“Valjean’s nobility inspires us because it is ultimately expressed in the quotidian and the domestic”

Leah Libresco of Unequally Yoked offers an insightful response to The New Yorker critic David Denby’s pan of Les Miserables, in which Denby argues that “Saints don’t make interesting heroes.” The editorial board of Dappled Things holds no official position on the merits of the recent film adaptation, but Libresco’s post is a thoughtful examination of virtue as exemplified by the character Jean Valjean.

…we can see the fruit of making the right choice day by day.  It’s not winning the right to a love interest and getting a big, dramatic kiss at the climax of the story.  It’s the development of phronesis or practical wisdom.  By choosing the right thing day after day, Valjean is strengthening his conscience so that the wrong choice feels awkward and alien to him.

Read the whole thing.


  1. HeidiMarie Densmore says

    Perhaps Valjean surpasses most heroes by coming to know himself as human, rather than the subhuman animal he was treated as while a prisoner. In comment to the statement that “saints don’t make interesting heroes”, however, I have to ask, “Have you ever read the life of any saint?” There are more adventures in the lives of saints than in any real-life characters outside of fairy tales!