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Monday, April 4th, 2016 01:23 am
So I was reading stonecarapace's excellent Breaking Through fic, which features female Valjean and Javert meeting in Montreuil-sur-mer, and it got me thinking: how would their character arcs differ if they were born women? Valjean would retain her immense (almost supernatural) strength as in the brick, which would give her some advantages in her sexist society, but she would be sent to a women's prison, not a bagne for breaking the law. And would Javert even be able to join the police force? It's doubtful historically, but if we're going to suspend disbelief for this thought experiment, I can see her going from a guard in a women's prison to an officer under the patronage of M. Chabouillet. She would likely be sent on undercover missions in which a policeman would be too conspicuous, such as spying in a nunnery, an all-girl's school, or restricted parts of a brothel. So there'd be a reason for a man like M. Chabouillet to keep her around on the force.

Anyway, I think I can tell a very interesting feminist story with genderswapped Valjean and Javert. It would contrast Valjean's feminist values of nurturing and compassion with Javert's patriarchal values as the father's daughter, supporting the patriarchy against other women.

Javert came from the same lowly background as in the brick, and rather than serving at Toulon, she was a guard in a women's prison or mental institution, where women were often sent if they defied their husband. M. Chabouillet took notice of her and supported her entry into the police, realizing a female officer can infiltrate parts of the underworld where a man cannot go. The price, of course, is that Javert has to reject her femininity (think Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles). She must be extra zealous in maintaining her authority, knowing one misstep will send her out on the streets, and endure additional scorn from both criminals and her fellow officers due to her sex. Poor woman! If I wanted to make this dark, I could have her tacitly support her superiors in abusing other women and then rationalize it the way Javert rationalizes prisoner abuse in the brick: she overlooks it in the name of authority.

Valjean's story I'm a little hazy on. I'll keep the part where Valjean never had a romantic relationship. Due to her homely appearance and intimidating strength, her father couldn't marry her off. She could simply steal bread to feed her sister's child, but I think it would be more interesting to have her defy an abusive man. Perhaps her sister's husband is a wife-beater, and she stands up to him. Or she defends a poor woman on the street. Either way, with her strength, she injures the man severely and is sent to prison. After being given her yellow ticket, she realizes her only choices are menial drudgery, prostitution, or at best another abusive marriage like her sister. Valjean rejects all those choices and creates a new identity for herself as a man, M. Madeleine.

I'm still debating how the Fantine story would proceed differently with these two. Javert would be even more scornful since she knows she could have gone down this path like her mother, but she was one of the "better women" who made something of herself by serving a powerful man like M. Chabouillet. Meanwhile, Valjean is more sympathetic, understanding from personal experience how difficult life must be for a woman to sell herself, and doing all she can to help Fantine get back Cosette. (In an AU, they should both go beat up Bamatabois and Tholomyes).

In the Fauchelevent scene, Javert grows suspicious of Valjean not just because of her display of strength, but because something in Valjean's masculine appearance slips. Perhaps while lifting the cart, the binder on her breasts slips? Or Valjean rips her coat, revealing a glimpse of her wide hips and narrow waist.

Then we get to the Punish me M. le maire scene. Javert suspects Valjean of being a woman, sends off her report to Paris, and gets a response from M. Chabouillet that tells her to quit being foolish - they found the real Jeane Valjean in Arras. The punishment scene would be even more emotionally wrought because Javert knows that if she is dismissed from the police force, her options are much more limited as a woman, and she may well face the fate of her prostitute mother. However, in her twisted world logic, she believes this is a just outcome, since she wronged a male authority figure, and a father's daughter does not do that.

The Champmathieu trial will proceed as in the musical, except it will be more of a shock when Valjean strips to reveal she is a woman! The court will be thrown into complete disarray. This is a very symbolic "Who Am I?" moment for Valjean because she rejects the male privilege she garnered as M. Madeleine in order to save a poor, downtrodden woman. She realizes she must be true to herself, turning away from masculinity despite all its power in order to embrace the feminine, knowing the consequences it entails.

I'm unsure what other major scenes matter after this. I can see Gorbeau House being interesting with the rape threat to Valjean, and also with Javert taking down a dangerous gang, something her colleagues doubted she could do as a woman.

The big change would come at the barricades. What would be clever thematically is to have it mirror the Punish me M. le maire scene, except with Javert crossdressed as a man and Valjean as herself. This shows how Javert, who starts out womanly, eventually must hide herself completely beneath the identity of a man, symbolizing her allegiance to the patriarchy, while Valjean goes in the opposite direction: from taking on male privilege as M. Madeleine to becoming a motherly, nurturing figure to Cosette. But I'm not sure how to make this work in the context of the barricades, since the brick has women standing by Les Amis, while the musical has Eponine crossdressing as a man to sneak in. Which is it?

I'm also stuck on Javert's revelation: I originally conceived this as male Valjean showing her that no, criminals aren't all rapists, just like male authority figures can't all be trusted (implying that M. Chabouillet sexually exploited Javert). But I'm not sure what to do here with a female Valjean. In that case, it's an identity crisis, where Javert must realize she's been in the wrong all along by aligning with patriarchal figures, while Valjean lived authentically. Perhaps Javert expects Valjean to kill her because that's the cowardly thing to do? And Javert has always looked down on "those other women" as weak and cowardly? However, Valjean lets her go free, and in so doing, shows her that the feminist value of forgiveness is a source of strength. I still don't know how this would lead to her derailment though.


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