The Dangerous Classes

Gateway

 

"The poor and the vicious classes have been and will always be the most productive breeding ground of evildoers of all sorts; it is they whom we shall designate as the dangerous classes. For even when vice is not accompanied by perversity, by the very fact that it allies itself with poverty in the same person, he is a object of fear to society, he is dangerous."

--Honore-Antoine Fregier (Paris, 1840)

 This unit focuses on the so-called dangerous classes in early to mid-nineteenth century Paris. "Les classes dangereuses" is actually a label that was applied by the bourgeoisie as they made observations, and then assumptions, on the lower classes.

The bourgeoisie saw a tight association between the working class poor and criminals. They firmly believed that poverty inevitably led to crime. Gangs and thieves were at the top of the list of those who were considered dangerous, but this list stretched as far as to include even prostitutes and children.

Victor Hugo tried, in Les Misérables, to counter this perception that all poor were criminals. He maintained that many of those who were labeled as dangerous, including street prostitutes, courtisanes, and children were more unfortunate than criminal.

These pages show how the dangerous classes were viewed from both the bourgeois point of view as well as Victor Hugo's plea for social action on behalf of the suffering lower classes.