At this point I will just let Victor Hugo speak for himself for a few paragraphs.
What is the story of Fantine about? It is about society buying a slave.
From whom? From misery.
From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from desertion, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a piece of bread. Misery makes the offer; society accepts.
The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it. They say that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. That is incorrect. It still exists, but now it weighs only on women, and it is called prostitution.
It weighs on women, that is to say, on grace, frailty, beauty, motherhood. This is not the least among man’s shames.
At this stage in the mournful drama, Fantine has nothing left of what she had formerly been. She has turned to marble in becoming corrupted. Whoever touches her feels a chill. She goes her way, she endures you, she ignores you; she is the incarnation of dishonor and severity. Life and the social order have spoken their last word to her. All that can happen to her has happened. She has endured all, borne all, experienced all, suffered all, lost all, wept for all. She is resigned, with that resignation resembling indifference as death resembles sleep. She shuns nothing now. She fears nothing now. Every cloud falls on her, and the whole ocean sweeps over her! What does it matter to her? The sponge is already saturated.
So she believed at least, but it is wrong to imagine that one can exhaust one’s destiny or fully plumb the depths of anything.
Alas! What are all those destinies driven helter-skelter? Where do they go? Why are they what they are?
He who knows that sees all darkness.
He is alone. His name is God.