The Archetype of the Fallen Woman

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality




Image of Fantine, from an illustrated edition of Les Miserables
Often 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 cores.

  • 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 his actions.

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 here.