Friday, June 8, 2012

Defending Eponine Thenardier

(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.

Isn't Eponine's the same?

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.


Miss Melody said...

Heeeeeeeeeey, you stole my "whose initials are" line!!!!


Heehee. Couldn't resist. It MMG. ;) What else have you been saying during this week that I might recognize? :P

Anonymous said...

Sad that you even had to write this, but lovely job anyway, m'dear! =) Go, Eponine!!!

Miss Dashwood said...

Hahahaha... I didn't steal it! I learned thy ways! "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." :D
Now, now, I shan't tell you what I might have said this week that you would recognize... that would be cheating. You must read the posts for yourself if you want to find anything. :D

I know, I feel bad that she isn't appreciated more-- but I had a blast writing this, so it's all good. :D

Molly said...

Wait a minute! I thought Enjolras was killed on the barricade! I didn't know that he was executed!

AnnaKate said...

Eponine was someone I didn't fall in love with right away. I felt horrible for her and cried when she died, but it wasn't because I *liked* her-- just because it was so tragic and nasty and awful and pitiable. (Let's see how many despairing adjectives we can count in that sentence, shall we? ;)

But I've grown to love her. Not just the musical Eponine, who is an undoubtedly lovely character, but also Hugo's Eponine, who is a very different person. I'm glad to meet another fan. =)

Miss Melody said...

Very well then. I shall feel flattered. :P Actually, it is rather nice that you find some of my things amusing enough to copy. Bahahahaha. It is more funny to use when you're actually talking though, don't you think?

What?! SHNIBLY. You have no compassion on my poor nerves, no indeed, you do not, for I am sure reading the posts would tear them to SHREDS.
Not, of course, that I do not enjoy your posts in general, because I do, as you know. But I can only take so much Miserable Talk before I go mad. *smiles sweetly*

Don't hate me...

Emelie Claire said...

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P.S I love your blog

Alexandra said...

Ack! Me thinks my comment was eaten. Anyway. It was a long one and I don't really have it in me to re-write it (long day cleaning :-P) but just...awesomeness. Anyone who hates Eponine is just...that's wrong. Anyway. The end. :)

Miss Dashwood said...

He IS killed at the barricade in the musical--it's in the book that he gets executed. Tragic.

Why, hello there! :) Thanks for stopping by! I feel the same way you do about Eponine-- I didn't really like her at first in the book, either, but she grew on me. Now she's a favorite character. (I liked your despairing adjectives, too. :D) Which actress do you think did the best job of portraying her?

Miss Millicent,
Nope, no compassion whatsoever. *insincere shrug* Soary. :P
And of course I don't hate you, dearling. You will be happy to know that everything here is going back to normal this week. :D

Awwww, nuts. Silly Blogger. I hate it when my comments get eaten...
But I'm glad you agree. Eponine rules.
Hey, did you know her character is almost completely left out of the 1998 Liam Neesom movie of Les Miz? UGH. Yet another reason why I will NEVER EVER EVER stoop to watch that movie. Despicable.

An Old-Fashioned Girl said...

Great post, Amy!

Jemimah C. said...

Like most, I think, I did not like Eponine's character at the beginning. (Most of my opinions are based on the book, mind you.) She seemed like a brat who made Cosette's life miserable. But then after reading on, I realized that is was all because of the way she was raised. The Thenardiers are the last people I would deem as good parents. That's when I started to pity poor Eponine. She had lots of misfortunes and she loved Marius who didn't take much notice of her. But it's the ending with her death when I grew to love her character most.

Great post, Miss Dashwood! I'm glad there's someone out there who is defending Eponine. And you'll be glad to know that you are not on your own. *wink, wink*

Miss Dashwood said...

Thank you!

Jemimah C.,
Exactly! It wasn't until she died that I truly appreciated her... sad, that. Oh well, time to re-read the book and appreciate her from the beginning. :D

Anonymous said...

Soo... I got through the first two or so paragraphs before deciding to pull up the comment box so I can comment WHILE I read. : )

FOR THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!!! Heehee... I love random acts of Sir Percy fanship!


Ooh, The Book Is ALWAYS Better Club! I think I'm the, uh... treasurer. (See, if I could have enough money to fund movies that would follow the book... well, let me just say... I would.) And Little Women - oh, yes. My personal favorite would be a mash-up of the 1978 and 1994 ones. : ) Looking forward to that post, if you do it! : P

When Marius sent Eponine with the letter... *sob* I was like, "NOOOOO!!!"

