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
Image of Fantine,
from an illustrated edition of Les Miserables
in literature, authors use archetypes to define their characters and
to make them clearly representative of a certain idea or theme. This
is most certainly the case with Fantine in Les Miserables.
Hugo's sympathetic portrayal of prostitution as represented by Fantine
uses her as a depiction of goodness being forced into the shadows
by need and desperation.
- Fantine starts out
as the purest and most naive of the group, believing whole heartedly
that Tholomyes loves her and basking in the glow of young love.
The other girls are more jaded, to the point that Favourite, one
of Fantine's companions, simultaneously tells Blacheville that
she would not know how to live if he ever decided he no longer
loved her, while telling Dahlia about the new man she is smitten
with. Fantine contrasts this with her utter purity in the face
of a harsh world.
- Fantine is also not
sheltered the way Cosette is, and yet remains terribly sweet and
innocent until Tholomyes leaves her with infant Cosette and she
is forced to degrade herself to keep the two of them alive.
- Even when Fantine
has descended to her lowest depths, she still maintains an innocence
that comes from her spirit. Hugo created the character as a way
to prove that even people who are forced into situations that
are not approved of by society, they can still be good at their
- Fantine is, in many
ways, the "every woman." Her situation comes about in
such a way that the reader feels, especially at the time of publication,
that it could easily happen to themselves or someone they know.
She does not end up being forced to sell her body because of stupidity,
wanton behavior, or lack of morals. She is taken advantage of
by someone she trusted and is left to suffer the consequnces of
Hugo used Fantine and
the other lower class characters in the novel to humanise the face
of crime in France. Though the middle and upper classes often did
not want to face the problem, it is true that it was far easier
to find yourself forced into life on the streets as a criminal or
prostitute than many would admit.
To see a visual representation of the fallen woman, click