Women in Need
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
Hugo, Les Misérables, Fantine Book IV, Chapter XI
Throughout his career, Corot maintained an interest in socioeconomic
inequality and attempted to depict lower class individuals in a
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.