I've always wondered what Hugo meant to symbolize by giving Valjean his incredible Herculean strength. Having studied some medieval romances, I remembered another convention involving great physical strength. In some stories (I'm thinking of some Arthurian ones), some knights believe that one cannot be strong/defeat their enemies without being pure (i.e. chaste). Once they lose their virginity, they supposedly lose their strength and prowess in battle. This belief is rooted in their Christian faith...that somehow if they sully their bodies, God disapproves, and punishes them by removing their strength.
Seems to me the case in Les Miserables is working in reverse. Jean Valjean (although not a virgin) experiences a religious epiphany in the hands of Bishop Myriel and is blessed with great strength. Then, he uses his strength wisely...to save people like Fauchelevant, instead of abusing it.
Of course, my theory doesn't work if Jean Valjean was always strong. Am I wrong in believing he showed great strength while in prison working amongst the chain gang?
What do you think? Is Hugo borrowing from the medieval chivalric tradition?