Javert is a fictional character from the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. He was born inside a prison, the son of a fortune-teller (tireuse de cartes) and galley slave. He is a policeman and parole officer 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 initially an assistant to a guard (adjutant garde-chiourme) in Toulon quarries where Jean Valjean is imprisoned. He remembers Valjean for his extraordinary strength and rather gloomy and terrifying mien.
In 1815, Valjean is released from prison and breaks parole. He moves to Montreuil-sur-Mer, a small seaside town in the North of France assumes the name of Monsieur Madeleine and becomes a manufacturer and later Mayor of the town. Here he once more meets Javert, who through a curious accident of fate happens to be an inspector in the Montreuil-sur-Mer police, but Valjean pretends not to recognise 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. However, further proof is furnished to him after Valjean performs a feat of strength that, Javert informs him, only one man in his entire life's experience could have performed: he lifts a loaded cart to free a man trapped underneath it. Javert's decision to denounce Valjean as an ex-convict is then finally made up 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 exactly 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 offense would have not merited more than several days in jail had someone in that same jail not mistakenly identified the beggar as Valjean. For someone with prior conviction, 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 sets out once more on the run. He is recaptured some time later and sent off once more to the galleys, from which he, however, escapes within several months.
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. Here he once more encounters Valjean, this time with a little girl in tow: Cosette, Fantine's daughter. He follows them both to a gloomy Parisian suburb where Valjean rents a room. One night, as 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.
In 1832, Javert chances to meet Valjean once more when he leads a squad of policemen in capturing a gang which had been terrorizing Paris for years: Patron-Minette. Unbeknownst to him, the venerable elderly gentleman whom the gang was in the process of torturing with intent of extortion was none other than Valjean. Javert does not have the opportunity to recognize him, however, as Valjean recognizes Javert quite fast and makes a quick escape out the window of the attic where the confrontation takes place.
During the 1832 June riots, Javert assumes an undercover identity and joins the stream of revolutionaries heading to build barricades 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. When Valjean appears at the barricade with the secret intent to rescue 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 a lost cause.
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 barricade, Valjean manages to grab the body of 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 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 offense 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 comes down, 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 act 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 to act lawfully would mean to him acting immorally. 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. He goes into a police station, leaves on one of the desks a note with some remarks on how to improve police and prison operations in the city, then proceeds to Pont-au-Change and drowns himself in the river Seine.
In the stage musical of the same name based on Les Misérables, Javert is one of the central characters. His part is mostly unchanged, and he acts as a foil and semi-antagonist to the hero, Valjean. Javert has the first spoken line of any main character in the musical.
Songs Javert features in:
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:
The dramatic role of Javert is best known for its musical power from the stage musical Les Misérables, based upon the original novel. Javert was played by Roger Allam in the 1985 London production, and by Terrence Mann in the 1987 Broadway production. Other actors to play the role in stagings of the musical include Norm Lewis, Takeshi Kaga. Philip Quast played Javert in the 1995 anniversary concert Les Misérables - The Dream Cast in Concert as has subsequently become widely renowned as the definitive Javert.''
Renditions of Javert in adaptations of Les Misérables other than the musical include portrayals by John Malkovich (in the 2000 French miniseries), Geoffrey Rush (in the 1998 film), Charles Vanel (in the 1934 film), Charles Laughton (in the 1935 film), Robert Newton (in the 1952 film) and Bernard Blier (in the 1958 film).