The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

Two Representaions of Fantine
  • 1830 / 1832
  • 1848

    Works Cited

  • Images of Fantine:Coquettish or Corrupt

     The Pictures below appeared in the 1887 Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. publication of Les Miserables, Hugo wrote the orginal in 1862. They are both of the same scene from Les Miserables. However they differ greatly in their interpretations of Fantine. Below is an analysis of each picture to help explain the different Fantines. 

    Pictures taken from the Virginia University Library's Electronic Text of Les Miserables located at (p. 182,


     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.

    Since 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.

    Before 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.

    The 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.