for Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
VOLUME I. FANTINE.
So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of
damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid
the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to
divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century--
the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman
through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light--
are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part
of the world;--in other words, and with a still wider significance,
so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature
of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use.
HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862.
BOOK FIRST--A JUST MAN
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 gallantry.
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.