A month or so ago, I figured I would jump on the bandwagon and read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’s free on Kindle, which means it’s free on the app on my phone, but I only got about a fourth of the book finished before reading on a tiny, backlit screen made me crazy.
The whole first part of the book is called Monseigneur Bienvenu, and it’s almost totally omitted from the film and play, but that part has stayed with me long after I put my phone down.
The bishop has a somewhat questionable past, but now he passes his life as a country bishop, loving the poor and helping the people around him. This is what the narrator says about him:
“There are men who toil at extracting gold; he toiled at the extraction of pity. Universal misery was his mine. The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an excuse for unfailing kindness. Love each other; he declared this to be complete, desired nothing further, and that was the whole of his doctrine.”
He sleeps with his door open, and if his sister and maid (who live with him) say it’s too dangerous, he tells them the house isn’t his – it’s God’s. If anyone needs to come in to sleep, they should be able to, and God will protect them.
He only spends a tenth of his salary and gives the rest to the poor. All of this explains why he decides to help a poor ex-convict named Jean Valjean who shows up at his house.
The bishop holds onto only one luxury from his former life – silver candlesticks and silverware. Jean Valjean steals the silverware, gets caught, and is brought back to the bishop.
Like in this clip from the movie, the bishop tells the soldiers he gave Valjean the silver and then gives him the candlesticks. The bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to become an honest man. When the bishop’s sister and maid protest, he says he had been holding onto the silver for too long anyway when it really belonged to God.
The bishop’s attitude about his earthly possessions is what has really stuck with me. What if I really thought everything I owned belonged to God and not to me? What if I was willing to share everything I had in order to love someone, like Monseigneur Bienvenu?
Jean Valjean, though he was extremely sketchy, eventually became a defender of the helpless and a father to an orphan and was able to show grace to even the worst person because of what the bishop did for him. Who knows what could happen if we cared so little about earthly things that we could look to help someone in need at a moment’s notice?
P.S. The book is way better than the film. Not only does it have better content, but the technical issues and bad production of the film almost made me lose my mind.