Les Miserables HTML version

Volume I. Fantine
Book 1st: A Just Man
Chapter 1
In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D---- He was an old man
of about seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see of D---- since 1806.
Although this detail has no connection whatever with the real substance of what we are
about to relate, it will not be superfluous, if merely for the sake of exactness in all points,
to mention here the various rumors and remarks which had been in circulation about
him from the very moment when he arrived in the diocese. True or false, that which is
said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their
destinies, as that which they do. M. Myriel was the son of a councillor of the Parliament
of Aix; hence he belonged to the nobility of the bar. It was said that his father, destining
him to be the heir of his own post, had married him at a very early age, eighteen or
twenty, in accordance with a custom which is rather widely prevalent in parliamentary
families. In spite of this marriage, however, it was said that Charles Myriel created a
great deal of talk. He was well formed, though rather short in stature, elegant, graceful,
intelligent; the whole of the first portion of his life had been devoted to the world and to
The Revolution came; events succeeded each other with precipitation; the
parliamentary families, decimated, pursued, hunted down, were dispersed. M. Charles
Myriel emigrated to Italy at the very beginning of the Revolution. There his wife died of a
malady of the chest, from which she had long suffered. He had no children. What took
place next in the fate of M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the
fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of '93, which were, perhaps, even more
alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the magnifying
powers of terror,--did these cause the ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in
him? Was he, in the midst of these distractions, these affections which absorbed his life,
suddenly smitten with one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes
overwhelm, by striking to his heart, a man whom public catastrophes would not shake,
by striking at his existence and his fortune? No one could have told: all that was known
was, that when he returned from Italy he was a priest.
In 1804, M. Myriel was the Cure of B---- [Brignolles]. He was already advanced in years,
and lived in a very retired manner.