“There are men who toil at extracting gold; he toiled at the extraction of pity. Universal misery was his mine. The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an excuse for unfailing kindness. Love each other; he declared this to be complete, desired nothing further, and that was the whole of his doctrine.”

Bishop Myriel serves as the epitome of honesty and goodness. This passage from the second book of “Fantine” exemplifies his mission in life: to spread love, and to seek out those who are suffering in particular so that he may offer them compassion. Some men are motivated by greed; the Bishop is motivated by a desire to see something in everyone, even the most miserable man, that is worthy of pity and therefore kindness.

“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves.”

In Book 1 of “Fantine,” following an incident involving a bandit named Cravatte, Bishop Myriel says that physical threats posed by the likes of Cravatte are not nearly as dangerous as prejudice and vice, which threaten not the body but the soul. This is indicative of the Bishop’s conviction that mercy and compassion are most important, as they combat the real “great dangers”—those that “lie within ourselves.”

“This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours.”

When Valjean arrives at the house, Bishop Myriel’s insistence that Valjean stay with them and pay for nothing reflects his wider outlook. He believes Valjean’s name and where he comes from don’t matter as much as his need, and that the Bishop’s own home—or rather, God’s home, as he refers to it—is open to anyone and everyone. The Bishop serves as an obvious contrast to the innkeepers who previously turned Valjean away; they needed hardly any reason to reject Valjean, and the Bishop needs none to invite him in. That Valjean proceeds to take the Bishop’s silver anyway is a testament to how far he has fallen.