Valjean

A bishop transforms a convict with grace

Valjean
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Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" tells a story of metamorphosis. Jean Valjean, once a hardened ex-convict, emerges as an exemplar of kindness and leadership in the small town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Under the alias Monsieur Madeleine, he creates manufacturing jobs. As mayor, he improves the schools and hospitals.
How do you imagine Victor Hugo transforms a cruel man into a compassionate mayor? It was a brief encounter that laid the bedrock for this transformation. What sort of brief moment can reverse the current of life? Examine it for yourself or for one of your characters.
Victor Hugo chose grace as the bedrock of Valjean's transformation. Let's go back several years and examine the scene... Bishop Bienvenu has recently been robbed of his household silver by Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who was given shelter at the Bishop's home.
Despite the theft, the Bishop shows no concern. > I think I was wrong to keep [the silver] so long. It belonged to the poor. And what was that man if not one of them?
'But Monseigneur – what will Monseigneur eat with now?' He looked at her in seeming astonishment. 'There is always pewter.' 'Pewter smells.' 'Well then, iron.' 'Iron has a taste.' 'Then,' said the bishop, 'wooden forks and spoons.'
As the brother and sister were in the act of rising from the table a knock sounded on the door and the bishop called, 'Come in!' The door opened to disclose a dramatic group. Three men were holding a fourth by the arms and neck. The three were gendarmes; the fourth was Jean Valjean.
A sergeant of gendarmes, who had been standing by the door and was evidently in charge of the party, entered the room and saluted. Monseigneur Bienvenu was meanwhile coming towards them as rapidly as his age allowed.
'So here you are!' he cried to Valjean. 'I'm delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They're silver like the rest, and worth a good two hundred francs. Did you forget to take them?' Jean Valjean's eyes had widened. He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey.
He fetched [the candlesticks] from the mantelpiece and handed them to Valjean. The two women watched him do so without seeking by word or look to interfere. Valjean was trembling. He took the candlesticks mechanically and with a distracted air. And now,' said the bishop, 'go in peace.'
The gendarmes withdrew. Valjean stayed motionless as though he were on the verge of collapse. The bishop came up to him and said in a low voice: 'Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.'
!!'Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.'
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Create a brief encounter that changes the current of a character's inner life. Pack a lifelong transformation into a tiny seed.

Story From

Victor Hugo Collection