After being released from the galleys after nineteen years, Jean Valjean cannot imagine how to lead his life in any other way than through theft and concealment. When the Bishop shows kindness towards him by giving him dinner and a room for the night, Valjean is shock and overwhelmed, but is still unable to prevent himself from stealing the Bishop’s ornate silver candlesticks and running away in the middle of the night. When he is brought back by the police, the Bishop exclaims that the candlesticks were a gift to Valjean, and that the policemen should let him go. The candlesticks thus symbolize the mercy shown to Valjean by the Bishop, as well as humility and goodness in the Bishop’s lack of interest in beautiful possessions and wealth. The candlesticks also reappear at various moments throughout the novel, as Valjean keeps them close to him as a reminder of the man and the act that began his transformation. That he nearly throws them into the fire at one point reveals just how closely Valjean equates the candlesticks with the Bishop’s system of morality and mercy—by keeping them rather than throwing them out, Valjean recommits himself to the new path he’s chosen.
The Bishop’s Candlesticks Symbol Timeline in Les Miserables
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bishop’s Candlesticks appears in Les Miserables. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Volume 1, Book 1: A Just Man
Volume 1, Book 2: The Fall
...to release Valjean, but before they do, he tells Valjean that he’d forgotten the silver candlesticks: the Bishop hands them to Valjean, who’s trembling. Then he tells Valjean that he must... (full context)
Volume 1, Book 7: The Champmathieu Affair
Volume 1, Book 8: A Counter-blow
Volume 5, Book 5: Grandson and Grandfather
...the sum previously deposited at Laffitte’s in the forest of Montfermeil, together with the Bishop’s candlesticks. He’s returned each time he needed money. Now he keeps only 500 francs for himself.... (full context)
Volume 5, Book 9: Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn