The bishop works

Words: 1000+

Skills: Character Traits Summary Theme

Grades: 11th 12th

Topics: Historical Fiction and Political Writings

Genres: Prose

Lexile Range: 420L - 730L

Lexile Measure: 640L

CCSS: Reading: Literature

Themes:

The Bishop Works


by Victor Hugo from Les Misérables

CHAPTER XII passage: Often called one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” is the sweeping epic about the lives of several characters, including the ex-convict Jean Valjean. This passage from Volume I, Book Second follows one of the main themes of the novel: redemption. Students will read the passage and answer questions on character traits and the theme.

Reading Comprehension Passage

The Bishop Works

by Victor Hugo from Les Misérables
Imprisoned for stealing bread at the end of the French Revolution, Valjean is released after 19 years. Although he has money he earned in prison, no inn will allow him to stay because he is a convict. He sleeps on the streets until he meets Bishop Myriel who kindly gives him food and a place to stay for the night. Valjean mistakes the Bishop for a curé, or parish priest, and the Bishop does not correct him; he is known in his area as Monseigneur Bienvenu or Monseigneur Welcome. During the night, Valjean reverts to his old ways and steals the silver forks and spoons. He is caught by the gendarmes, or police. This passage begins with the discovery of the theft by Madame Magloire, housekeeper for the Bishop and his sister.

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 “Monseigneur, the man is gone! The silver has been stolen!”

As she uttered this exclamation, her eyes fell upon a corner of the garden, where traces of the wall having been scaled were visible. The coping of the wall had been torn away.

“Stay! yonder is the way he went. He jumped over into Cochefilet Lane. Ah, the abomination! He has stolen our silver!”

The Bishop remained silent for a moment; then he raised his grave eyes, and said gently to Madame Magloire:—

“And, in the first place, was that silver ours?”

Madame Magloire was speechless. Another silence ensued; then the Bishop went on:—

“Madame Magloire, I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? A poor man, evidently.”

“Alas! Jesus!” returned Madame Magloire. “It is not for my sake, nor for Mademoiselle’s. It makes no difference to us. But it is for the sake of Monseigneur. What is Monseigneur to eat with now?”

The Bishop gazed at her with an air of amazement.

“Ah, come! Are there no such things as pewter forks and spoons?”

Madame Magloire shrugged her shoulders.

“Pewter has an odor.”

“Iron forks and spoons, then.”

Madame Magloire made an expressive grimace.

“Iron has a taste.”

“Very well,” said the Bishop; “wooden ones then.”

A few moments later he was breakfasting at the very table at which Jean Valjean had sat on the previous evening. As he ate his breakfast, Monseigneur Welcome remarked gayly to his sister, who said nothing, and to Madame Magloire, who was grumbling under her breath, that one really does not need either fork or spoon, even of wood, in order to dip a bit of bread in a cup of milk.

“A pretty idea, truly,” said Madame Magloire to herself, as she went and came, “to take in a man like that! and to lodge him close to one’s self! And how fortunate that he did nothing but steal! Ah, mon Dieu! it makes one shudder to think of it!”

As the brother and sister were about to rise from the table, there came a knock at the door.

“Come in,” said the Bishop.

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean.

A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute.

“Monseigneur—” said he.

At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction.

“Monseigneur!” he murmured. “So he is not the curé?”

“Silence!” said the gendarme. “He is Monseigneur the Bishop.”

In the meantime, Monseigneur Bienvenu had advanced as quickly as his great age permitted.

“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 the 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.”

He stepped to the chimney-piece, took the two silver candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean. The two women looked on without uttering a word, without a gesture, without a look which could disconcert the Bishop.

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.”

Then, turning to the gendarmes:—

“You may retire, gentlemen.”

The gendarmes retired.

Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting.

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

“Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:—

“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.”

Passage Only

Reading Comprehension Questions

1. The Bishop said the silver did not belong to him. Who did he say it belonged to instead?



2. What was Madame Magloire objection to pewter forks and spoons?



3. The Bishop tells Jean Valjean, “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?” Why did you think the Bishop said this?



4. Why did Jean Valjean look “like a man on the point of fainting”?



5. What does this passage tell you about the character of the Bishop?