PROLOGUE: 1815, DIGNE
Jean Valjean, released on parole after 19 years on the chain gang,
finds that the yellow ticket-of-leave he must, by law, display
condemns him to be an outcast. Only the saintly Bishop of Digne
treats him kindly and Valjean, embittered by years of hardship,
repays him by stealing some silver. Valjean is caught and brought
back by the police and is astonished when the Bishop lies to the
police to save him, also giving him two precious candlesticks.
Valjean decides to start his life anew.
Eight years have passed and Valjean, having broken his parole and
changed his name to Monsieur Madeleine, has risen to become
both a factory owner and Mayor. One of his workers, Fantine, has
a secret illegitimate child. When the other women discover this,
they demand her dismissal. The foreman, whose advances she has
rejected, throws her out.
Desperate for money to pay for medicines for her daughter,
Fantine sells her locket, her hair, and then joins the whores in
selling herself. Utterly degraded by her new trade, she gets into a
fight with a prospective customer and is about to be taken to
prison by Javert when "The Mayor" arrives and demands she be
taken to hospital instead.
The Mayor then rescues a man pinned down by a runaway cart.
Javert is reminded of the abnormal strength of convict 24601 Jean
Valjean, a parole-breaker whom he has been tracking for years but
who, he says, has just been recaptured. Valjean, unable to see an
innocent man go to prison in his place, confesses to the court that
he is prisoner 24601.
At the hospital, Valjean promises the dying Fantine to find and
look after her daughter Cosette. Javert arrives to arrest him, but