For some time, I thought that the circumstances surrounding Fantine’s dismissal from the factory were one serious advantage that the musical’s plot has over that of the book. It seemed that the addition of the vindictively lustful overseer better filled in the plot hole of why a woman could be fired just for being a single mother.
However, I’m starting the find Mme. Victurnien’s cruelty a more subtle and incisive commentary on the nature of misogyny. The hard, bigoted old woman, forever repenting of the ex-monk that she married, jealous of Fantine’s youth and beauty, today recalls the fact that practices like FGM are carried out by women. When social mores make people internalize that they are less than human, they can perpetuate those prejudices against similarly oppressed individuals so as to not end up at the absolute bottom of the pile. Thus, M. Madeleine’s would-be benevolent paternalism leads to Mme. V’s tyranny.
Mind, there’s still the problem that there were loads of single mothers around at the time; with Cosette’s age, Fantine could have easily claimed that her father had been killed in the Napoleonic Wars as were so, so many other men. It’s not entirely implausible that Mme. V was a proficient enough gossip that she sniffed out stories about Fantine’s past. Who knows.
So it’s still a moment that stretches credibility, but as long as it’s going to remain so, I’d prefer that it not be so pat as a simple corrupt authority figure.