Les Miserables - Jean Valjean, Prison Impact - Audio Reading

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Jean Valjean was imprisoned nineteen years - at hard labor - for breaking into a bakery, stealing a loaf of bread, then trying to escape from his life as a galley slave (known as a "forçat" in French).  How did those long years mold him?  What was he like, as a human being, when he was finally paroled?

Victor Hugo examines the impact of society - and its rules, regulations and forms of punishment - on a person like Jean Valjean.  He also examines how the prisoner himself might view what he did (and how he was punished for his actions).

In a chapter called "The Interior of Despair," Hugo tells us that Valjean was uneducated, when he stole the bread, but "he was not a fool."  A prisoner, like Valjean, is thus capable of putting himself on trial (to determine whether he was guilty) and putting society on trial (to determine whether his sentence was fair). 

During both inquiries, taking place in his mind, Valjean tries to apply rational thinking to weigh the evidence.  His conclusion?  He is guilty of breaking into the bakery and stealing the bread; society is guilty of imposing an unjust sentence.

As the years pass, Valjean becomes more and more angry.  He must take a bath in the presence of soldiers.  He must get his hair cut in the presence of soldiers.  He is subject to harsh punishment for the slightest of rule infractions.  He is chained to other prisoners, when they move around.  He must watch if a fellow prisoner is executed.  He knows the bodies of prisoners are disrespectfully handled, after death.  Will he, too, be a galley slave in perpetuity (that is, for the rest of his life)?

He wonders:  Why is he forced to keep working at hard labor, with limited periods of rest, on the galleys at Toulon?  Why is he working for next-to-no pay?  What gives the French government a right to keep him in chains?

When Valjean is finally paroled, he has developed a very strong sense of something which could prove to be his future undoing.  He possessed, Victo Hugo tells us, "hatred of human law."  Hard labor, on the galleys, had remolded him:

From year to year this soul had dried away slowly, but with fatal sureness.  When the heart is dry, the eye is dry.  On his departure from the galleys it had been nineteen years since he had shed a tear.

In this audio clip, Carole Bos reads from Les Miserables, Volume I - Book Second - Chapter VII (entitled "The Interior of Despair").  As you listen, consider these topics.


Do two "wrongs" ever make a "right?"

Does a loss of dignity harden the heart? 

Does kindness help to change a person?        

Les Miserables, Volume I, Book Second, Chapter VII - "The Interior of Despair"

By Victor Hugo

As you listen to Carole Bos in this audio clip, you can follow along by reading the story online.  See the translation by Isabella Hapgood (at Project Gutenberg), which is opened to "The Interior of Despair."


Additional dramatizations of Les Miserables:

Part 1 - Bishop Myriel Helps Jean Valjean

Part 2 - Jean Valjean, Background

Part 4 - Meet Javert

Part 5 - Saving Fauchelevent (Javert Suspects It's Valjean)

Part 6 - Valjean Becomes Mayor

Part 7 - Valjean Helps Fantine

Part 8 - Valjean Promises Fantine a Future

Part 9 - Valjean Rebukes Javert


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Apr 14, 2019

Media Credits

Les Miserables, Volume I, Book Second, Chapter VII - "The Interior of Despair" - by Victor Hugo.  Read by Carole Bos, creator of Awesome Stories.

The linked illustrations, of French galley prisoners, are from Mémoires de Vidocq (Version illustrée de 1868 [illustrated version, from 1868] - Huillery Editeur).



To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Les Miserables - Jean Valjean, Prison Impact - Audio Reading" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jun 03, 2020.
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