Éponine  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Éponine Thénardier is a fictional character in the 1862 novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

Contents

Novel

Éponine's role in the novel centers on Cosette. As a child, she is pampered, while Cosette is treated miserably. As a young adult, she brings Marius and Cosette together. She is in love with Marius. Éponine is described as 'slender and angular', with a voice like a drunken man's, clothes that barely cover her up, and an ugly face with heavy brooding eyes. In the musical, no particular care has been made for a consistent hair colour as she has been played with blonde, brunette, black and red hair. However, in the book her hair is described as auburn.

Early life

Éponine is the elder daughter of M. and Mme Thénardier, who run an inn in the town of Montfermeil. A woman named Fantine and her illegitimate daughter Cosette arrive. Upon seeing Éponine and her younger sister Azelma, Fantine asks the Thénardiers to take care of Cosette while she goes to look for work. The Thénardiers agree on the condition that she sends them money to pay for the child. However, the Thénardiers abuse Cosette and use her as forced labor while pampering Éponine and Azelma. Jean Valjean eventually arrives and whisks Cosette away.

Life in Paris

Éponine is not seen again for nine years. In Paris, she and her family have lost their inn and now live under the name “Jondrette” in an apartment next to that of Marius Pontmercy. They live in utter squalor. When Éponine goes over to Marius' home and begs him for money, she tries to impress him, and to prove she is literate she reads from one of his books and writes, “the police are here” (or, "The Cognes are here." in some translations) on a piece of paper. Pitying her, Marius gives her five francs.

Éponine leaves and some time later Marius observes her in her apartment. She had claimed that she had arranged for a philanthropist from the local church to come to their home and give them money to help pay the rent. In an effort to make his family look poorer, M. Jondrette orders Azelma to punch out the window, which she does, cutting her hand open. It turns out that the “philanthropist” is in reality Jean Valjean. Cosette is with him, with whom Marius has fallen in love. Valjean promises to return later with money for them. As soon as he leaves, Jondrette and his wife begin to plot to rob and murder Valjean, as they recognize him as the man who adopted Cosette, and want their revenge. To help in this they enlist the aid of the Patron-Minette street gang.

Determined to prevent this crime against his beloved and her father, Marius informs Javert of the planned crime, and Javert gives him two pistols with the order to fire one when the crime is going to happen. Marius returns to his house and waits. Éponine and Azelma are sent outside the building to watch for the police, but the police sneak in the back door and prepare to spring their trap once Marius fires his pistol. Valjean enters the Jondrettes' home; they capture him and reveal that they are the Thénardiers. Marius, recognizing the name as that of the man who saved his father at Waterloo, is torn. He does not want to let Valjean die, but he does not want to betray his father’s savior. Seeing the scrap of paper Éponine left behind, he tosses it frantically into the room via the crack in the wall. Thénardier reads the note “the police are here” and thinks that Éponine threw it inside. They try to escape, but nonetheless Javert enters and arrests the Thénardiers and the street gang.

Éponine and Montparnasse avoid being arrested due to abandoning the scene earlier. However, Éponine is caught at a later time and joins Azelma in prison. Both sisters are released two weeks later due to lack of evidence.

Marius, Cosette, and Éponine

While in jail, Babet sends Éponine to investigate a house called the Rue Plumet, and she does so. Discovering that Valjean and Cosette live there and knowing that Marius is trying to find “that girl” (Cosette), Éponine sends him back a biscuit (which is code for "nothing to do"). After she learns of Marius' whereabouts from the churchwarden Mabeuf, she goes to Marius and tells him that she knows where Cosette lives, hoping to impress him and make him happy. When she reminds him that he promised to give her something in return for finding Cosette, he offers her his last five-franc coin. Éponine sadly lets the coin fall to the ground, saying she does not want his money. Marius visits Cosette several times, and each time Éponine goes with him and waits outside the garden.

On one occasion, after Thénardier and Patron-Minette are out of jail, they plan to break into Jean Valjean’s house. However, Éponine, out of love for Marius, threatens to scream and alert the police if they try to carry out their plans. They retire, and Éponine has saved both the house from being robbed and Marius and Cosette from being discovered. Nonetheless, Valjean has seen Thénardier and, thinking it was Javert and the police, decides to leave with Cosette for England very soon. One night, the night of the insurrection in Paris, Marius discovers that Cosette is no longer at her house. However, Éponine, disguised as a boy, yells to Marius that the insurrection is starting and that his friends are waiting for him at the barricade at the Rue de la Chanvrerie.

Death

Marius goes to the barricade armed with the two pistols Javert gave him months ago, and uses them both during the fighting. While he is unarmed and searching for a weapon, a soldier makes it inside the barricade and aims at Marius. Éponine puts her hand, and her body, in front of the musket, and the musket ball enters her, saving Marius’ life. Marius does not think much of it, and it is not until later that he recognizes her, when she is lying at his feet. He cradles her and she begs him to comfort her. She reveals that Gavroche is her brother, and also says that she cannot lie to him, and gives him a letter that Cosette gave to her a day earlier for Marius. She asks that he kiss her on the forehead when she dies, and then with her dying breath, Éponine confesses her love for him, saying, “And then, do you know, Monsieur Marius, I believe I was a little in love with you.” Éponine dies and Marius kisses her on the forehead as he had promised.

Selfish or selfless?

After Éponine takes the bullet for Marius, she reveals that it was she who led him to the barricades. As she is dying, she states that she had hoped that the two of them would die at the barricade and be united in heaven together. Yet, when a musket is aimed at Marius, Éponine still blocks the bullet despite her hopes. She, herself, states that she does not understand her actions, “And still when I saw him aiming at you, I put up my hand upon the muzzle of the musket. How strange it is!” Éponine attempts to explain her actions by stating that she wished to die first, but does not provide an explanation to this afterwards. Before she expires, Éponine gives Marius Cosette’s letter in hopes that he will not be angry with her in the afterlife.

A common debate among readers is Éponine’s motive for saving Marius’ life. Some readers state that though Éponine wished for Marius’ death, she still took the bullet for him selflessly. To further prove this, readers bring up Cosette’s letter that she gave to Marius despite her feelings for him. Others interpret Éponine’s action as an act of selfishness. Some readers believe that Éponine only took the bullet because she wanted to die first. These same readers go on to say that she only gave Marius the letter so she would be forgiven, not out of her own selflessness.

Musical

The musical adaptation gives a pointedly sympathetic depiction of Éponine, which has made her one of the show's most popular characters. Throughout the musical, the ragged, headstrong and independent Éponine serves as a clear foil for Cosette, who is soft, demure, pretty and innocent.

Éponine is played by two people, a young girl for Young Éponine in Montfermeil and a young woman for the adolescent Éponine in Paris.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Éponine" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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