Have you ever felt like Fantine? Remember her – that forlorn girl of Victor Hugo’s imagination? Hugo was a master of the forlorn, of les miserables. We live in an unfair world. That has been the case in my life – but life often favored me. My life was blessed with work and play, blessed with family and friends, and hammered by intermittent turmoil. A decade of blessings can be wiped out by one disastrous event. My life now crosses many decades. I fear there is not enough time to recover.
Some say, ‘count your blessings’. They might add, ‘make a gratitude list’. The reasoning is this, if we are focused on what we have to be grateful for then the horror of disaster seems less of a burden. The people who say those things do not know Fantine. Hey Fantine, make a gratitude list. The very idea mocks the heavy burdens of life. Would we ask a Jew on their last walk to the gas chamber to count their blessings? The idea is absurd. Sometimes we have to endure the pain, to allow the scar tissue to form, hoping the wound will eventually heal. Is there time? Is there time?
The imaginary Fantine lived in 19th Century France. Young and beautiful, full of spirit and adventure, she participated in a summer romance that led to her child Cossett. As told in her song, her romantic liaison was gone with the autumn chill. Left with a child in a Christian dominated society – she risked suffering total rejection. She left Cosette with an innkeeper and his wife, the evil M. Thenardier. Fantine found a job in a neighboring town, working in a textile factory, and made regular payments to Thenardier for the care of Cosette. As time passed the Thenardier’s demanded more money. Fantine complied. The factory foreman learned Fantine was an unwed mother from the cruel gossip of her co workers and fired Fantine – as might be expected by any noteworthy Christian. Left with few options Fantine sold her beautiful hair, sold her teeth, and resorted to prostitution. The modern musical, Les Miserables, has been adapted to movie form with Ann Hathaway as Fantine.
I read the unabridged Les Miserable twice. The second time I studied the style and impact of Hugo’s writing. Fantine gripped my heart with her troubles. Several screenwriters have attempted to bring Les Miserable to the big screen – I have seen them all. Les Miserable is an epic story covering four decades of turmoil in early 1800’s France. None of the movies have captured the power of Victor Hugo. No actor has managed to capture the power of their character – not until Ann Hathaway. I found myself choking with emotion as Hathaway sang “I Dreamed a Dream”. I related in a very personal manner. She reflected my pain at the horrors of a life gone wrong.
The words, ‘….life has killed the dream I dreamed” struck me like a hot iron on a cow’s ass. Pain can be branded into the soul. Four times in my life pain has reached the temperature of white hot iron, and I bear four brands on my soul. There is no elasticity in a brand, a life scar of dead tissue. Each brand serves to constrict, to limit the emotional options, to cripple the soul with evil horrors that can never fade.
Life has killed the dreams I dreamed.
From Les Miserable:
There was a time when men were kind,
And their voices were soft,
And their words inviting.
There was a time when love was blind,
And the world was a song,
And the song was exciting.
There was a time when it all went wrong…
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.
But the tigers come at night,
With their voices soft as thunder,
As they tear your hope apart,
And they turn your dream to shame.
He slept a summer by my side,
He filled my days with endless wonder…
He took my childhood in his stride,
But he was gone when autumn came!
And still I dream he’ll come to me,
That we will live the years together,
But there are dreams that cannot be,
And there are storms we cannot weather!
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…