Women in Need
Inside the Family
Making Ends Meet
like forests, have their dens in which hide all their vilest and
most terrible monsters. But in cities, what hides thus is ferocious,
unclean, and petty, that is to say, ugly; in forests, what hides
is ferocious, savage, and grand, that is to say, beautiful. Den
for den, those of beasts are preferable to those of men. Caverns
are better than the wretched holes which shelter humanity."
Hugo, Les Misérables, Marius Book VIII, Chapter VI
exactly, did these struggling women live? What distinguished their
geographic environment? To begin with, in 19th century Paris, approximately
3% of women lived nowhere at all except the street, while 25% dwelt
with friends and relatives, and 20% in the households where they
were employed. The remaining group was confined to decidedly undesirable
to 1852, Paris' poor were concentrated in the ancient center of the
city, where narrow streets, tall medieval buildings in a state of
disrepair, and an utter lack of sanitation became the standard. The
dilapidated faubourg Saint-Jacques and the faubourg Saint-Marcel stood
in such marked contrast to the more fashionable faubourg Saint-Marcel
that visitors claimed they "seemed to belong to some other city."
This manifestation of socioeconomic disparity increased dramatically
restructured the city.
Rose in Misery,
for original edition of Les
Hugo's graphic description of the room inhabited by Eponine and
her family is scarcely and exaggeration. For many poor residents,
the City of Lights was submerged in darkness-- their squalid homes
were miserable places indeed.
studying the conditions of the poor, Louis Chevalier took pains to
observe their quarters. "In the quartier Popincourt alone,"
he wrote in Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes, "7,000
workers, who with their families, make up 4/5 of the population, live
in overcrowded rooms, and great masses of them are exposed to every
sort of misery. Their distress is inconceivable."
housing was so substandard, it complicated the pressures facing
working class women and their families. Living in such close quarters
increased tension within the family unit, created a more perilous
environment for children, intensified
health risks associated with contamination and contagion, and persistently
demoralized the inhabitants. Somehow, despite this, a fragile but
intact domestic structure emerged within
the poor of the 19th century.