Les Miserables: Novel Summary: Section 1 – Book 4

 Section 1 – Fantine
Book Four – To Trust is Sometimes to Surrender
Time passes. Fantine, who is illiterate, has a functionary write three letters to Tholomys but receives no reply. She has a daughter whom she names Euphraise but calls Cosette and over time she sells all her fine things to provide fine clothes for her daughter. Though she has no relatives, she decides to leave Paris to seek work in Montreuil-sur-mer where she was raised. In Montfermeil just outside of Paris she comes across an old inn decorated with a sign depicting a soldier carrying a wounded general off a field of battle. She notices the proprietress sitting outside with her two small daughters and the two women converse while the children play. The woman introduces herself as Madame Thenardier and explains that she and her husband own the inn. Fantine explains that her husband is dead and she is returning home to seek work. Noticing how happily the children are playing together Fantine suddenly asks if Madame Thenardier will take her daughter while she goes to find work since the factories will not hire her if she has a child. She offers to pay at which point Monsieur Thenardier enters the discussion and demands seven francs a month, six months paid in advance plus an extra fifteen francs for the first expenses. Though it nearly exhausts all her money Fantine agrees and the next morning she tearfully bids farewell to Cosette. After she leaves the Thenardiers show their true nature as they discuss the manner in which Fantines money will be used to pay off their debt. The next month they pawn Cosettes fine clothing and dress her in rags, feed her as though she were a dog and make her work from sunup to well past sundown. Meanwhile, Fantine finds work and has letters sent often to which the Thenardiers respond that her daughter is doing very well. After a year, Thenardier ups the fee to twelve francs a months and Fantine sends it. The following year the fee increases to fifteen francs a month and Fantine sends that as well. After some time, however, she became remiss in her payments. All this time Cosette is bullied by the other girls and becomes thin and miserable. The Thenardiers nickname her the Lark.
In Book Three, Hugo has shown that the wealthy class has no compassion for the working class and tends to use them to satisfy their own needs. In Book Four, he shows that even within the same class, compassion does not exist. Even though the Thenardiers could relate to Fantine, they take advantage of her by taking her money and mistreating Cosette.