**SPOILER ALERT! – If you have not read the novel, seen the film or know the stage production of Les Miserables and do not wish to know what happens then please do not read on.**
My first introduction to Les Miserables occurred while watching a beauty pageant on television. During the late 80s, early 90s, Les Mis was one of 3 shows that everyone talked about – Cats and Phantom of the Opera being the other two. But if you didn’t sing soprano and were anywhere near the age of 18 then it was more likely you’d gravitate to Les Mis, and the strong-willed character of Eponine.
I heard “On My Own” while watching said beauty pageant. Not knowing much of anything about the storyline I asked my older sister to explain it to me. As she relayed the story and I tried to listen to the words of the song being performed I meshed the two together and came away with an odd understanding. “So, this young girl is singing about an old blind guy?” Until I actually listened to the soundtrack in full did I understand and appreciate the story as a whole.
Who doesn’t root for the character who loves unrequited? A fiercely loyal and evidently scarred young lady who’s mistreated by all of the people in her life. Yet she shows strength and complexity while displaying an unbelievable amount of unconditional love. Eponine’s love for Marius was, and still is, one of the most beautiful love stories in musical theatre. It’s heartbreaking, moving and ultimately tragic but when Eponine joins Marius on the barricades (unbeknownst to him) and stands with him as his equal there’s something so poetic and romantic about that moment.
Here’s a girl who grew up without a solid foundation beneath her. With parents who used their daughter to their own advantage. In evaluating the lyrics of “On My Own” and “Little Fall of Rain” I’ve come to the conclusion that the references of darkness and rain are actually reminders of the bleak life she led before Marius entered her world. “Sometimes I walk alone at night when everybody else is sleeping. I think of him and then I’m happy with the company I’m keeping.” While she had hoped to have been loved in return it was the mere fact of his presence in her life that brought her joy – gave her something to look forward to in the midst of deplorable conditions.
Eponine’s death gets me every time because despite all of the horror that surrounded her she died in the arms of the man she loved. She was at peace. She was home. And while Marius goes on to live a happy life we don’t truly know the depth of his feelings for his friend. That definitely peaks my creative mind and in researching Les Mis fan fiction I’ve realized that I’m not the only one intrigued!
There are two significant moments in Les Mis that help develop Eponine’s character journey, yet both occur once she has passed. Firstly, moments after her death the students sing “We fight here in her name. She will not die in vain. She will not be betrayed.” For the first time in Eponine’s brief life she’s valued. She’s noticed and her presence to be remembered. Then during the “Epilogue” Eponine appears with Fantine to guide Jean Valjean into the afterlife. Eponine’s life was filled with as much love as there was sadness and the moment she recognized that she was able to die in peace. So, it is completely fitting that she stands on that stage and sings “And remember the truth that once was spoken, ‘To love another person is to see the face of God'”.
Unfortunately, due to artistic choices neither of those moments appeared in the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables. Perhaps the interpretation of Eponine differs from mine but that doesn’t diminish what makes this character so timeless – unrequited love and perseverance through adversity. Plus, she gets one of the BEST songs in the show!