Les Miserables on love, grace and forgiveness

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Excerpts from Victor Hugo’s amazing story Les Miserables

Courage

Not being heard is no reason for silence.

It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.

There is a determined though unseen bravery that defends itself foot by foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and dishonesty. Noble and mysterious triumphs that no eye sees, and no fame rewards, and no flourish of triumph salutes. Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.

For there are many great deeds done in the small struggles of life.

Grace

A benevolent malefactor, merciful, gentle, helpful, clement, a convict, returning good for evil, giving back pardon for hatred, preferring pity to vengeance, preferring to ruin himself rather than to ruin his enemy, saving him who had smitten him, kneeling on the heights of virtue, more nearly akin to an angel than to a man.

That men saw his mask, but the bishop saw his face. That men saw his life, but the bishop saw his conscience.

Hope

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.

Integrity

Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. . . . Jean Valjean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!

Success is an ugly thing. Men are deceived by its false resemblances to merit. . . . They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud.

What is called honors and dignities, and even honor and dignity, is generally fool’s gold.

Love

The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one’s own sake—let us say rather, loved in spite of one’s self.

The poor man shuddered, overflowed with an angelic joy; he declared in his transport that this would last through life; he said to himself that he really had not suffered enough to deserve such radiant happiness, and he thanked God, in the depths of his soul, for having permitted that he, a miserable man, should be so loved by this innocent being.

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness. We pardon to the extent that we love.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

Love is the foolishness of men, and the wisdom of God.

Spirituality

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.

. . . where the telescope ends the microscope begins, and who can say which has the wider vision?

Woe, alas, to those who have loved only bodies, forms, appearances! Death will rob them of everything. Try to love souls, you will find them again.

There is, we are aware, a philosophy that denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, classified as pathologic, that denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness. To set up a theory that lacks a source of truth is an excellent example of blind assurance. And the odd part of it is the haughty air of superiority and compassion assumed toward the philosophy that sees God, by this philosophy that has to grope its way. It makes one think of a mole exclaiming, “How I pity them with their sun!” There are, we know, illustrious and powerful atheists; with them, the matter is nothing but a question of definitions, and at all events, even if they do not believe in God, they prove God, because they are great minds. We hail, in them, the philosophers, while, at the same time, inexorably disputing their philosophy.

As we see, he had a strange and peculiar way of judging things. I suspect that he acquired it from the Gospel.

I must do nothing contrary to the will of God. And why is it God’s will? That I may carry on what I have begun, that I may do good, that I may be one day a grand and encouraging example, that it may be said that there was finally some little happiness resulting from this suffering which I have undergone and this virtue to which I have returned! It is decided, let the matter alone! Let us not interfere with God!

[The Bishop] did not study God; he was dazzled by Him.

It all seemed to him to have disappeared as if behind a curtain at a theater. There are such curtains that drop in life. God is moving on to the next act.

Monsieur Bienvenu was simply a man who accepted these mysterious questions . . . and who had in his soul a deep respect for the mystery which enveloped them.

The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it.

Truth

Diamonds are found only in the dark bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him that after descending into those depths after long groping in the blackest of this darkness, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it.

Miscellanea

Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labor and there is invisible labor.

Every day has its great grief or its small anxiety. . . . One cloud is dispelled, another forms. There is hardly one day in a hundred of real joy and bright sunshine.

He sought . . . to transform the grief which looks down into the grave by showing it the grief which looks up to the stars.

M. Myriel had to undergo the fate of every newcomer in a little town, where there are many mouths which talk, and very few heads which think.

We may remain more or less open-minded on the subject of the death penalty, indisposed to commit ourselves, so long as we have not seen a guillotine with our own eyes.

I advance in life, I grow more simple. . . .

Mankind is not a circle with a single centre but an ellipse with two focal points of which facts are one and ideas the other.

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