On a bitterly cold day in February 1846, the French writer Victor Hugo was on his way to work when he saw something that affected him profoundly.
A thin young man with a loaf of bread under his arm was being led away by police. Bystanders said he was being arrested for stealing the loaf. He was dressed in mud-spattered clothes, his bare feet thrust into clogs, his ankles wrapped in bloodied rags in lieu of stockings.
“It made me think,” wrote Hugo. “The man was no longer a man in my eyes but the specter of la misère, of poverty.”
Illustration by Minnie Phan for NPR