January 20, 2013


The Cleric Behind 'Les Mis' : Author Victor Hugo was anticlerical, yet his tale's hero is set on course by a Catholic bishop. (DORIS DONNELLY, 1/03/13, WSJ)

As Hugo worked on the novel, his son Charles, then in his 20s, objected to the reverential treatment of the bishop. He argued to his father that the portrayal gave undeserved respect to a corrupt clergy, bestowing credibility on a Roman Catholic Church opposed to the democratic ideals that he and his father held. Charles instead proposed that the catalyst for Jean Valjean's transformation be a lawyer or doctor or anyone else from a secular profession.

The pushback didn't work. Not only did Hugo hold his ground, but he amplified the importance of Charles-François Bienvenue Myriel, affectionately known in the novel as Monseigneur Bienvenue (Bishop Welcome). The book's first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel's exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility--or certainty--that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

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Posted by at January 20, 2013 9:26 AM

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