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BOOK FOURTH: Entrust is Sometimes to Abandon
Fantine has been abandoned for nearly two years. She has sold all of her own finery, keeping only bare essentials in an attempt to care for her baby Cosette. She decides to return to her native town, called simply M-sur-m, but on the way she happens across Madame Thenardier who is sitting outside an inn with her own two children. The youngest child is the same age as Cosette and the children seem to play well together. The Thenardiers agree to keep Cosette for a monthly fee-which soon goes up-some additional expenses and her wardrobe. Fantine sends money faithfully, but as the child grows, the Thenardiers soon abuse and neglect Cosette, even to the point of using her as a slave. Fantine never knows her child’s true condition.
The introduction of the Thenardiers into the story brings in an evil element that will become a complication for Valjean more than for Cosette. Although they have the care of her for several years, they really have no affection or interest in her. When Valjean appears on the scene and unwittingly displays a contradiction between his appearance and his actual financial situation, the ground is laid for Thenardier to attempt his fraudulent practices at every opportunity. Thenardier himself is the lowest of unsavory elements, and the loss of his inn will eventually reveal his true character. The Thenardiess is no better, but is subject to her husband; thus she exercises her own cruel nature on Cosette and neglects her own son.