Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Long Rant About Eponine

[Sorry for all the pictures in this post. I found some Les Miserables illustrations on Bing, and went a little crazy, I guess.]

While reading the book, I was really looking forward to reaching Eponine. I actually flipped to the chapter where she comes in and dog eared it so that I could keep track of where I was in relation to it. (To be fair, that's around the halfway mark in the book, so it was also a way to record my progress. Trust me.)

A very young girl was standing in the half-open door. The dormer window of the garret, though which the light fell, was precisely opposite the door, and illuminated the figure with a wan light. She was a frail, emaciated, slender creature; there was nothing but a chemise and a petticoat upon that chilled and shiver nakedness. Her girdle was a string, her head ribbon a string, her pointed shoulders emerged from her chemise, a blond and lymphatic pallor, earth-collar bones, red hands, a half-open and degraded mouth, missing teeth, dull, bold, base eyes; she had the form of a young girl who has missed her youth, and the look of a corrupt old woman; fifty years mingled with fifteen; one of those beings which are both feeble and horrible, and which cause those to shudder whom they do not cause to weep.
-Volume III, Book Eight, Chapter Four- A Rose in Misery

Yikes, that's a pretty chilling description, yeah? A little shocking, since most of the time in the musical, Eponine looks something like this.

As the book went on, I noticed that Eponine from the book is radically different from Eponine in the musical.
In the musical, Eponine is a very sweet, shy girl, who does her best to be a good person despite her scumbag family. She's in love with her friend Marius, who is blind to her true feelings. As she laments frequently.
Little he knows, little he sees...
-Les Miserables Act I, The Robbery
Little you know, little you care...
-Les Miserables Act II, Building the Barricade

As you know, Marius falls in love with a young lady named Cosette, and Eponine is shot while on the way back to the barricade after an errand. Which was taking a letter to Cosette for Marius.
Why would she do that? Because Eponine loves him so much that she's willing to throw her own chance of happiness away, if it means he will be happy. That's some pretty strong love. And yes, I choose to think that it's real love, not some mopey teen crush. Because if Eponine was that shallow, she'd have found some other man to moon over.
As much as I like Eponine in the musical, she is far more complicated in the book.

In the book, Marius is probably the first man- or person, for that matter- in a long time who's treated Eponine with courtesy and respect. So for that reason, she clings to him like a lifeline. Marius is the only thing keeping her from going the same way as her parents. Once she meets Marius, Eponine does her best to be a decent person and be more than what she seems doomed to be.

It is remarkable that Eponine did not speak in Argot. That frightful tongue had become impossible to her since she had known Marius.
Volume IV, Book Eight, Chapter Four- A Dog runs in English and barks in Argot
Marius is Eponine's only hope for escaping her current, dismal life. That's what makes her character so tragic. If she were rich, it wouldn't be half as sad because she wouldn't need Marius. Eponine needs Marius if she's going to have any hope for the future. Sadly, she has no such luck. There was a line from the Japanese version of On My Own that I felt illustrated the tragedy of her situation well.
This boy does not need me,
I have no such hold on the world of happiness.
[Ano hito atashi o iranai
Shiawase no sekai en nado nai]
-Les Miserables, Act II, On My Own [Hitori]
However, she is less sympathetic than in the musical. She isn't pretty(At least at first, later she's described as beautiful.), she's rough, and amoral. She steals the letter that Cosette left for Marius, telling her new address, so that Marius would fall into despair and go to the barricade. That way, she and Marius would be able to be together in death.
Pretty dark, and radically different from the selfless girl in the musical.
But in the end she sacrifices her life for Marius, and gives him back the letter. Of course, you can argue that since he was going to die anyway(she thought), Eponine just gave him the letter because it didn't matter. Once again, I'm going to take a leap of faith and say I think her conscience gave way and she wanted him to be happy. Aside from being less dismal, that scenario makes a selfless and complete end for her story arc.

She dropped her head again on Marius' knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at onces, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the somber profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world;-
“And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you.”
Volume IV, Book Fourteen, Chapter Six- The Agony of Death After the Agony of Life
So at the end of the day you're another day colder, Book Eponine is an almost completely different character from Musical Eponine.
In the musical, she's melancholy, shy, and selfless. In the book, she's talkative, strangely cheerful even when dying, and very conflicted. In the book, Eponine's not just the girl who loved Marius, she's also the girl who faced down against a murderous street gang- and won. She didn't scream though, but she did make a pretty awesome and terrifying speech that reveals a lot about her character.

[Eponine] began to laugh in a terrible way:
As you like, but you shall not enter here. I'm not the daughter of a dog, since I'm the daughter of a wolf. There are six of you, what does that matter to me? You are men. Well, I'm a woman. You don't frighten me. I tell you that you shan't enter this house, because it doesn't suit me. If you approach, I'll bark. I told you, I'm the dog, and I don't care a straw for you. Go your way, you bore me! Go where you please, but don't come here, I forbid it! You can use your knives. I'll use kicks; it's all the same to me, come on!”
She advanced a pace nearer the ruffians, she was terrible, she burst out laughing:
I'm not afraid. I shall be hungry this summer, and I shall be cold this winter. Aren't they ridiculous, these ninnies of men, to think they can scare a girl! What! Scare? Oh, yes, much! Because you have finical poppets of mistresses who hide under the bed when you put on a big voice, forsooth! I m not afraid of anything, that I'm not!”
She fastened her intent gaze upon Thenardier and said:
Not even of you, father!”
Then she continued, as she cast her blood-shot, spectre like eyes upon the ruffians in turn:
What do I care if I'm picked up tomorrow morning on the pavement of the Rue Plumet, killed by the blows of my father's club, or whether I'm found a year from now in the nets at Saint-Cloud or the Isle of Swans in the midst of rotten old corks and drowned dogs?”
She was forced to pause; she was seized by a dry cough, her breath came from her weak and narrow chest like the death rattle.
She resumed:
I only have to cry out, and people will come, and then slap, bang! You're six people, but I'm everybody.”
Volume IV, Book Eight, Chapter Four- A Dog runs in English and barks in Argot
So... let's see, how to conclude... I suppose my point here is that in the Musical, Eponine is a more sympathetic character, but in the Book, she's deeper.
Part of the reason I really like the 2012 movie is because it keeps in the part where Eponine steals the letter, and she totally smacks Thenardier after she screams in Attack on Rue Plumet. (Sure, he slapped her back and all, but hey, at least she showed that she wasn't afraid of him.)
Of course, not to say that Musical Eponine is no good. That partly depends on the actress playing her, of course.
I think that a really good portrayl is one that remains sympathetic, while still being the rough, self-loathing, terrifying rose in misery.
(How was that last sentence for over-dramatic prose? :D But hey, I like how it flowed out of my pen... er, keyboard.)


  1. Great post! Although I must disagree on one point; I consider Eponine to actually be more sympathetic in the book. I wrote a post on my thoughts on it awhile ago:
    I do agree with most of your statements, though, and I did that same thing when I first read the brick! :D

    1. I read the post you linked to, and it was really good! :) I liked your use of Bible verses in it, too.
      By sympathetic, I meant she was more 'moral', but yeah, in the book she is a lot more realistic and relatable. It's too bad that didn't come across in the musical. Which raises the question of course, what could be changed in the musical to make her character more true to the book?


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