Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Poor and Female in the France of Victor Hugo

Eponine Home

The Hospice
The Care
The Wetnurse
The Government

Charity Home
The Church
Frederic Ozanam
Government Aid
Women in Need

Women and Poverty
Living Conditions
Inside the Family
Making Ends   Meet



Amidst the poverty of 19th century France, undeniably difficult situations emerged. Lower-class citizens grappled with sustaining their families, living in squalid quarters, and avoiding medical epidemics. Even beyond these practical challenges, the poor faced prejudice from more privileged individuals who dubbed them "the dangerous class." Women were in a particularly delicate situation, as the prevalence of prostitution and rigid social norms further constricted their freedom. Subsequently, impoverished women inhabiting the France of Victor Hugo faced the dual pressures of class and gender, leaving them prone to a complex and distinctly unique set of vulnerabilities.




"The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilisation, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilisation. This is a mistake. It still exists: but it now weighs only upon woman ... It weighs upon woman, that is to say, upon grace, upon feebleness, upon beauty, upon maternity. This is not the least of man's shames."

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, Fantine Book IV, Chapter XI

Corot, Agostina (1859). Throughout his career, Corot maintained an interest in socioeconomic inequality and attempted to depict lower class individuals in a positive light.



The preeminent concerns these women faced included finding employment in a time of limited opportunities, securing a stable home life, and surviving the everyday realities that were inherent to the poorer districts. And while many suffered as a result, these women cannot be generalized as victims-- a significant number succeeding in transcending life at the bottom. Victor Hugo's novel, while its representations are frequently inaccurate, creates in Eponine a valid, complex, and positive portrait of such a woman.