Fantine As Innocent
Desperate, passionate, innocent: the
Fantine pictured above seems to be all of those things. The picture
does not depict Fantine as a prostitute who "has become
marble in becoming corrupted" (Hugo, 163). It illustrates
the scene in Les Miserables which Fantine "had again
become beautiful," as she begs Javert for her freedom (Hugo,
167). In other novels of nineteenth-century France, the prostitute
would not be depicted as a fallen saint, but as a lowly criminal.
Victor Hugo, however, belonged to the Romantic school-of-thought,
which was rapid in France in the mid-1800s. He believed in the
instinctive good of the common man, a theme that is prevalent
in Les Miserables.
the picture is an illustration of Hugo's words, it is an illustration
of the Romantic view of the urban poor. Although we do not know
whom the actual author of these sketches is, we can view them
as the work of a Romantic Hugo. At first glance, Fantine appears
to be a virtuous lady, her dress seeming of high quality, not
worn from wear and tear. The candlelight illuminates our heroine:
it's as if she glows with innocence, while the harsh government
(Javert) and cruel society look down on her.
her fall into prostitution, Fantine was the ideal Romantic woman:
virtuous and uneducated in life. Even after she falls into poverty
and is forced to prostitute herself, Hugo continues this romantic
depiction of Fantine as a woman of virtue, which can be seen
in the illustration. Hugo used his novels to challenge the traditional
perceptions of an honorable woman, and the urban class in general.
Romantic period in literature, politics, and society viewed the
French classe populaire as the heroes, not as the criminals.
As a Romantic, Hugo used Les Miserables to show that the
destitute in France are not impoverished because they are evil,
but because society has forgotten them. With his depiction of
Fantine, and other low-class characters in his novels, Hugo shows
that the dangerous classes are not so corrupt.
Fantine as Corrupt
Although the Fantine in the picture
above is the same Fantine, from the same set of pictures, the
artist makes her appear very differently. He focuses our attention
not on her facial expressions, as might be expected, but instead
on her lunge forward. Her leaning upperbody is just slightly
left on center, while her face is far above the center. Unlike
the picture beside it, Fantine's dress appears to be tattered
and torn as one would expect from a prostitute, and she does
not have the glow of candlelight to often her features and creat
the halo effect seen in the other sketch. Her dramatic behavior
and wild expression contrast sharply with the gentleman she is
lunging towards. Although we cannot really see his face, what
we can see shows a peaceful, sort of tranquil expression. His
posture in the sketch is also meant to convey peaceful intentions.
He stands with his hat off, held in the hand that is visible
to us. His stance is slightly open toward the audience, possibly
to make him a more sympathetic figure. In any case, the positioning
of his stance, and the presence of his hat in the hand closest
to the viewer make plain that he has no intention of physically
harming this woman. Fantine on the other hand, seems perfectly
capable of violence at that moment, she seems a desperate woman,
capable of anything. The other people in the sketch are a few
men in the background holding Fantine back. The way the sketch
is cropped, their heads are almost cut off at the top. They,
like the rest of the picture around them, are drawn in very darkly.
The darkness of the sketch, and all the men, including the one
in the foreground, contrast with Fantine, who is drawn in very
lightly. This draws even more attention to her, and makes it
clear that the artist wishes us to focus our attention on her.