Today on my lunch break I found myself reading Les Miserables. Indeed the book is very descriptive (for those who are not patient to get through descriptions may never get to the gold of this book).
Alas, I got to the part where Fantine has reached rock bottom (or what she thought was rock bottom). She had no more hope. Life had stolen all hope from her. Earlier we see a picture of her as a joyous young lady, full of life and dreams, indeed she had fallen in love for the first and last time…with a scoundrel. Yet from this love a child is birthed…Cosette (Euphrasie) and quickly becomes the central focus of Fantine’s life. For even though she has lost in love, she has gained a beautiful, angelic child…from which she must part so she can provide for her.
Fantine thinks she’s doing right when she leaves her daughter with the Thenardiers (evil). They are her undoing. As time passes they demand more and more money from her that never gets to her beloved daughter.
Fantine lived in a time when having a child out of wedlock meant she most likely couldn’t find a job (thus why she traveled so far to escape the stain of her past).
For a little while it begins to look like life has begun to smile down on her again…she has hope when she finds a job in a factory ran by a kind gentleman (with a dark past of his own that none know about, which he has risen above), a gentleman by the name of Monsieur Madeleine. Yet her past seeks her out and finds her all too quickly through a gossipy and hateful old women who I chose not to even name (I despise her character), and so the overseer–whom Monsieur Madeleine has entrusted to oversee the women of his factory–finds out about Fantine’s child that was born out of wedlock…and thus she looses her only income. She, however is resourceful and takes up sewing for soldiers, yet even that is cut short all too soon. Bad fortune becomes even worse until she is forced into prostitution. My heart broke for this lovely woman who lost all loveliness. And yet right when all seems lost Monsieur Madeleine rescues her from the worst. He had not known that he had been the cause of her problems, yet he sees his mistake right away.
There is a scene that deeply touched me today and it is the following:
“I have heard you. It’s all news to me. I believe it’s true and I feel it’s true. I didn’t even know you had left my workshop. Why didn’t you come and see me in person? But here’s how it will be: I will pay your debts, I will have your child come to you, or you will go to her You will live here, or in Paris, or wherever you like. I will look after your child and you. You will never have to work again, if you don’t want to. I will give you all the money you need. You will go back to being an honest woman by being happy again. And, listen, I tell you here and now, if all is as you say, and I don’t doubt it for a second, you have never stopped being virtuous and holy in the eyes of God. O, you poor, poor woman!” (Les Miserables pg 167)
This touches me on many levels. Here is a man. Here is a rescuer. Here is one who sees the wrong he has done and is willing to rectify his grievous error…he is willing to show mercy where no one else has. He is Fantine’s savior.
Why do I like this?
Well, how many women have been in situations like this? (Or perhaps not as bad but maybe quite close). How many women have found themselves single mothers, whether by divorce, or wedlock, or abuse, or unfaithfulness? How many of these women are looked down upon and are forced to work themselves to death and still life gets worse? How many? I felt myself relating to Fantine.
I had loved a man, I had loved a scoundrel. I married that man. I have three children from that marriage. I have endured his unfaithfulness, verbal abuse and then physical abuse. Then I was free. Yet I was not fully free because life with it’s burdens and worries and fears kept pressing down. I saw no hope. I only saw a life where things and people I cared about were taken from me. Yet there is of course hope. Hope endures. Perhaps at times that hope only comes when we are at the end of our rope. Perhaps we have to go through the darkest valleys before our ‘Savior’ comes.
Fantine gives me hope and Monsieur Madeleine perhaps is who I strive for. Perhaps that us women should know that that Monsieur Madeleine perhaps may in fact be our Savior…but perhaps he is not who we think he is…perhaps this man represents Jesus…or perhaps he represents who Jesus sends to us. Regardless of which…hope endures.
If you’re a single mother and you give all for your children, hold on a little bit more. This is what I learned from Les Miserables today (a lesson well learned).