The Perfect Depiction of Christian Love in Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean

"Religions pass away but God remains..." Victor Hugo.

It should be no surprise that the great French novelist Victor Hugo was a passionate believer in God and in the power of prayer for this powerfully comes across in his wonderful and inspiring novel Les Miserables, now, of course, also a successful Broadway and West End musical, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and music by Claude-Michel Schonberg (original French lyrics by Alain Boubil).

In the very moving story, Victor Hugo beautifully depicts the transforming power of true Christian love in the life of Jean Valjean.

The story is really too intricate and cleverly inter-woven to even give a brief summary here but, basically, it follows the life of one Jean Valjean who rises from the chain gang (imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister's starving child) to eventually become a town mayor, but who then risks all in order to protect the young daughter of Fantine, a factory girl forced into prostitution in order to feed her child. When Fantine is in danger of being imprisoned, Valjean steps in to protect her child. But he is relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert for breaking parole and there are numerous twists to the plot along the way yet Valjean's Christian conversion is well-depicted even in the modern musical version. The musical also clearly depicts how Valjean's glowing Christian character inspires and illuminates everybody who comes into contact with him. The curious reader who wants to know more is strongly recommended to either obtain the actual Victor Hugo book or to go and see the spectacular musical. A DVD is also now available of the tenth anniversary edition of Les Miserables. As already mentioned, the strong Christian approach does survive the turning of this novel into a musical, although one should be prepared for a few rude words in the musical lyrics especially in the 'Master of the House' song (sung by the cunning, crooked and conniving innkeeper).

The "barricades" which the story invites one to join are - initially - the barricades of the 1832 French Student Insurrection but, by the end of the novel, are quite clearly the 'barricades' of Christian witness. The powerful message of this novel is that while human political movements may come and go, only the love of Christ, as seen in true Christian lives, culminating in entry into Eternal Life, brings true and eternal success. The lyrics of the Finale clearly present a Christian worldview. Here is just part of the final chorus,

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the French poet and novelist. Possibly without even realising it, in 'Les Miserables' Hugo has written one of the strongest pro-Christian novels of the last two hundred years.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
There a world you long to see
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

The full lyrics of the final chorus can be found Here.

Unfortunately, Victor Hugo has rarely been credited as being a Christian writer - partly because of his lifelong dislike of the Roman Catholic Church of France but also because of inconsistencies within his own life. Hugo certainly rejected religion, yet he firmly embraced belief in God and in the power of prayer throughout his life. He just did not see God's love fully reflected in the religion of Roman Catholicism. Many others have shared the same sentiment.

Do you want to read a powerfully inspiring story of the transforming power of Christian love? If you love reading, my advice is to get the original Victor Hugo novel (many, if not most libraries should hold a copy, or be able to locate a copy for you). Otherwise try to get to the musical version show (some great songs) or at the very least try to obtain the Les Miserables DVD. My wife got to the London West End musical two years ago and I just watched the DVD - great stuff! Just be warned about a few swear words which do appear in the stage musical and the DVD, especially in the 'Master of the House' publican's song.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.