I would say that Valjean would technically
be better off if he and his circumstances were directly transplanted to modern-day France. For a first-time offence of stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean would probably just get a fine or at most a day's imprisonment. Not to mention how the average French prison of today would presumably be way different from Toulon. So pretty much the injustice and existential angst of being imprisoned for 19 years and doing hard labour for the state would be non-existent.
However, if one takes into account of today's socio-economic conditions, Valjean's life may not be that much better in substance
. He might spend most of his life living in a poverty-stricken, semi-criminal environment and at best struggle with having to depend on social welfare half of the time. Also, we shouldn't forget that Valjean mostly managed to turn his life around and became the mayor of M--.-sur-M--. etc., because of the lack of shared database records or other modern technological means to trace his real identity. Had Valjean escaped from prison in today's context, he would either (a) been recaptured fairly quickly, especially if he rose to such a prominent position in society in such a short span of time; or (b) have escaped into the nameless void of urban ghettos and lived on the fringes of society, in order to evade the authorities.
If the entire Les Mis story was set in today's world, I imagine that instead of being an ex-con who broke his parole and went on the run, ModernDay!Valjean would be a shopkeeper/ businessman whom the police suspect of running some illegal sidelines/ engaging in some criminal enterprise. So Javert is sent to keep an (unusually close) eye on him. Alas, Javert never actually manages to catch Valjean committing any crime. Kinda like the Count D/ Leon Orcot dynamics in the manga, Petshop of Horrors. Javert:
Given that we still have a great deal of police bureaucracy and structural inequalities in society nearly 200 years on, Javert can probably be transplanted to the modern world and yet remain largely unchanged.
I imagine that ModernDay!Javert would still have been born in a prison to parents who are imprisoned and suffered from the double whammy of racial discrimination and socio-economic discrimination. Presumably, he would then strive to escape from his roots, whilst being raised by foster parents or in a children’s welfare home. Eventually, Javert manages to get onto the police force and rise up through the ranks, whilst keeping an eye on Valjean, in the manner mentioned above.
On a sidenote, I think Javert would love being a police officer in the modern world because of all the nifty tools and gadgets, which he can have at his disposal to maintain law and order. Haha. Fantine:
Based on her background as a working-class single mum without much educational qualifications or support from any family or friends, Fantine in the modern world is likely to still struggle with juggling multiple minimum-wage jobs. I imagine that one of her jobs would have been working for Valjean but she was fired by her direct superior because of her ill-health/ inability to cope with multiple jobs (rather than for being a single mum).
At some point, ModernDay!Fantine might have turned to part-time prostitution and eventually died from AIDs or street violence or something. The whole Valjean-taking-Cosette-away-from-the-Thenardiers-and-raising-her-as-his-own part of Les Mis can then still take place wholesale, as Valjean would still have felt guilty for not looking more closely into Fantine’s problems.Cosette:
Assuming the above happens, there would be hardly be any change for ModernDay!Cosette’s childhood as she would likely still have been treated as free child labour by the Thenardiers (maybe by working illegally in a sweatshop or restaurant) before being rescued and raised by Valjean. However, in her adulthood, Cosette would probably have gone to university, met Marius there and taken part in the demonstrations of the Les Amis.Marius:
Pretty much the same in substance, I would think.
ModernDay!Marius may have been raised by his grandfather after his parents died working for an NGO in some remote part of the world/ protesting against some injustice (given that in the original Les Mis, the Pontmercys were not exactly conventional). Marius would have had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing and went off to law school at university. Whilst he would get to know the Les Amis at university and joined them in their cause(s), Marius is likely to forget about these ideals after awhile. He would end up marrying Cosette and working as a lawyer in a big corporate law practice.Enjolras:
Like Marius, I don’t think Enjolras in the modern world differ much in substance from his original self. At university, he’d probably be involved in all sorts of student political groups and promoting social causes/ civil rights like greater income equality or LGBT rights. Due to Enjolras’s constant organisation of protests, which often turn violent, he ends up seeing Javert more often than he would like to.
In keeping with the sombre tone of Les Mis, ModernDay!Enjolras may not die but ironically live to turn into what he was fighting against in the first place: a corrupt, tyrannical and oppressive politician… Éponine:
I like to think that in the modern world, Éponine would be studying alongside Cosette, Marius and Enjolras in the same university. Although she is a scholarship student, Éponine would also try to earn more money for her family by working part-time. Unfortunately, in one of Enjolras’s protests-which-turned-violent, Éponine would be caught in the crossfire and shot by accident. The Thenardiers:
No big difference. The world would always have clever, sneaky and unscrupulous people who manage to get away with wrongdoings. Haha.Digressions:
I think I may have accidentally set out the scene for a ModernDay! AU Les Mis fic.