Started and finished Book IV of Fantine at work last week and even started Book V, which I backtracked over to start again, along with the end of Book IV. That would be the chapter called "The Lark" which concerns the child, Fantine's child, Cosette, and her sufferings. This is the chapter the famous (Bayard) illustration's from, the one adapted for the poster for the musical--the windblown child. She is four or five and living with the Thenardiers, an awful couple and their two awful daughters; all of them abuse her, beat her, scold her; she eats their food scraps as she's crouched under the table; she's got nothing but rags to wear. Her mother sends money, more money being demanded all the time, for her upkeep; they make off with it. But Fantine can't have Cosette with her because there's no husband to make it alright to have had a child, and she wants to make an honest living. She sends the money, sometimes late, and can never get away to visit, not having the funds to do both. Cosette "grows" shy and puny. Her tiny hands are red from work and cold. Her life is awful. Before dawn she's sent to sweep the street, in her rags, in all weathers, with an enormous broom. The famous illustration shows her with the broom and her bare feet in a puddle.
Since I've started reading Les Misérables at work it's brought me to tears several times. Book V of Fantine had me crying while I ate lunch at my desk--I was reading, crying, and eating a sandwich, getting a lot out of that hour--but the end of Book IV and "The Lark," somehow, left me not exactly cold but certainly dry-eyed. I looked at the picture: what a great image; and what a great re-purposing of it was in store, selling that show. (I've never seen the show.) It's instantly recognizable. Reading and re-reading, my mind sidestepped away from the little girl under the table, the motherless child, to the icon that's been made of her, and from there to the icon's manufacture. Here I am, looking up the design team, and finding my way to the fine print at the bottom.