Not only is she one of the most sympathetic characters in literature, she is also the woman responsible for my favourite song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” in my favourite musical, Les Misérables.
Fantine is in some ways the archetype of the ultimate mother, a woman deserted by a callous man, only to raise her little Cosette all on her own. However, she has no money to support herself and soon turns to prostitution to raise her daughter, going so far as to sell her teeth and hair. Along the way, she loses her beauty, her health and, finally, her hope.
This is what she reflects upon while singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song most recently popularized by Susan Boyle. Yet it’s the video below, in which Anne Hathaway sings the same song, which I believe best captures the pain Victor Hugo was trying to infuse into Fantine. It’s a tragedy that has resonated with audiences for years, but this particular version is especially poignant. And for me, it sings with the magic of melding art and music, something so difficult to do for any performer in any age.
As an aside, if you missed this live performance at the 2013 Oscars of the entire Les Mis crew, watch it. It’s pretty spectacular.