We began by looking at Les Miserables from a 30,000 ft view. We looked at the story itself, at the life of Victor Hugo, at the history of France during the time period in which the story is set, at the spiritual overtones which are present in the story, and at what (if anything) the story has to say to us in this day and age. Now, we are ready to start digging in.
When Les Miserables begins, the very first character we meet is a bishop named Monsigneur Bienvenu. His full name was Monsieur Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel, but rather than attempt to struggle through all that, most people just abbreviated it M. Myriel. While he served as bishop, his parishioners called him Monsigneur Bienvenu.
Victor Hugo begins by giving us the history of Monsigneur Bienvenu’s life prior to serving as bishop, in the way of filling us in on the gossip that was going around about him back when he started out. He was the son of a Superior Court judge, and he devoted the early part of his life to worldly pleasures. But when the French Revolution broke out, that spelled big trouble for him and his family because of his aristocratic position. He and his wife fled to Italy, and there she died, leaving him no children. With all the turmoil in his personal life stemming from the loss of his wife and home and family, and from the terrors which were taking place back home in France during the 1790s, who knows what happened next? All we know is that by 1804 he was back in France and he was a priest.
He started out as cure of Brignolles. By then he was already an old man living in seclusion. But right around the time of Napoleon’s coronation, some business or other related to his parish (no one remembers exactly what it was) brought him to Paris, where he just happened to cross paths with Napoleon. Napoleon saw him and remarked, “Who is this good man looking at me?” To which he responded, “Sire, you are looking at a good man, and I at a great one. May we both be the better for it.” Talk about choosing one’s words well; the end result of this encounter was that Monsigneur Bienvenu was appointed bishop of Digne.
Victor Hugo employs some of his sagacious wit in describing Monsigneur Bienvenu’s arrival in Digne, where he “had to submit to the fate of every newcomer in a small town, where many tongues talk but few heads think.” Continue reading “Les Miserables 2: An Upright Man”