The Bishop’s Candlesticks | Summary | Les Miserables

The Bishop's Candlesticks | Summary | Les Miserables

The Bishop’s Candlesticks Summary

The Bishop lives at a certain place in France. This place about thirty miles from Paris. He lives with his widowed sister Persome. There is a young maid-servant in the house, named Marie. The scene is laid in the kitchen of the Bishop’s cottage. Marie is preparing soup. Persome is talking to her.

Soup is being cooked. Mary is young and inexperienced in cooking, Persome scolds her for not tending the fire properly. Marie points out that Persome herself had made up the fire. She is rebuked by Persome for answering back. The Bishop is out in the cold night. It is past 11 o’clock and the Bishop has not returned yet. Persome is worried, she asks Marie and learns from her that the Bishop has gone to visit her ailing mother. Persomd is angry with Marie. She holds her responsible for keeping the Bishop out so late in the cold night by informing him of her mother’s illness. Persomé also comes to know from Marie that the silver salt-cellars were sold to Monsieur Gervais this afternoon. They have been sold at the command of the Bishop to pay Mere Gringoire’s rent. Persomé is greatly shocked. She was very fond of the beautiful silver salt-cellars. She is impatient with her brother’s reckless charity. He has given away everything he had. But for the little money of Persomé, they would have to starve.

[The Bishop enters. The Bishop and his sister Persome talk]

The Bishop enters the cottage. The warmth of the room comforts him. He notices that Persomé has been crying. He wants to know the reason. The Bishop tells Marie that her mother is now better and he sends her away to her sick mother, He gives Marie his own comforter in spite of his sister’s protest. He says it is extremely cold outside.

Persomé serves the soup to her brother. Then she starts complaining. She blames him for giving away everything. She rebukes him for allowing worthless people to cheat him. Persome says that a man should first love himself and his family, and then he may love other people. She reminds him that charity begins at home. In reply, the Bishop says that there is so much suffering in the world and he can do so little. He expresses his sorrow for causing pain to her unknowingly. Now Persome complains that the Bishop has sold away the beautiful silver salt-cellars. The Bishop tries to defend his action by referring to the most wretched condition of Mere Gringoire which compelled him to secure money by selling the silver salt-cellars to pay her arrears of rent. Persome sarcastically suggests that the Bishop will sell his candlesticks next to pay somebody else’s rent. The Bishop is very fond of the candlesticks. They were the last gift from his dying mother. He cannot think of parting with them. Persomé retires for the night. The idea that the candlesticks may pay somebody’s rent strikes the Bishop. He sits down at his table and reads.

[The Convict enters with a long knife in his hand. He seizes the Bishop from behind and demands food.]

It is midnight. The clock strikes twelve. The Convict enters stealthily from behind with a drawn dagger in his hand. He seizes the Bishop from behind and asks him to keep silent. He says, “If you call out, you are a dead man.” The Bishop is not at all afraid. He remains calm. He asks the Convict if he needs any help. The Convict demands food quickly. He says that he is Starving, he has not eaten anything for three days. The Bishop wants to get the keys of the cupboard, But the Convict is suspicious. He will not allow the Bishop to rouse other members of the family. The Bishop assures him that there is nothing to fear. He addresses the Convict as “my friend” and “my son”. But the Convict looks long and hard at him. He warns the Bishop that any attempt to play him false would mean instant death.

The Bishop calls out to Persome. He asks her to come in and give some supper to a poor hungry traveller. Persome is angry. She can not have sleep and she has to attend on vagabonds at this time of night. When she enters she is frightened to see the Convict and his knife. The Convict looks like a wild beast. The Bishop takes the keys of the cupboard and bids her retire. But the Convict blocks her path and harshly orders her not to leave the room. The Bishop gives some cold pie, a bottle of wine and some bread to the Convict. He begins to eat voraciously like an animal. In the Bishop’s cottage the windows are unshuttered and the door unbarred, so that any poor person needing help may enter easily. The Convict rises and shuts the door and windows. This happens for the first time in thirty years. The Convict asks the Bishop if he is not afraid of thieves. The good Bishop replies, ‘I am sorry for them. After having food and drink, the Convict becomes a little quiet. He learns that his host is a Bishop. The Convict begins to laugh, he uses rude and irreligious language. The Bishop sends Persome back to her room. Now they can talk more freely.

[The Convict tells the story of his life his past life and his life in prison.]

The Convict has drunk wine and becomes more talkative. He asks the Bishop if he can guess his identity. The Bishop replies that he is one who has suffered much. The Convict is puzzled. He says that he suffered when he was a man. But he is no longer a man, he is only a number. He adds that he has been in hell for ten years. The Bishop asks the Convict to tell him all about the hell. i.e.. prison. The Convict suspects the Bishop would set the police on him. The Bishop assures him that he will not tell the police anything. The Convict believes, and he gradually tells the Bishop the sad story of his life.

First he tells the story of his life before he went to hell. It was long ago. He was then a man. He had a nice little cottage with vines growing on it. He hod a loving wife. In a bad year he had no work, no food. His wife, Jeanette, was ill, and dying. He was compelled to steal to buy food for his sick wife. He was caught. He pleaded for mercy, explaining the position in which he had been forced to steal, but no one felt for him. He was punished with ten years’ rigorous imprisonment. The night he was sentenced, he learnt that his wife had died. The Convict sobs and curses all those who were responsible for his sufferings.

