The Bishop’s Candlesticks – Norman McKinnel

The Bishop’s Candlesticks by Norman McKinnel is a play based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. In this dramatic piece, Norman McKinnel focuses much on the change that the convict, Jean Val Jean, undergoes. The Bishop was a very noble person. He was always ready to help anyone in distress. The doors of his house were always open. Bishop is not rich but shows generosity to all. He has donated everything except Candlesticks gifted by his dying mother.

The bishop’s sister Persome was like his mother, though she was younger. She complained that the simplicity and nobility of the bishop was being misused by the people. In her opinion, he was often cheated and taken undue advantage of. Mere Gringoire, the old woman who lived on the top of the hill and did no work made such a fool of the bishop by making him sell his silver salt cellars to pay her rent.

Theme & Characters
Theme – The power of Kindness and conversion

The Bishop’s Candlesticks is a fine example of kindness and reformation. The play dramatically depicts how the love and compassion of the Bishop brought about a change of heart in a convict and turned him into a man of promise for a good life. Though, the play being an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, it is much about the value of compassion and its power to transform the hardened hearts. Besides, it is a finger pointed at the life of the high-profile spiritual leaders whose prime concern is expected to be charity.

Lead Characters
The Convict – Jean Val Jean

The convict was a happy man before he was jailed but ten years in the prison transformed him into a wild beast. He had lost trust in humanity, faith in the Church and hope in God. He considered him a number that was assigned to him when he lived in the prison. Under the influence of the bishop, he makes a walk back to his past self.

The Bishop

The Bishop was a kind-hearted man who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ in the true spirit. Besides being a true Christian he was also an ardent humanist. He was ready to sacrifice everything to help the needy people. Even after selling all he had for others, he felt sorry that he could do so little because he believed that the world had so much suffering. He sold his salt-cellars and gave the money to Mere Gringoire so that she could pay her rent to the landlord. The Bishop thought that if the people pretended to be in distress and if they deceived him, it was because they were poorer in spirit and not he. His door was never shut and it was open for every passerby.


Persome is a little worldly woman, neither as selfless as her brother nor so noble. She did not like her brother live a life entirely for others ignoring himself. As a mother figure, she thought that people took unfair advantage of his charitable nature so was always on his guard. A woman in her place cannot be entirely blamed for her selfishness and possessiveness for her only brother.

Biblical References

The words that moved the convict. Briefly explain what the bishop said to the convict and the effect they had on the convict. Can you write what effects they had in him?

  1. “You have got your soul to lose, my friend.”
  2. “I want people like you come in that’s why I keep the door open.”
  3. “No one will come; but if they do, are you not my friend?”
  4. “That is a pity, my son, as the Church does not hate you.”
  5. “One must do a great deal for the devil in order to do a little for God.”
  6. “I am sorry for thieves.”
  7. “I think you are one who has suffered much.”

Opening Scene – Persome and Marie in the Kitchen

Persome, the Bishop’s sister and Marie their maid are in the kitchen. They are making soup for dinner. Persome is very angry because the Bishop is getting late. She pours out her anger upon Marie and scolds her for every instant. During their conversation, Persome gets to that the Bishop had asked Marie to sell their expensive silver salt-cellars to a rich man, Monsieur Gervais. Horrified, Persome asks Marie why the Bishop had sold the salt cellars and is informed that the salt cellars are sold to pay the rent of an old and sick lady called Mere Gringoire.

Questions & Answers
  1. How does the opening scene amuse the reader? How?
    The opening scene is entirely amusing. Apart from Marie’s foolishness, Persome’s short-temper is worth a giggle. The fact that it was Persome who behaved sillyly and foolishly strikes the reader’s mind only after a second thought. Persome’s eager anticipation for the Bishop’s return in the background of the flavors of the boiling soup and the cold outside brings in a homely atmosphere.
  2. Does the opening introduce the play and the lead characters?
    The opening of the play serves best as an introduction for the Bishop, his character and Persome and her impatience.
  3. What is the structure of the play?
    The beginning consists of the opening conversation between Persome and Marie, particularly on the sale of the salt-cellars, between Persome and the Bishop, on the latter’s kindness to the people. The middle, ending in crisis, consists of the conversation between the Bishop and the Convict, ending with the latter’s running away with the candlesticks. The Convict’s escape with the candlesticks constitutes the crisis. The rest forms the end. The resolution consists in the Convict’s conversion into a man again, and the Bishop’s parting advice to the Convict, “Always remember, my son, that this poor body is the temple of living God.”
  4. How does the play treat each character?
    There are only few characters and only one or two aspects of each are treated. The play treats the and goodness of the Bishop, Persome’s selfishness, her concern only for her brother and her attachment to the family property, the Convict’s distrust of man’s goodness, and lack of civility and the ultimate restoration of his faith in man’s goodness.
Reference to Context Questions
  1. “You told she was feeling poorly, did you? And my brother is to be kept out of his bed and go without his supper because you told him she was feeling poorly. There is gratitude for you.”
    1. Who is the she in the above lines?
      Marie’s mother is the she in the above lines.
    2. Why was the Bishop connected to ‘her being poorly?’
    3. Do you think that Persome’s agitation for Marie is justified in the above lines? Why?
    4. What for did the Bishop sell the silver salt cellars?
  2. “What, the old witch who lives at the top of the hill, and who says she is bedridden because she is too lazy to do any work? And what did Mere Gringoire want with the money, prey?”
    1. Whom does Persome call the old witch?
    2. Why is Persome angry with the old witch referred to here?
    3. What money is being mentioned?

Next – The Bishop Enters

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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