Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Les Misérables Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Fantine: Summary and Analysis

The Fall - Summary
New Characters:
Jean Valjean: the main character

Jacquin Labarre: host of the inn

Madame la Marquise de R——: the woman in the square

Madame Magliore: the bishop’s servant

Mademoiselle Magliore: the bishop’s sister

Maubert Isabeau: the baker of Faverolles

Petit Gervais: a street musician from Savoy

One evening a weary traveler enters the small town of D—— in a western region of France near the French Alps. His clothes are ragged and torn, and he is exhausted from walking all day. The time is October 1815. He stops briefly at the mayor’s office and then searches for shelter for the night.

He visits an inn called Le Croix de Colbos where the host, Jacques Labarre, offers him dinner and lodging. Labarre writes a note on a scrap of paper and sends a child out of the inn with it. When the child returns with a reply, the innkeeper abruptly refuses service. The stranger protests until the innkeeper identifies him as Jean Valjean and indicates that he knows who he is.

Valjean next seeks shelter in a tavern, in the local prison, and in the home of a young couple. Turned away by all, he finally crawls into a hut only to discover that it is a dog house. Despondent, he wanders out of town and into a field. The barrenness of the countryside, the contours of a twisted tree, and gloomy light images reflect the hopelessness of his situation.

Returning to town, he finds a stone bench in Cathedral square and lies down. An old woman, Madame la Marquise de R——, comes out of the church. She gives him four sous and advises him to knock on the door of the bishop.

The Bishop of D——, his servant, Madame Magliore, and his sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine, are preparing for the evening meal. The women discuss the necessity of calling the locksmith to put bolts on the door. Madame Magliore has heard talk in town of the arrival of a vagabond and they are afraid. Before the discussion ends, there is a knock on the door and the bishop says, “Come in!”

Jean Valjean enters and immediately confesses that he is a convict who was released from prison four days ago after serving 19 years — five for burglary and 14 for four failed escape attempts. He has walked 12 leagues (a league is equal to three miles) from Toulon and is going to Pontarlier. He tells them that his yellow passport, which he is obligated to present to the mayor’s office, identifies him as a convict and prevents him from finding shelter.

Valjean is astonished when the bishop not only offers him dinner and a place to sleep but also shows him respect by calling him monsieur. The bishop tells him, “This is not my house; it is the house of Christ.” Madame Magliore places two silver candlesticks on the table and serves supper, which Valjean eats ravenously.

After dinner, the bishop takes one of the silver candlesticks from the table. He hands the other to his guest and leads him to an alcove behind his own chamber where Jean Valjean falls into a deep sleep.

Awaking in the middle of the night, Valjean reflects on his past. Born in Brie, France, both of his parents died when he was young. His father, also named Jean Valjean, was a pruner who died after falling from a tree, and his mother, Jeanne Mathieu, died from milkfever. Raised by his older sister, Jean was just 25 when she became a widow. Thereafter, he supported her and her seven children.

Unable to read, Jean too became a pruner in the town of Faverolles. He earned 18 sous a day during the pruning season. The rest of the year he worked in a variety of other jobs. During the harsh winter of 1795 he could find no work and the family had no food. In desperation, he smashed the window of the local bakery and stole a loaf of bread. The baker, Maubert Isabeau, pursued and caught him. He was tried and sentenced to five years in the galleys.

On April 22, 1796, the same day Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory at Montenotte was announced in Paris, Jean Valjean became part of a chain gang. While the iron collar was being riveted...

(The entire section is 4,000 words.)