With a single act of generosity and kindness, Bishop Myriel in Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Miserables, set in motion a cascade of good deeds that blessed the lives of countless people. Easily lost in this act of profligate kindness is the phantom promise that haunted former convict and petty thief Jean Vajean for the rest of his life.
I’ve attached to this post a YouTube segment from the stage production. In it the bishop tells Valjean that, like it or not, “I have purchased your soul and given it to God.” The price? Six heirloom silver plates and two silver candlesticks. The bishop did not ask Jean Valjean if his soul was for sale. With some holy sleight of hand, he purchased the rights and transferred the deed at once in perpetuity to the Lord. Jean Valjean stood agape, an uncooperative bystander at the sale of his immortal soul, his life here on earth and hereafter.
This catalytic event sets the entire novel in motion. Composer and dramatist Boublil and Schonberg captured all the tenderness and mystery of this scene. I invite you to watch and listen as the bishop exchanges a family treasure for Jean Valjean’s soul. Phantom Promise