While the song "Come to Me" was probably not intended as a treatise on astronomical timekeeping or 19th-century French child-rearing, some of Fantine's lines (taken at face value) fit together for a remarkably specific implication about her daughter's bedtime. Cosette is roughly 8 years old at this point.

it's past your bedtime

So the bedtime is earlier than the "now" of the song.

soon it will be night ... Don't you see the evening star appearing?

So "now" is twilight, just after sunset.

Don't you hear the winter wind is crying?

And it is winter, so we know that sunset is relatively early. Because in this period I believe clocks were set locally by the sun rather than by time zones, the sun would be highest at noon and would set no later than 6 pm in the winter. The lines seem to fit together like a logic puzzle.

Is the month of Fantine's death known? Once source puts it in December, another in March -- both consistent with the "winter" reference. At the latitude of Montreuil-sur-Mer, sunset would be about 4:15 pm in December, reaching 6 pm in March. The expectation for 8-year-old Cosette to be in bed before 6 pm, and possibly much sooner, seems unreasonably early.

There are many potential ways to explain the apparent implications:

  1. Fantine is emotional and hallucinating as she dies, and her time references are not precise.
  2. Fantine has not been caring for Cosette day-to-day and may not know what a reasonable bedtime for her child would be.
  3. "Bedtime" might mean the time to begin getting ready for bed -- although in modern English it seems to refer to "lights out".
  4. Attempting a scientific interpretation of the lyrics is inappropriate.
  5. Or maybe the lyrics are actually telling us something interesting, that children in this time and place did go to bed very early by modern standards, perhaps due to the need to get up and perform chores well before dawn.

Is there any literary or historical insight on the interpretation?

  • 1
    I might also add 6., the requirement of poetic tropes for song lyrics to eke out maximum melodrama so that the tragedy of Fantine's death will spur Valjean to take responsibility for Cosette. Fantine could have sung about Cosette coming in from playing and setting the table for dinner, but her images are all about ending (evening/night/bedtime as the end of the day) and grief (crying winds). Fantine's life is ending, it's a sad thing, and the audience should be tearing up so Valjean's rescue of Cosette is a catharsis. Oct 26 '17 at 10:03
  • @LaurenIpsum Thanks, I think that could be a variety of #4, if artistic requirements determine the references in the song regardless of literal meaning. This would leave the question of whether the images create a notable distraction for the listener (like a mixed metaphor), as a child going to bed before nightfall is familiar but is associated with summer (see Stevenson's "Bed in Summer"), so upon being told it's winter some of us say "wait, what?" and think about what that would entail.
    – nanoman
    Oct 26 '17 at 15:03
  • My money is on hallucination... After all, Fantine is singing to Cosette as if she were present, which is clearly not the case. Invoking the cosiness and connection of bedtime, in a time and place where it was not uncommon for less wealthy families to share a bed, could also come in to play. Fantine is already in bed, 'night is coming' as things start to get dark, and she wishes for her daughter to be cuddled up with her.
    – Meg
    Mar 4 '19 at 16:18

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