Jean Valjean, the Bishop, and grace in Les Misérables

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Excerpt by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables:

“Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.

“Monseigneur,” said the brigadier of gendarmes, “so what this man said is true, then? We came across him. He was walking like a man who is running away. We stopped him to look into the matter. He had this silver—“

“And he told you,” interposed the Bishop with a smile, “that it had been given to him by a kind old fellow of a priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake.”

“In that case,” replied he brigadier, “we can let him go?”

“Certainly,” replied the Bishop.

The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled.

“Is it true that I am to be released?” he said in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep.

“Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?” said one of the gendarmes.

“My friend” resumed the Bishop, “before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them.”…

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air.

“Now,” said the Bishop, “go in peace. By the way, when you return, my friend, it is not necessary to pass through the garden. You can always enter and depart through the street door. It is never fastened with anything but a latch, either by day or by night.”…

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:—…

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

Les-Miserables-book

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14 thoughts on “Jean Valjean, the Bishop, and grace in Les Misérables

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re more optimistic than my reality. 🙂 I’m 2/3 finished, enough to realize it is indeed a good book. (I’m catching up with the world’s already established opinion.) I read a little each day in it. I hope to be finished sometimes in December. I love the parts that are story; I muddle through the parts that are descriptive history.

  1. blankBarbara H.

    One of my favorite scenes! I love how the candlesticks show up every now and then in both the book and the film, both in veneration of the bishop and a reminder of the act of grace that changed Valjean’s life.

  2. blankLynn Severance

    Indeed, a key turning point in Jean Valjean’s life – recognition of Redemption.
    Judas sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver and the Bishop uses sliver to convey the deep freedom that Jean Valjean needs – gifting him in the natural with what Christ has gifted him with in the supernatural.

    I have yet to wade through the book, Lisa, but I commend you for keeping at it. You may want to reward yourself when you finish with buying a pair of silver candlesticks to have around to keep lighting up your life!!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I hadn’t thought of the silver metaphor like that, Lynn. Thank you!

      I’m still slowly wading through the book…it’s taken me several months to even get this far, but it’s been worth it. Some books don’t need to be rushed. I love your suggestion of silver candlesticks as a reward when I finish! I’ll keep that in mind.

  3. blankJean Wise

    I love this scene in Les miz. so powerful. I am reading to review a book called: 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables by Bob Welch. Haven’t started it yet but hope to get to it soon. have you seen it?

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it’s a beautiful illustration of grace in action, in a way that we all could do. Granted, I hope we don’t have that exact scenario. 😉 But we each have our own situations to operate out of grace.

  4. blankJune

    Thank you for this, Lisa. I don’t know if this will make sense to you, but Les Miserables has been one of those books/films, like The Passion of Christ, that I’ve been avoiding. They are so emotionally powerful. By sharing your experience with reading it, bit by bit, you’ve encouraged me. I think I may be able to handle it in small doses 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Actually that does make sense to me, June. I put off watching The Passion of Christ for a long time myself. I finally watched it one afternoon in the privacy of my own bedroom on my own TV. It was as powerful as I knew it would be.

      I saw Les Mis when it came out last winter–and it was very moving–but I want to watch it again once I finish the book. That will be one of my rewards for finishing. 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      The length of the book was a great deterrent to me, too. And it is taking me a very long time to read it, but part of that is because I keep reading other books in between, and I only read a little in Les Mis every day or so. I should probably just lay everything else aside for a couple of weeks and get it over with, but I’ll just keep plodding along at this pace instead. It’s kind of like watching a TV series–spread out over time.

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