“The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one’s own sake—let us say rather, loved in spite of one’s self..”

In the fourth chapter of “Fantine”’s Book 5, in regards to Bishop Myriel’s death, Hugo meditates on what it means to be loved, and the impact love can have on the individual. This passage states that being loved, and more specifically being loved for one’s self, including one’s flaws, is true happiness. By saying that love is the ultimate pleasure, the novel also suggests that loving another is the ultimate form of charity. Hugo argues, then, that love is important because of the potential impact it can bring to the subject, who in turn spreads this love to others.

“‘Father Fauchelevent, I saved your life…you can do to-day for me that which I did for you in the olden days.’
Fauchelevent took in his aged, trembling, and wrinkled hands Jean Valjean’s two robust hands, and stood for several minutes as though incapable of speaking. At length he exclaimed:—
‘Oh! that would be a blessing from the good God, if I could make you some little return for that! Save your life!’”

In “Cosette,” Book 5, Valjean encounters Fauchelevent in the convent and requests his help. Fauchelevent is not only willing but overjoyed to be offered the opportunity to repay the debt he owes Valjean, which speaks to the impact of love and compassion. Valjean’s savior comes to them in the form of a man he once saved, suggesting that an act of compassion benefits the giver as much as the recipient.

“Jean Valjean blossomed out and felt his happiness increase with the happiness which he afforded Cosette. The joy which we inspire has this charming property, that, far from growing meagre, like all reflections, it returns to us more radiant than ever.”

Valjean and Cosette’s joy in “Cosette,” Book 8, marks a stark contrast to the suffering both have known for much of their respective lives. Hugo characterizes happiness as something that doesn’t fade, but merely grows “more radiant”—the love Valjean shows Cosette she returns to him tenfold, and all of this love is made possible by the compassion the Bishop showed Valjean, underscoring the importance of not just love, but the sharing thereof.