An Honest Man: Jean Valjean and the Monetization of Souls

2 thoughts on “An Honest Man: Jean Valjean and the Monetization of Souls”

  1. It seems like an odd lens through which to view Les Miz … Measuring the honesty of a fictitious work? Fiction is by definition untrue, and therefore on some level dishonest. That’s what Plato argued in ‘The Republic,’ if I recall.

    The moral focus of Les Mis reflects those of the times, namely the disparity of wealth and power that led to the French revolution. And the priest’s lie is compelling (if perhaps naively idealistic) because he forgives in a Christlike way, and believes in Valjean’s redemption and innate goodness as a human being. Fortunately, his faith is borne out in the novel.

    If Anne Frank is in the attic and the Nazis are at the door, I think it’s OK to lie. Apparently, Hugo felt that other moral virtues took precedence over honesty in these cases. Given the popularity of Les Mis, a few others must agree.

    Les Miserables turns virtue on its head in multiple ways, which is part of what makes it fun to read.

    1. I totally agree. One of the reasons I love Les Miz so much is because it complicates morality in really interesting ways. I don’t think people need to be honest all the time in order to be good– especially in some cases, when it’s obviously more moral to lie. But I do think that the use of the phrase “honest man” is an interesting translation.

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