The Convict’s life in prison was full of misery. He says that he was a man once. The cruel treatment of the prison authorities turned him into a beast. He was chained up like wild animal and whipped like a dog. He was given filthy food. His body was covered with vermins. He had to sleep on the bare planks of the docks. And if he ever complained, he was whipped. He had to suffer all these for long ten years. They took away his name and gave a number in its place. They took away his soul and put a devil in him.

One day, six weeks ago, they were careless and he escaped. Since then he has been free free to starve. So long he was in prison, he got food; but outside the prison he gets nothing to eat. The prison authorities have been hunting for him all over the country. He has no passport nor any identifying papers. So he can neither find work nor beg. He has stolen the rags on his person; he steals food, he sleeps anywhere in the woods, barns or any other hiding place. They have made a thief of him. He again curses all of them who were responsible for turning him into a hardened criminal.

The Bishop expresses his deep sympathy for the Convict’s suffering and tells him that there is still hope for him, he asks the Convict to lie down and sleep. He calls him his friend and tells him that he is quite safe there. Nobody will disturb him. The Bishop goes out to get some coverings for him. The Convict notices the candlesticks. He takes them up and finds them to be made of silver. His greed is aroused. At the sound of the Bishop’s steps he drops in his haste one of the candlesticks on the table. The Bishop comes in: he sees what is going on. He says that the candlesticks were the last gift from his mother on her death-bed. He requests the Convict to lie down and sleep, and then he retires for the night.

[In the Convict’s mind there is a conflict between good and evil. He steals the candlesticks and escapes. But he is caught and brought back to the Bishop.]

Before going to bed the Convict asks the Bishop why he is so kind to him. He hates religion and the Church. He has no need of any Faith, Hope and Charity. It is no use trying to save his soul. He says to the Bishop, “Anything you do for me you’re doing for the devil.” But the Bishop replies, “One must do a great deal for the devil, in order to do a little for God.” Then the Bishop goes away.

The Convict is now alone. He takes up the candlesticks and toys with them. He feels their weight and estimates their worth. He thinks if he turns them into money, they would give him a fair start. He remembers the Bishop’s kindness and his attachment to the candlesticks. He feels soft. But he argues within himself that he also had a mother, and nobody cared for her when he was sent to prison. The Bishop is kind to him; but it is the duty of Bishops to be kind to people. Also his fellow-mates in prison will laugh at him if the Convict gets soft and does not steal the candlesticks. He must not get soft; he must not have any good feelings. In this struggle between good and evil, the evil finally triumphs. And he makes up his mind to steal the candlesticks.

The Convict takes the candlesticks, puts them inside his coat and goes out. The door slams behind him with a loud sound. Persomd awakes at the noise. She comes in and finds that the Convict is gone. The candlesticks also are gone. She raises an outcry, The Bishop comes in and enquires what has happened. Persome informs him that the man has gone away with the candlesticks. The Bishop is full of grief and he almost breaks down. Persome asks him to inform the police. She blames him for leaving the candlesticks with such a man. The Bishop admits his fault. He admits that he has led the man into temptation. The Bishop rejects the idea of informing the police. He would not have the man sent back to hell again. He is a Bishop: he should not have set so much store by any earthly thing. It was a sin, and he has been rightly punished for his sin. But Persome would not allow her brother to be cheated like a fool. She would not allow anybody to take advantage of his goodness. So, if the Bishop was not willing to inform the police, she must go and inform. She starts to go, but the Bishop prevents her. He says that the candlesticks now belong to the Convict. The Convict is a poor man; he has more need of them than the Bishop.

There is a knocking outside. A sergeant enters with three gendarmes and the Convict. The sergeant carries the candlesticks in his hand. The sergeant gives an account of what has happened. They arrested the man on suspicion. as he could not give any satisfactory account of himself. He is a strong man he struggled hard to escape. In the scuffle the candlesticks fell out of his pockets. They knew that these belonged to Monseigneur the Bishop. So they have brought the man and the candlesticks to the Bishop for identification.

The Bishop calmly says that the arrested man is his very good friend of his. He supped with him that night. He gave him the candlesticks. The sergeant is very much surprised to hear this. He finds it difficult to believe. The Bishop asks the sergeant to release the man. The sergeant hesitates. The man has not shown his passport and his papers. But the Bishop is firm. So the sergeant obeys the Bishop and releases the man reluctantly and withdraws with his gendarmes. Persome is still angry and excited. She calls the Convict “a villain”, “a scoundrel”. The Bishop asks Persome to retire to her room. At first she refuses to leave the Bishop alone with the man. Then she gets hold of the candlesticks which she wants to take away with her. But the Bishop sternly orders Persomé to leave the candlesticks on the table and move out of the room. Persomé obeys the Bishop though unwillingly.

[The Bishop and the Convict : the love and forgiveness of the Bishop wins the Convict’s soul-he becomes a man again.]

The Bishop’s love and forgiveness ultimately conquers the Convict’s soul. The Convict says he is glad that he could not escape with the candlesticks. The Bishop gently requests the Convict to sleep in the bed which is ready for him. The Convict declines. He must travel by night and get to Paris. It is a big city, he can be lost there to escape the police. The Convict admits that so long he did not believe that there could be any good in the world. But now he knows it; he believes in the Bishop’s goodness. The Bishop’s love and sympathy have changed the Convict’s mind and heart. He now feels that he is a man again, and not a wild beast. The Convict asks for the Bishop’s blessing. The Bishop gave him his blessings. He gives the candlesticks to the Convict and shows him a safe path through the woods to Paris. The Bishop imparts the final message to the Convict “Always remember, my son, that this poor body is the Temple of the living God.” With deep respect in his heart and holy tears in his eyes, the Convict repeats the words and promises to remember them.

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