request for three day's time to free Cosette, and ridicules and berates Valjean as a recidivist and criminal scum, and mocks his claims of morality by telling of his origin, being born in a prison with men like Valjean. Javert vows to pursue and capture Valjean no matter where or how he escapes. He is knocked out by Valjean after a struggle.

"Javert's Intervention"

Nine years have passed. Javert is still an inspector, now in Paris. He breaks up a street fight between two men, one of whom is M. Thénardier, who was fighting the other man out of resentment for his taking Cosette all those years before. Javert fails to recognize the other man as Valjean, the latter of whom recognizes the former instantly and escapes. Thénardier informs Javert that the man he fought was an ex-convict, and Javert makes the connection and identifies him as Valjean.


Javert's first solo song in the musical. Javert sings of his rekindled intent to capture Valjean, and muses on how he believes his actions are just and righteous, as natural and sequential as the order of the stars. Javert prays to God to aid his pursuit, and swears to the stars that he will never relent.

"The Attack on Rue Plumet"

Though he doesn't appear, Javert plays an unseen part in this song. Valjean hears from Cosette that she saw men outside their apartment. Though the men in question were actually Thénardier and members of the Patron-Minette gang, Valjean assumes they were Javert and other policemen under his direction, and decides to flee the city.

"One Day More"

As with all the other characters, Javert sings of his plans and views for the coming day, June 6, 1832. He describes his condescending view of the student rebels and foresees failure for their insurrection, and schemes to go undercover as a spy for the National Guard to learn the secrets of the revolutionaries and provide them with false intelligence.

"Upon These Stones (Javert at the Barricade)"

Javert has successfully disguised himself as an adult sympathizer of the uprising, and gains the trust of the students by volunteering to ascertain the plans of the National Guard.

"Javert's Arrival"/"Little People"

Javert returns to the barricade after an absence and tells the students that the Guard will refrain from attack until at least the next day, and will attack with forces from the right. Gavroche arrives and denounces him as a liar and a police inspector. Javert is captured and restained in the ABC Café, and remains defiant of the students even as his prospects for escaping alive seem bleak.

"The First Attack"

After arriving at the barricade and joining the student's numbers, he begins fighting in the first skirmish between the revolutionaries and the troops. After Valjean kills a sniper aiming at Enjolras and the latter falls in his debt, Valjean is allowed to execute the spy Javert. Valjean finds Javert, who is reeling in confusion over his impending execution for nothing more than enforcing the law. He is belligerent to Valjean, and Javert tauntingly encourages him to kill him. Valjean frees Javert, who believes he wishes some bargain in return. Valjean dismisses any request for payment; he explains that he harbors no ill will towards Javert and even gives him his address in case he lives through the fight. A very confused Javert is let free into the night, Valjean telling the students he is dead.

"The Final Battle"

After the battle is over and the revolutionaries are all dead, save for Valjean and the wounded Marius, Javert returns to the barricade to search for Valjean and finds him gone. He deduces that he is in the sewers, and moves to head him off at an exit near the Seine.

"Dog Eats Dog"

Javert finds Valjean in the sewers with the wounded Marius. He reiterates his intent to capture Valjean, who is not surprised that his old foe has returned to his mission. Valjean requests an hour's time to bring Marius to a hospital and then he will turn himself in. Unlike he did earlier with Cosette, Javert relents somewhat and allows Valjean to leave and save Marius.

"Javert's Suicide"

This is Javert's second solo and last song in the musical. Now alone on a bridge above the Seine, Javert soliloquizes his confusion that Valjean wouldn't kill him, whom Javert assumes Valjean sees as his enemy. He faces an immense inner conflict, as his black-and-white view of the world of Good and Evil is "lost in shadows". He describes his discomfort in living further, first trying to convince himself this is because of his hesitance to live in the debt of a thief. After grappling briefly with the possibility that Valjean might ultimately be forgiven of his crimes ("Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved?"), Javert commits suicide by hurling himself over the bridge. He would rather "escape now from the world ... of Jean Valjean," where forgiveness trumps judgment.

Moral character

There are those who attack Javert's actions, and others who defend them. Victor Hugo intentionally created his protagonist and antagonist so that neither were entirely on one side of the boundary separating Good and Evil. Here is how he describes Javert:

Probity, sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed; but which, even when hideous, remain grand: their majesty, the majesty peculiar to the human conscience, clings to them in the midst of horror; they are virtues which have one vice, – error. The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance. Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.

Possible inspirations

The character of Javert is loosely based on Eugène François Vidocq a real-life criminal and adventurer later turned policeman. Just like Vidocq, Javert realises that the only way out of a criminal surrounding (which, in contrary to Vidocq, Javert was born into) is by protecting society and becoming a policeman. Both have a strong belief in justice, although their interpretation of "justice" is different. Javert has inherited many of Vidocq's talents, such as his knowledge of argot, excellent memory and ability for disguises. In one point, they differ fundamentally: Vidocq took pride in the fact that he never arrested anyone who stole out of need.



Film and television

Informal Sequels

  • In 2001, French publishing company Plon released two informal sequel novels continuing from Hugo's novel entitled Cosette or the Time of Illusions and the follow-up Marius or The Fugitive. Both were by author François Cérésa. In the novels, Javert was retconned into surviving his suicide attempt, becoming religious, and portrayed as a hero.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Javert" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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