these unfortunate things were carrying on also some of the secret
trades of darkness, and that from all this the result was, in
the midst of human society constituted as it is, two miserable
beings who were neither children, nor girls, nor women, a species
of impure yet innocent monsters produced by misery.
Hugo, Les Misérables, Marius Book VIII, Chapter
the first half of the 19th century, Paris experienced a combination
of demographic factors which contributed to a highly perilous
situation for the children who remained in impoverished families.
Poor mothers who neither aborted nor abandoned their infants were
often submerged into desperate existences with few options for
The lowest economic
classes experienced the highest population growth: 1/32nd
of the population of wealthier districts consisted of births,
as compared to 1/26th of the poorer districts. Social critic
H.A. Fregier supported a popular stereotype when he stated
that "The poor and vicious classes always have been
and always will be the most fertile." Vaccinations
were far more effective and inexpensive, contributing to
a higher infant mortality rate among all the classes, including
musical adaptation of Hugo's novel, as seen in this
photograph from the original Broadway production,
vividly depicted the strife and desperation of the
poor dwelling in 19th century Paris.
rates were exceptionally high. During the 1830s, rates of birth
outside of wedlock averaged 30%. At the same time, charitable
organizations began to redefine their mission and focused on serving
as "defenders of the conservative trinity: family, property,
and religion." Mothers with illegitimate children were generally
denied aid. The result was a city teeming with families who could
scarcely support a single child, yet were surrounded by far more
than that. Consequently, some were introduced into the harsh world
of child labor.
by Jeanniot for original edition of Les Misérables.
Like many of her peers, Eponine was subjected to physical
and verbal abuse from her family, although eventually
she learns to assert herself.
Many turned their
children out on the street to fend for themselves, forming
the gamin (commonly known as the street urchin) subculture
of Paris. Approximately 260 homeless children were apprehended
by police on a yearly basis. Other parents, frustrated by
the deficiencies of their lifestyle, and perhaps blaming
their offspring, resorted to physical abuse. Beatings were
the rule rather than the exception, and were not subject
to any legal doctrine: France's first legislation concerning
child abuse in the home did not pass until the late 1880s.
Finally, many, many parents opted to exploit
their children to bring in an income.