That winter, Fantine saved money by not having a fire, and developed a small, dry cough. By the following winter, her debts had increased. The Thenardiers wrote her a frightening letter in which they told her that Cosette had no clothes, and that they needed ten francs immediately to buy her a new dress. Fantine, who did not have ten francs, but who was afraid that her daughter would freeze to death, went to the barber’s shop. She took out her comb and let her blonde hair fall down to her waist.

‘Such beautiful hair!’ the barber said.

‘How much will you give me for it?’ Fantine asked.

‘Ten francs.’

‘Then cut it off.’

After selling her hair to the barber, Fantine was able to buy a woollen dress, which she sent to the Thenardiers. The Thenardiers, however, were very angry — they had wanted money, not clothes. They gave the dress to their daughter, Eponine, and Cosette went on shivering.

A few weeks later, Fantine received another letter from the Thenardiers. This time they wanted forty francs because Cosette was very ill and urgently needed medicine. Fantine felt desperate; she did not know how to obtain such a large sum of money. As she was wandering around the town, desperately trying to decide what to do, she noticed a crowd of people in the market square. She approached them without thinking, and discovered that they had gathered around a travelling dentist. Forgetting her troubles for a moment, she smiled at the dentist’s humorous efforts to sell the people of Montreuil false teeth.

Suddenly the dentist saw her.

‘You’ve got lovely teeth,’ he said. ‘If you sold me your two front teeth, I’d pay you forty francs.’

Fantine ran home, upset and disgusted. ‘My hair will grow again,’ she thought, ‘but teeth would be gone forever.’ But then she thought about her daughter, and her own appearance suddenly seemed unimportant. That evening, she visited the dentist at the inn where he was staying, and allowed him to remove her teeth.

Fantine could not sleep that night. She sat on her bed, cold and shivering, and looked at the two coins shining on the table. Then she gave a blood-stained smile. ‘I’m happy,’ she told herself. ‘My baby isn’t going to die.’

Fantine earned less and less money from her sewing, and the Thenardiers demanded more and more money to look after Cosette. Fantine spent whole nights crying. What could she do? She had sold her hair and her teeth; what else could she sell? And then she decided that she had no other choice: she would have to sell herself.

She became a prostitute.


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