(Please excuse the multitude of "Little Fall of Rain" pictures in this post...
I took a ton of screen-caps and couldn't bear to let them go to waste.)
I never thought I'd have to write a post with that title, let me tell you.
Because when I saw the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Dream Cast In Concert, I was under the impression that everybody loved Eponine just as much as I did. I mean, how could you help it?
*Amy climbs down off of Snobby Soapbox*
Well, I was wrong. It would seem that there are, in fact, people out there who don't share my exact opinion (shock of shocks) and who dislike Eponine. Now, I'm not here to point fingers at anyone or to belittle anyone's opinions in anyway, and blah-de-blah [fill in the rest of long boring disclaimer any way you wish]. But I AM here to defend one of my favorite characters in my favoritest musical of all time, and defend her I will! FOR THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!
Um, pardon me. Don't know how that last sentence got in there.
Now, over the past couple of months I've heard some flak about Eponine, and though I'm not here to make anyone feel bad (see above) I do want to refute those points about her, point-by-point. (Hmm. Redundancy.) One of the biggest points against Eponine is her whole heroine status. Some seem to think that Eponine is more of a villainess than a heroine in the book, and that she was made too nice in the musical. My opinion? Eponine is a heroine, and yes, her character in the musical is actually pretty different from her character in the book. And that's okay.
Now, all this is coming from a Book Snob to End All Book Snobs, I will have you know. I'm a diehard member (maybe even vice-president) of The Book Is Always Better Club, and if you get me started I will take you into a corner and keep you there for three hours while I enumerate all the reasons why any and all movie versions of Little Women are almost pathetic when compared with the original novel. (Hmm, idea for a post?) And yet, I do believe that Eponine's character is much better in the musical than it is in the book.
In both the book and musical, Eponine is the daughter of two of the slimiest and most despicable humans that ever crawled the earth. "Watch out for old Thenardier, all of his family's on the make. Once ran a hash-house down the way-- bit of a swine, and no mistake!" Monsieur and Madame Thenardier will stop at nothing to further their own selfish gains, and therefore they have no qualms about thievery. In the book, Eponine is an accomplice to her parents' knavish ways (at least at first), but in the musical she wants nothing to do with their crimes. "What'll I do? He'll think this is an ambush--he'll think I'm in it too!" In the book, young Eponine is cruel to young Cosette--in the musical, this is implied but never shown. "Cosette, now I remember. Cosette, how can it be? We were children together... look what's become of me." And in the book, Eponine is clearly jealous of Cosette-- after all, Cosette reappears after ten years only to steal away the young man Eponine has begun to fall in love with! In the musical, Eponine is not necessarily jealous, but definitely heartbroken. "These are words he'll never say... not to me, not to me."
In the book, Marius sends Gavroche with a letter to Cosette. In the musical, he (oh-so-heartlessly) asks Eponine to perform that errand. And she does it. In the book, Eponine comes to the barricade to be near Marius, and manages to save his life by running in front of a bayonet aimed at him (consequently getting fatally wounded herself). In the musical, she returns to the barricade to let Marius know that the letter's been delivered, and in the process gets hit by a stray bullet. In both the book and the musical, she dies in Marius' arms, acknowledging her love for him at last.
Boublil and Schonberg have been accused of romanticizing Eponine's character. In the book, Eponine is described as ugly and even repulsive. She's missing teeth, her voice is hoarse and almost masculine and she suffers from hallucinations induced by alcoholism. "Lovely, lovely, lovely." In the musical, Eponine is generally portrayed by drop-dead gorgeous actresses (um, hello, LEA SALONGA) and in most cases (with the exception of a certain young lady whose initials are Frances Ruffelle) she possesses a crystalline, stellar voice that moves the entire audience to tears. Eponine's definitely more likable in the musical.
And I'm okay with that, y'all. Why? Because I seriously love Eponine in the musical. She's one of my favorite characters (hey, I only have six!) and I can't help pitying her, admiring her and crying for her. Yes, Eponine's a sympathetic character, but that's not a bad thing. I mean, seriously, who wouldn't rather like her than dislike her??? We aren't so callous as to just want a character to hate on. (And hey, if you really do want characters to hate on--and I'll confess, I do at times--then Eponine has two parents up for grabs. Heh.)
Victor Hugo, when he wrote the character of Eponine, created a young woman who had some serious issues. She wasn't perfect, in fact far from it, yet she gave herself up completely at the end. Yes, she was a thief. Yes, she was jealous and even cruel. Yes, she lied. But might I just remind you to think about the hero of Les Miz? Jean Valjean was a convicted criminal. When he finally got out of prison, he stole candlesticks from the first person to show him kindness. Immediately after that, he even went so far as to steal forty sous from a helpless little boy (and subsequently beat himself up over it with remorse, later). And yet Jean Valjean's story is one of forgiveness and redemption.
I didn't cry over Eponine's death in the book until the very end, simply because I hadn't felt much for Eponine until that point. But then at the end, something happened that brought me to tears. With her last dying breath (literally) Eponine directed Marius to look in her pocket and find a letter from Cosette that Eponine had been supposed to deliver. She hadn't done it as yet... but then, as she was dying, she felt remorse for her jealousy and wanted Marius to have the letter from his beloved.
(Now, you could say that Eponine knew she was dying and therefore figured, "okay, what's the point, I can't have him, he may as well marry her", but I will not hesitate to label you a cynic if you say that. So beware. :P)
I'm returning to my earlier point (about Eponine being better in the musical than in the book) to say just one last thing... Victor Hugo wasn't perfect. (He made Enjolras get executed by a bunch of soldiers, folks. TIED UP AGAINST A WALL. Now that is just wrong.) I honestly believe that Boublil and Schonberg made a better Eponine than Hugo did, and you can recoil in shock and horror all you like (and even black-bean me from The Book Is Always Better Club) but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
At the very end of the musical, Eponine makes one last appearance (and all the blood is magically gone from her chemise. How on earth did THAT happen?). With Fantine, she comes to take Valjean to heaven. Now, this part of the musical is pretty theologically unsound and I'm not going to get into all that right now, but suffice to say that I consider it a fitting end to Eponine's story. It might seem odd on the surface, that Eponine would come to be present at Valjean's death. I mean, they never actually met except for those few brief moments when she delivered the letter (and was disguised as a boy anyways). But Eponine doesn't appear at the finale because she knew and loved Valjean. Rather, Eponine comes with Fantine because they both represent self-sacrificial love. Fantine gave her life for Cosette... and Eponine gave hers for Marius.
Take my hand and lead me to salvation. Take my love, for love is everlasting. And remember a truth that once was spoken... to love another person is to see the face of God.
So, you know what? If you love Eponine, then GREAT! Take a seat by me. If you don't, well, you're entitled to your opinion. I'm still going to defend Eponine... even if it's only on my own.
P.S. Oh, and please do yourself a favor and check out this video of "A Little Fall of Rain" in Madrid. I can't embed it, but it's pure gorgeousness and anyone who considers herself an Eponine fan--as well as anyone who doesn't--needs to see it.