Les Miserables 28: A Tempest Within a Brain (cont’d)

Last time we saw Valjean deliberating over whether or not he would go to Arras.  And he was on the point of going to give himself up, when he thought of Fantine and all the others of MSM who were dependent upon him remaining where he was for the sake of their happiness and prosperity.  Besides, Champmathieu was a criminal who deserved to go to jail, he was just a few years away from dying, surely he was not worth saving.

As a result of this new development, he became so convinced that he should stay where he was, that he made the decision to destroy everything in his possession which might give evidence that he was once Jean Valjean.  This included all his old prison clothes, the knapsack and walking stick he had that night in Digne, and even the silver candlesticks which he had received from Monseigneur Bienvenu.

And just as he was getting ready to throw them into the fire, along with all the other things, he heard a voice.  It was really his own conscience, but it was just as real to him as if it had been an actual person standing there in the room with him.

“Yes!  That’s it, finish the work!…So it’s arranged, it’s decided, it’s done.  There is a man, an old graybeard who doesn’t know what he’s accused of, who has done nothing, maybe, an innocent man, whose misfortune is caused by your name, upon whom your name weighs like a crime, who will be taken instead of you, and be condemned, will end his days in misery and horror!  Very well.  Be an honored man yourself.  Remain, Monsieur Mayor, remain honorable and honored, enrich the city, feed the poor, bring up the orphans, live happily, virtuous and admired, and all this time while you are here in joy and in light, there will be a man wearing your red tunic, bearing your name in ignominy, and dragging your chain in the work gang!  Yes!  This is a perfect arrangement!  Oh, misery!

“…Around you there will be many voices that will make a great noise, that will speak very loud and bless you; and one alone that nobody will hear that will curse you in the darkness.  Well, listen, wretch!  All these blessings will fall before they reach Heaven; only the curse will climb up into the presence of God!”

If there is any doubt about the Christian basis of Les Miserables, let this put all such doubt to rest.  One of the recurring themes of Scripture is that God has identified Himself with the lost, the last, the least, with all whom society has passed over.  God ignores everything that is said or done by men with the purpose of winning the approval of other men.  But He is very keen to notice what is said or done in secret, when others are not watching or applauding.  And the prayers of any whom society has cast off, who pray in secret when they think no one hears, go directly to the heart of God.

It was this argument which finally persuaded Valjean to do the right thing and go to Arras.  At least, it brought him back to a place of indecision.  But it was still a terrible place for Valjean to be:

But this much he felt, that whichever decision he might make, necessarily and with no possibility of escape, something of himself would surely die; that he was entering a sepulcher to the right and left; that he was suffering a death agony, the death agony of his happiness or the death agony of his virtue.

Alas!  All his irresolutions were on him again.  He was no further forward than when he began.

In this way, his unhappy soul struggled with its anguish.  Eighteen hundred years before this unfortunate man, the mysterious Being, in whom all the sanctities and all the sufferings of humanity come together, He too, while the olive trees trembled in the fierce breath of the Infinite, had brushed away the fearful cup that appeared before him, streaming with shadow and running over with darkness, in the star-filled depths.

Here Victor Hugo clearly likens Jean Valjean’s deliberations this night to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.  Some might say that there is a problem here because Christ was fully divine and Valjean was fully human, but let us not forget that Christ was fully human in addition to being fully divine.  And though Valjean’s deliberations may have gone places where Christ would never have gone, we don’t know that for sure.  All we know is that whatever was going on in Christ’s head in Gethsemane was so intense that it caused him to sweat blood.  And we know that Christ was like us in all things except sin, so He may have been tempted in exactly the same way in which Valjean was tempted this night.

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