Victor Hugo on Slavery and Prostitution

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The following is a passage from Les Misérables. Hugo here is describing Fantine who has sunk to prostitution in her poverty,

"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."

I can't help here but think of the words of Isaiah:

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Hugo's chapter here is called Christus nos Liberavit - Christ our Liberator.

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