When I first listened to Les Mis (the Complete Symphonic Recording), Eponine became my favorite character, hands down. She was selfless, strong, and self-sufficient. As I became more and more knowledgeable about Les Mis, I came to like and admire her even more. Then it came to my attention that there were many people who didn't like Eponine. In fact, there were people who said she was the worst character ever! I was puzzled, until I realized that they were probably talking about brick-Eponine. When I started reading the brick, I fully expected not to like the character of Eponine.
Then I got to her parts and...she was still my favorite character. Sure, she was bitter, selfish most of the time, immoral, and possibly a bit insane. But she was real.
Right now, I could probably go off on a tangent about why Eponine can still be a likeable character even though she's what she is, but that isn't the purpose of today's post. The purpose of this post is the problems with musical-Eponine. Predictably.
You see, I was surrounded by bloggers who had already read the brick, so I pretty much knew what Eponine was like in the book and what her situation was. But a few days ago I was wondering why people disliked Eponine and I suddenly realized what a shock it would be to watch the musical and then read the book.
In the musical, Eponine is a strong girl who's somehow remained untouched by her parents' thieving, evil ways. She loves Marius, but she hides it from him, delivers his letters without complaint or trickery, and in fact gives her life to get a letter from Cosette to Marius.
In the brick, Eponine is a young girl who talks slang, steals, and I'm sure has committed many other crimes Victor Hugo doesn't cover. She loves Marius, and it improves her speech and morals somewhat, but she's still willing to do underhanded things to gain Marius' love and separate Marius and Cosette. She steals Cosette's letter to Marius and lures Marius to the barricades so that at least no one else will have him if she can't.
Then she sacrifices herself to save Marius and, dying, gives him Cosette's letter.
I'm tearing up just writing those words. Eponine could have separated them forever just by doing nothing. But her love for Marius was so strong that she couldn't bear to see him unhappy or in pain, even if it meant her own death.
Do you see the difference? In the musical, Eponine is almost as perfect as Cosette. In the book, she's one of a gang of thieves.
That is one of the reasons I don't think musical-Eponine was portrayed as well as she could have been: that for anyone introduced to Les Mis through the musical, she's a completely different character and will inevitably disappoint anyone who starts reading the brick without warning.
The second reason I dislike (I don't dislike musical-Eponine; it's quite the opposite. However, for lack of a better word, I'm using “dislike.” Please keep in mind that it isn't really what I mean.) musical-Eponine is that she doesn't have enough meaning. Her situation is heartbreaking, it's true, but she doesn't have any struggle between her selfless love and wish for happiness for Marius and the selfish wish for her own happiness.
In the musical, as I've said before, she does anything and everything Marius wants her to do, and will do anything to get it done- even risk (and give) her life at the barricades. Her death and the giving of the letter don't mean as much to the audience because they don't mean as much to her.
In the book, she wants Marius for herself so badly that she's willing to kill him as well as herself if she can't get him. She's perfectly happy separating him from Cosette and bringing him to a place where he'll probably die.
But then, at the very end, her love overpowers anything else she's ever known, and she takes a bullet meant for Marius with her own body. When Marius finds her, she makes it a priority to give him his letter. Perhaps this sacrifice meant nothing to her; perhaps the letter meant nothing to her and she gave it to him because she didn’t care anymore. But I prefer to think that it was love- the kind of love the Bible talks about.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
-1 Corinthians 13:4–8
-1 Corinthians 13:4–8
The musical of Les Mis already covers these things: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” And Eponine is singing that at the end. But why? She loved Marius, but she didn’t make the supreme sacrifice for him.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Musical-Eponine could have been so much more. Her being at the end could have made more sense, especially since Marius is there during the Epilogue. (And actually, it’s kind of ironic that the movie version, which actually has Eponine blocking a bullet for Marius and giving him his stolen letter, doesn’t have Eponine at the end.)
I suppose that it would have been difficult to make it clear that Eponine had given up her life saving Marius. But she could have stolen the letter, then had a change of heart and been killed at the barricade trying to get the letter to Marius. They could have done many things with Eponine and made her more contemptible and more admirable at the same time.
That’s why I don’t like musical-Eponine as much as brick-Eponine: she’s not as real or relatable. I just wish the composers of Les Mis could have seen it, and I’m glad that Tom Hooper did.
Note: If you read the brick before you watched the musical, this post probably doesn’t apply to you. Sorry. :)
Note 2: This is not to say that I don’t like musical-Eponine. She was my introduction to the character, and I really like that portrayal as well.