|Victor Hugo, the creator of Bishop Myriel.|
I am only just into the book and I already love it. Unlike the musical the book begins with an extensive portrayal of the Bishop. In fact, the whole of Book One is about Monsignor Myriel, Bishop of Digne, and is entitled “An Upright Man”. Hugo paints a picture of Myriel that is deeply sympathetic, indeed nearly iconic. He locates Bishop Myriel clearly within the tumult of France in the 1800s and elevates a vision of Christian faith and charity timeless in its beauty and deep compassion. While viewers of the musical will be well aware of the Bishop’s act of grace towards Jean Valjean, the book has numerous other stories of Myriel’s witness to mercy. Here, for instance, is a section on Bishop Myriel’s ministry to a man headed to the guillotine for murder:
He [Myriel] went at once to the prison and to the [prisoner’s] cell, where he addressed him by name, took his hand and talked to him. He spent the rest of the day and the night with him, without food or sleep, praying to God for his soul and exhorting the man to have regard for himself. He repeated the greatest truths, which are the simplest. He was the man’s father, brother, friend; his bishop only to bless him...
When they came for the man next day the bishop went with him showing himself to the crowd at the side of the fettered wretch, in his purple hood and with the Episcopal cross hanging from his neck. He went with him in the tumbril and on to the scaffold. The man who had been so desolate the day before was now radiant. His soul was at peace and hoped for God. The bishop kissed him and said when the knife was about to fall: ‘Whom man kills God restores to life; whom the brothers pursue the Father redeems. Pray and believe and go onward into life. Your Father is there.’…
Since the most sublime acts are often the least understood, there were people in the town who said it was all affectation. But this was drawing-room comment. The common people, who do not look for shabbiness where none exists, were deeply moved.
With each page of the novel my love for it grows and my anticipation for the movie builds. The trailers that I have seen for it, and the initial buzz around early screenings of it, give hope that this will be a film worthy of the novel and of the stage production. I can't wait!
Greg (I've written some more on the idea of Christian Humanism and Les Miserables over at my other blog site.)