Tag Archives: Eponine

Undermined

I listened to the latest episode of the Les Misérables Reading Companion, which brings us up to the introduction of Patron-Minette and the “Jondrette” family. A few thoughts:

  1. I’m impressed with the callback to the miner’s candlestick from back in Digne as Hugo dives into the mining metaphor. (Valjean considers using it to attack the sleeping Bishop. The Denny translation calls it a spike, losing the more immediate callback in the Bishop’s gift of actual candlesticks.)
  2. Now that she points it out, Éponine’s description when we first meet her as a teenager does rather resemble Fantine’s by the time she’s dying: skin and bones, prematurely aged, missing teeth, even a raspy voice.
  3. Three times through the book. Three times. And I never caught on to the implications of just how far Thénardier goes in exploiting his daughters. The way she’s undisturbed walking into Marius’ bedroom, phrases in the letters, the way she smiles at Marius at one point… Ugh.

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Jealousy

The musical gets rid of this part, but Éponine literally arranges to get Marius killed because he rejected her.

She’s been in full “If I can’t have him, no one can!” mode since foiling the robbery. She’s manipulated Jean Valjean and deceived Cosette to keep her away from Marius, and she’s sent Marius off to the barricade to die. She does throw herself in front of the bullet meant for him…but she says it’s because she wants to go first. It’s sort of a Rube Goldberg murder-suicide by cop.

This is not romantic. It’s villain territory. Reading it a few days after the Santa Fe school shooting (the killer had reportedly harassed and been rejected by one of the girls he shot) brought it into starker relief.

While she’s been helpful in the past, at this point she’s following in her father’s footsteps: the same sense of aggrieved entitlement, manipulating people from the shadows, and seeking revenge for perceived wrongs. But while her father’s too stubborn to give up, her life has been so awful that she has no hope left. The same desperation that allowed her to stand up to Patron-Minette leaves her feeling that there’s nothing left for her once she gets rid of Marius. The best she can hope for is that they’ll be together in death.

When Éponine is first re-introduced as Marius’ neighbor, she’s presented as someone who could have gone a different way, but the world had already started to grind her down. There’s no indication that either of her parents could have turned out better people, but we do get the sense that she could, under better circumstances. Her brother did, under similar deprivation but with more freedom. And since their parents neglected him to begin with, he didn’t see them as role models.

She’s fifteen, so she feels everything acutely. But she’s also world-weary. She has no hope of a future any better than the misery she’s lived through, and in fact there’s a good chance things will get worse for her if she survives.

In the musical, Éponine’s death is a tragedy. In the book, her tragedy has already unfolded, and her death simply completes it.

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Hitting the Fan

There’s a gripping description of Paris under siege as Marius walks from the streets where shops are open, to where shops are closed, to where a nervous crowd mingles, to the army staging area, to the dark, silent, empty streets controlled by the insurgency. Then, steps away from the barricade, he stops, sits down, and spends several pages of internal monologue trying to decide whether he’s doing the right thing. It’s weird, but it doesn’t seem as long this time through.

Speaking of people sitting and not acting: Pere Mabeuf has basically gone catatonic, staring at the floor all evening until he hears Enjolras shout for help restoring the fallen flag. He mechanically walks out, grabs the flag, climbs up…and is promptly shot and killed. It’s one of many cases where Hugo stops showing us the inner workings of a character’s mind and only shows him from the outside. We can only guess: Is he thinking clearly, but in despair? Is his inner turmoil as complex as Marius’ a few pages earlier? Or is he simply acting on autopilot?

Once Mabeuf’s body is carried inside (after Enjolras uses him as an inspiration symbol), everything happens fast:

  • Multiple casualties among named characters
  • The barricade is almost taken
  • Marius arrives, guns blazing
  • Gavroche discovers (in the worst way possible) that Javert hadn’t loaded his gun
  • Marius saves both Gavroche’s and Courfeyrac’s lives (for a few hours, anyway)
  • Éponine throws herself in front of a bullet aimed at Marius
  • Marius drives off the attackers by threatening to blow up the barricade, with everyone on it, himself included.

All of this happens in a space of a couple of minutes.

And then the waiting sets in again.

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Let’s Go Build a Barricade

As the crowd gathers, heading off to find a good place to build a barricade (because that’s what you do if you’re in Paris and you want to revolt), they start picking up more and more people. Pere Mabeuf joins in, though he seems to have suffered a BSOD. Gavroche is having such a great time that he doesn’t notice a disguised Javert. Courfeyrac stops by his apartment to pick up his hat, where he runs into some boy asking for Marius who looks like a girl dressed as a boy. It doesn’t occur to him that she is a girl dressed as a boy.

In fact, it doesn’t occur to anyone that Éponine is a girl, because she’s wearing pants.

Her raspy voice probably helps the disguise. But Marius almost recognized her by that voice, and dismissed the possibility.

I’m reminded of the scene in Mystery Men where one of the D-list heroes is explaining that the Clark Kent stand-in can’t possibly be Captain Amazing, because he wears glasses. How could he fly with such bad eyesight? Also Sandman: World’s End, in which a girl dresses as a boy so she can be a sailor. Only one character sees through the disguise, remarking that it’s about seeing what you’re actually seeing, not what you’re expecting to see.

It’s a blind spot. But it’s also refreshing that everyone goes with the gender she’s presenting as (even though it’s a disguise for her, not an identity) instead of trying to police it.

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The Bubble Bursts

Marius is still crashing at Courfeyrac’s place, but Courfeyrac has noticed the change in him: “My dear fellow, you give me the impression right now of being on the moon, in the realm of dreams, in a state of delusion, whose capital is Soap-Bubble City. Now, be a good chap – what’s her name?:

In fact, Cosette and Marius are so wrapped up in their nightly secret meetings that they don’t notice a freaking cholera epidemic. Now that’s focused!

After six weeks of secret rendezvous, Marius’ possessiveness has gotten creepy. And he’s angry at Cosette when she tells him that they’re moving away. It’s hard to tell whether the “return to reality” is the narrator’s rebuke for him being possessive at all, or for it being too soon. Hugo was progressive for his time, but still sexist.

There is absurd comedy in the idea that he stands motionless with his face against a tree for two hours trying to process the fact that Cosette’s moving…but he doesn’t notice that she’s been sobbing. He still cares more for the ideal than the person.

And neither of them notices the drama going on outside the gate, where Éponine stands up to Patron-Minette all by herself. It’s inspiring. She switches tactics rapidly, trying first to distract them, then to convince them it’s not worth the effort, and finally threatening to expose them. They threaten her of course, but she gives this amazing speech about how she’s not scared of them, because she’s already lived through worse. And they walk away, grumbling.

But it’s also profoundly sad. It only works because she has nothing left to lose, and they can’t afford the risk that she might scream.

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