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Les Miserables on Sentencing: Valjean, Fantine, Javert and the Bishop Debate the Principles
Victor Hugo’s immortal novel Les Misérables is regarded universally as one of the greatest indictments of injustice ever drawn. Indeed, the main character Jean Valjean represents the best known example of an offender who has been punished unfairly and without regard to the mitigating circumstances that led to his crime, that of stealing bread with which to feed his family.
The other characters are also closely associated with different elements of injustice: Fantine, who is led to prostitution and social degradation when she loses her employment; Javert, the police inspector, implacable and without mercy; and Bishop Welcome, the fictional embodiment of mercy and of forgiveness for wrongdoing. Brought to life as the main speakers of a fictional sentencing conference, these four characters explore contemporary sentencing principles by examining their lives against the backdrop of modern views on punishment and policing. The resulting debates succeed in pointing the way to a number of much-needed developments in the law of sentencing and punishment.