|Eugene Vidocq - on whom the character of |
Jean Valjean was based.
|Fantine at Javert's feet.|
When one of Valjean's employees, Fantine, is dismissed and turns to prostitution to support her daughter, Cosette, Valjean is shocked to discover the depths to which she has fallen. Then Fantine dies and in reparation for her dismissal and ultimate plunge into poverty, Valjean adopts her daughter, Cosette, to raise her as his own.
|The death of Fantine - |
Valjean closing her eyes.
Valjean has many brushes with arrest but wherever he goes, and wherever he hides, he becomes known for his generosity to the poor. Ultimately, his selfless love for Cosette leads him to the barricades during a rebellion; in order to protect the man she has fallen in love with, Marius. Indeed, Valjean saves Marius' life, even though he fears the young man with supplant him in Cosette's affections, and when they marry he leaves so as not to shame their union with the sins of his past.
|Cosette - as an adult.|
So what of the real Valjean - Eugène François Vidocq ?
Whilst Vidocq's life is very different from that of Valjean, they do share a common start in criminality, and a moment of redemption when they change their ways. They both remained on the run for most of their lives, and both were haunted by the shadow of their past. Indeed, Vidocq turned from being a thief, to creating a detective force - and in Les Miserables, Valjean's nemesis, Jarvet, is in part based on this side of Vidocq's character.
Vidocq's turnaround came when he fell in love with a widow. His crimes meant the couple were perpetually on the run, and the final straw was witnessing the execution an old comrade, César Herbaux. When Vidocq was yet again arrested, he pledged to give up his criminal life in order to turn police informant. He was sent to jail - but as a police spy- and after 21 months of loyal service to the authorities, was freed.
|Sherlock Holmes - influenced by Vidocq's methods.|
Such was Vidocq's amazing life that he inspired many novelists, amongst them Victor Hugo and Balzac. Some even say that his methodical means of investigating a crime were an influence on Conan Doyle and the creation of his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.