In Praise of Love

S M Chen
6 min readMar 6

One of the acknowledged great novels of the 19th (or perhaps any) century is “Les Miserables,” a massive (over 1400 pages) epic historical work published in 1863 by French novelist Victor Hugo. It is widely considered his masterwork.

I was privileged to view (again) the 1980 musical “Les Miserables,” based on the novel, recently on a PBS TV channel.

The musical is one that always speaks to me in a special way.

Maya Angelou (1928–2014) American poet, once observed: “Life is not measured how many breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

I find the musical “Les Miserables” breathtaking. It is that stunning.

Hugo’s protagonist Jean Valjean is, to my mind, a human stand-in for Jesus, albeit one not without sin.

No one in the history of Earth has succeeded in living a sinless life other than one man.

And it took a sui generis man, a hybrid god-man — Jesus — to accomplish that.

I will make some comments below, which I do not consider spoiler alerts. Hugo’s seminal work is in the public domain, and, if you have not read it by now, you may never.

But that doesn’t mean you cannot be familiar with the story.

During a time of privation, a desperate Jean Valjean stole bread to feed the starving son of his sister.

Apprehended, he was sent to prison and hard labor for 19 years.

Then he — known only as prisoner 24601 — was finally paroled.

Wandering from town to town, he was treated as an outcast by villagers because of his history. They shunned him because they thought some of his wickedness might contaminate them.

He was finally taken in by a man of the cloth, the bishop of Digne, one M. Myriel, who gave him a good meal.

Valjean repaid the bishop’s kindness by stealing silver from the rectory upon leaving.

Discovered with the silver by the gendarmes, and returned to the rectory by them, Valjean faced being returned to prison, possibly for the remainder of his life, had the bishop acted in a way many of us might have been tempted to.