Awww... poor Book Eponine. I like her much better in the musical, then. : ) Lea Salonga and someone whose initials are Frances Ruffelle - HA!! I've done that before. : P

Only SIX favorite characters?! I like all of them. : P But mostly Valjean and Gavroche. (And Javert...) And those two parents... oh, yeah. I already hate them.

What's a character with no faults?! A perfect character. Am I the only one who hates perfect characters?! (Forty sous... in the book, I presume?)

Awww.... Great. Thanks. Now I REALLY have to read the book. I have it downloaded... Sir Percy has just been on my bookshelf, saving people... argh. Decisions, decisions...

And, NO, Hugo wasn't perfect. The perfect ending would be that everyone lives and Eponine and Enjolras get married. Just sayin'. And, yeah, I do think that some characters are better in the musical or movie than they are in the book. (Eowyn, for instance, was better in the book than the movie.) But it can also go the other way. If I say I like someone who's really bad in the movie, but likeable in the book, people are like, "Whaaa?!" (Like John Thornton from North and South. I liked him instantly in the book, but I didn't like him in the movie until the end.)

And all the blood is gone - HA!! Yeah, AND her AWESOME coat is longer... (My sister and I have a running feud as to if it's actually longer. I say yes, she says no. Anywhoz...) And, yeah... theologically unsound is a nice way of putting it. : P Oooh!!! Good point!!!

*sits beside you* My plaaaaaace is heeeeere, I fiiiiiiiight with YOOOOOOOOOU!!! (None of that Nick Jonas Marius impersonation stuff here, either!!) And even if it's only on your own... : ( Stop making me cry!!

Ooh, video! Will check out soon!

Loved this post! BTW, do you mind if I do a defending post of my own?

Anonymous said...

Reading comments...

WAIT A SEC!!!! Enjolras is EXCECUTED?! AHHH!!!!! And he's blonde... well, that just ruins the entire thing. : P

I'm still going to read it someday, though... : )


Anonymous said...


I absolutely agree with you about Eponine! She's my favourite character too! Although I'm not so sure how much of it can be attributed to the heart-breaking storyline and how much is due to a certain Ms. Salonga's brilliant portrayal...

And you must allow me to tell you how much I love your blog. You and I seem have the same taste in literature, music and other delightful things. I shall now never get any work done today as I intend to spend the next few hours reading other posts!

Btw, I know this isn't a period drama, but have you seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries vlog series on Youtube? It's a pretty good modern interpretation of P&P.

Anyways thank you for starting this beautiful blog. Please don't every stop writing.

Love from Singapore! xoxo

Anonymous said...

Frances Ruffelle portrays Victor Hugo's Eponine, and Lea Salonga portrays Boubil-Schoenberg's Eponine. That's the main difference. Eponine in the book NEVER had a pleasant voice to begin with. While I'm aware that you are entitled to your opinion, please don't knock down Ruffelle simply 'cos her voice isn't what most people are used to. In fact, when Ruffelle sings, I can actually see Hugo's Eponine in front of me. Yeah, that's my opinion - Roxy

Emily said...

Checked out the video. It's pretty good. I know a little Spanish, but I didn't really follow it much. The stage musical version (vs the 2012 movie musical) is quite a bit longer and drawn out. I was rather disappointed that they shortened it in the 2012 movie though.
Eponine is, in our family, pretty everyone's favourite character! (Including one of mine - yep, I have 5 or 6 too!)

Anonymous said...

Hi!! I love Eponine, and your post! Im going to play Eponine this year and I am absolutly in love with her! Thanks for the words!!

Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this! I have so many friends who hate on Eponine, and now I can prove them wrong.

However, you did insult Frances Ruffelle and that is unforgivable (JK lol you can have your own opinions :D )

But thank you!

Unknown said...

I'm sad that you even had to do this but you did a great job. And another reason I like the idea of Eponine appearing to lead Valjean to Heaven was because they were so similar. Both thieves, but they both were some of the characters that showed the most love in the story. Eponine (Marius), Valjean (Cosette), Fantine (Cosette), Enjolras (Patria, France). I hate people bashing Eponine just because she was in love with Marius. And who can blame her for being mean to Cosette? All her life she had been used only for selfish things. It was what she had been taught to do. Who can blame her for following her parents' example? That's what everyone does. And so what if she was jealous of Cosette? Cosette was loved all her life. If you want to argue with me, fine. But Fantine loved Cosette so much that she gave her life for her. And after Fantine died, Valjean loved Cosette. And after he died, Marius. But good work! ;)