"Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy. Then there will be nothing left resembling ancient history; there will be no cause to fear, as at the present day, conquest, invasion, usurpation, armed rivalry of nation, an interruption of civilization depending on a marriage of kings, a birth in hereditary tyrannies, a division of people by a congress, a dismemberment by the collapse of dynasties, a combat of two religions, clashing like two goats in the darkness on the bridge of infinity; there will be no cause longer to fear famine, exhaustion, prostitution through distress, misery through stoppage of work, and the scaffold, and the sword, and battles, and all the brigandage of accident in the forest of events; --we might almost say there will be no more events: we shall be happy; the human race will accomplish its law as the terrestrial globe does its law; harmony will be restored between the soul and the planet, and the soul will gravitate round the truth as the planet does round light."
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Now these words are spoken by Enjolras, the consummate revolutionary, so Hugo's own views may be more moderate. Still, Hugo has a myopic optimism when it comes to Progress, and indeed, by the end of the book we see no more of society's miserables. Eponine and Gavroche are dead, Cosette and Marius are married and rich, Thenardier is paid off beyond the dreams of avarice, and Valjean, though he will not use them, has five hundred francs for his support. No, the suffering at the end is interpersonal -- the cruelty of Marius (and the less-witting but just as culpable cruelty of Cosette) to Valjean, Valjean's self-imposed exile. Marius has fought on the barricades not so much for freedom for the oppressed but because he thinks his own life isn't worth living, and in his rejection of Valjean as an ex-convict we see that he is actually pretty callow to the injustices of society. Even Marius's generosity is ill-considered -- the thousands of francs he throws at Thenardier to send him to America end up setting up that malefactor as a prosperous slave trader.
To be fair, nor does Valjean help out by not being entirely forthright about his situation. I writhed with frustration at the end of the book -- it always drives me nuts when characters create their own drama by being evasive out of a misplaced sense of nobility. "Oh, if only you'd said something sooner we could have avoided this whole situation!" Ah, but then we wouldn't have had a pretty chapter full of reconciliation, abject apologies, and touching grief, so agreeably cathartic for the reader who has watched Valjean suffer for 800 pages.
Valjean's end is touching, but Javert's is transformative. Valjean has shown Javert, the policeman who has hounded him for years, life-saving mercy, and has enlisted Javert to help him save the life of another -- and Javert, to his astonishment and horror, finds himself compelled by justice to show mercy as well. The man of iron, rigid, upright, and irreproachable, suddenly discovers that the Divine is not merely Sacred Authority and Order, but the Glorious Chaos of the love that moves the stars, the "anarchy about to descend from on high".
He was not accustomed to have anything unknown over his head; hitherto everything he had above him had been to his eye a clear, simple, limpid surface; there was nothing unknown or obscure; nothing but what was definite, coordinated, enchained, precise, exact, circumscribed, limited, and closed; everything forseen; authority was a flat surface, there was no fall in it or dizziness before it. Javery had never seen anything unknown except below him. Irregularity, unexpected things, the disorderly onening of the chaos, and a possible fall over a precipice, --all this was the state of the lower regions, of the rebels, the wicked and the wretched. Now Javert threw himself back, and was suddenly startled by this extraordinary apparition, --a gulf above him!And Javert realizes another appalling fact: that he is human, and that to show mercy is to learn to feel. Javert, in his cold way, dies for love, and his death is far more compelling than the death of Enjolras the revolutionary, whose marble facade never cracks. Even in death Enjolras remains himself, statuesque to the end: "traversed by eight bullets, (he) remained leaning against the wall, as if nailed to it; he merely hung his head". But Javert throws himself into the whirling vortex, something new and truly revolutionary for him -- and may God have mercy on his soul.