Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Why did the bishop give Valjean the two candlesticks in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo?

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In Victor Hugo's classic historical novel, Les Misérables, the protagonist, Jean Valjean, is first introduced in Book Second, Chapter VI, "Jean Valjean."

Valjean is described by the author as "thoughtful but not gloomy" and "decidedly sluggish and insignificant." Now in his twenty-fifth year, Valjean is living with an older sister, Jeanne, who has seven children. Her husband died recently, and Valjean has the responsibility of providing for everyone in the household, which he does "as a duty, and even a little churlishly."

In the summer, Valjean works as a tree-pruner, like his father before him, but it's now the dead of winter, and Valjean has no work. The children are starving, and there's quite literally not even a crust of bread in the house for them to eat.

Valjean steals a loaf a bread from a local baker, but he's apprehended as he tries to run away. Valjean is taken before the tribunal and sentenced to five years in the galleys—convict number 24,601.

During the fourth year of his sentence, he takes an opportunity to escape. He's recaptured, as he is three more times after each unsuccessful escape attempt, and his sentence is lengthened to a total of nineteen years.

After serving the entirety of his nineteen-year sentence, Valjean is released back into the same world from which he came.

In time, Valjean is taken in by the kindly Monseigneur Bienvenu, and, in time, Valjean steals Monseigneur the Bishop's silverware and runs away.

As the Bishop sits at breakfast (with wooden utensils) the morning after the theft, three gendarmes holding tight to Jean Valjean and his stolen silverware, and a brigadier of gendarmes appear at the Bishop's door.

“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?

The Bishop explains to the brigadier that he, in fact, gave the silver to Valjean.

“In that case,” replied the brigadier, “we can let him go?”

“Certainly,” replied the Bishop.

To his utter surprise, Valjean is released.

“My friend,” resumed the Bishop, “before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them.”

Interestingly, the reader was introduced to the candlesticks in Book First, Chapter VI, "Who Guarded His House For Him."

... [T]wo large candlesticks of massive silver, which he had inherited from a great-aunt. These candlesticks held two wax candles, and usually figured on the Bishop’s chimney-piece.

The Bishop walks to the chimney-piece, takes down the candlesticks, gives them to Valjean, and tells Valjean his reason for doing so.

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

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