The Dangerous Classes


"The Fringes of Urban Life"



Click on this map of Paris to see a larger image. The faubourgs that the "dangerous classes" inhabited are mainly in the southwest

  • The Barrières 

It was at the barrières, the outskirts of the city, colose to the poorest districts in Paris, that violence was most frequent and most intense. There, the most primitive, worst-paid, and least stable population settled scores. The lower classes themselves were the victims more often than the bourgeois. This was partly because the bourgeois didn't dare to venture into these dangerous neighborhoods. "The ramparts...retain in the landscape an eminent place...when they lose all military value, the barrière still protects the bourgeoisie from the riff-raff of the faubourgs." (Merriman, p. 8) Crime in the barrières was also prdestined by their proximity to the faubourgs.



This image shows the dark, mysterious images Hugo wrote about in his descriptions of the barrières


This image shows a neighborhood in one of the Parisian faubourgs.


  •  Saint-Marcel & Saint Jacques
The faubourg most deeply wrought with destitution and crime was the faubourg Saint-Marcel, "the sick faubourg". This faubourg was damned both in fact and in Parisian opinion. (Chevalier, p. 86) Here, the image of infection, illness, and death seemed more rampant than anywhere else in Paris (Merriman, p. 9) Another notoriously "dangerous" faubourg was the faubourg Saint-Jacques. In Hugo's words, "this place Saint-Jacques, which was, asit were, predestined; it has always been horrible." (Hugo, p. 627) The faubourg Saint-Jacques, a dumping ground for garbage and even corpses in the eighteenth century, remained notorious as a refuge for the pitifully poor, the unwanted, and the unemployed. It was also the site of public executions until 1870. This seemed appropriate to the bourgeoisie, who viewed the "fringes of urban life" with disdain. (Merriman, p. 10)


  • The Gorbeau Tenement 

The southern barrières were highlighted in Les Misérables, the point most strongly made about them being their association with crime. The four bandits that made up Thenardier's gang did their dirty work there. It was also the location of the Gorbeau tenement, where Jean Valjean and Cosette briefly stayed upon arrival in Paris as well as where Marius lived along with the Thenardier family. Hugo described the Gorbeau tenement as "admirably chosen for the scene of a violent and somber deed and the setting for crime." (Hugo, p. 647)



This image is of Thenardier's gang attempting to escape from police inspector Javert