Lorettes and society
Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers
The Privileged Class: Courtesans
Defining the courtesan
Courtesans in reality
Lynd Ward c. 1935, from an illustrated edition of Les
click here for a discussion of this image
is the history of Fantine? It is society buying a slave. From whom?
From misery. From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment,
from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a bit of bread. Misery
makes the offer, society accepts. The holy law of Jesus Christ governs
our civilizations, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that
slavery has disappeared from the European civilization. This is
a mistake. It still exists: but it weighs now only upon woman, and
it is called prostitution."
Book 1, The Results of the Success
portrayals of prostitution in Les Miserables mainly centered
on the streetwalkers, forced to sell their bodies to keep themselves
and, oftentimes, their children alive. Rather than depicting them
as morally bereft and hedonistic, he chose to show them as desperate
women who had but few options left.
In the above
quotation we see a clear depiction of Hugo's sympathetic portrayal
of prostitution, and his view of prostitutes as "fallen women"
who are still essentially morally good.
- Hugo's belief
was that society at large was really to blame for prositution,
because it was through lack of education and poverty that women
were forced to sell the only thing they had left, themselves.
This is clear in the line "What
is the history of Fantine? It is society buying a slave."
The transaction is not seen as being between Fantine and her clients,
but between Fantine and society
- Hugo wanted
the reader to believe that Fantine was truly desperate and that
she had to choose between starvation for herself and her child
and prositution. "A soul for a bit of bread. Melancholy barter."
It was not that she was lazy or that she did not want to to do
unpleasant or difficult jobs. Prostitution was the absolute last
- Hugo's choice
of words demonstrate the truly desperate circumstances that Fantine
was in. "From misery. From hunger,
from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from privation."
It was only when all of these things fell on Fantine at once that
she turned to prositution.
politics and his own encounters with streetwalkers and his own mistresses
undoubtedly effected his point of view on the subject. Click
here for more information on Hugo's dealings with courtesans
and a few of his mistresses. And for more on Hugo's achetype of
the "fallen woman" click here.