Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are You A Cosette or an Eponine?

My favorite play, Les Miserables, as many of you are aware, is coming to a movie theatre near you on Christmas Day. Yes I know everyone is going ga-ga over Anne Hathaway playing Fantine but guess what? Her role at most is 10 minutes long. So I decided to look at the other two main characters in this play -- Cosette and Eponine -- and asked people on Facebook as well as now this blog which one would you be?

Let me first explain each character.

Cosette, in the realm of Les Miserables, is the daughter of Fantine and becomes the adopted child of Jean Valjean. After her mother leaves her to be looked after by the Thénardiers she becomes an exploited and victimised child. Taken away by Valjean, she grows up in a convent to become a radiant and innocent young beauty, who falls in love with student Marius Pontemercy. The protection and love of Cosette is the principal motivation for the actions of the main positive characters in the novel. Critics have often considered Cosette to be something of an empty figure, with no real independent character apart from the role she plays in the lives of others: as an innocent child-victim; daughter to be protected (for Fantine and Valjean); and object of adoration (for Marius). Stephanie Barbé Hammer writes that "Having served her function as a paternalizing figure, Cosette grows up into a silent, beautiful cipher".She has the same, but reverse, role as an object of jealousy and hatred for the villainous characters. As Kathryn M. Grossman remarks, she brings out the "hatred of humanity" that is typical of Hugo's villains. When Mme Thénardier sees that the grown-up Cosette has become a "well-off and radiant young woman, Mme Thénardier responds viscerally, "I'd like to kick open her belly"."Cosette is also portrayed as largely sexless. Mario Vargas Llosa says of her relationship to Marius, Now the love between these two is completely ethereal; the sex drive has been surgically removed so that their relationship can be purely one of feeling. Before the wedding the young people exchange one kiss, which is not repeated because, as the narrator says, neither Marius nor Cosette was aware of the existence of carnal desire.... The dialogue between these two virtuous lovers is as unreal as their amorous behavior. For this reason, the episodes where the two lovers talk to each other are the most artificial moments in the novel.
George Saintsbury calls her "merely a pretty and rather selfish little doll". Others consider Cosette to be the popular girl that everyone adores with no original thought of her own.

Eponine, on the other hand, is introduced as a spoiled and pampered child, but comes back into the story as a ragged and prematurely aged teenager who speaks in the Parisian street-argot of the time, but who retains vestiges of her former charm and innocence. Éponine and her younger sister Azelma are described as pretty, well-dressed, charming and a delight to see. They are pampered and spoiled by their parents, the Thénardiers. Following their parents' example, they tease and mistreat Cosette.
When Éponine becomes an adolescent, she and her family descend into poverty as a result of the bankruptcy of her parents' inn. They live in a small run-down apartment in Paris under the assumed name of "Jondrette". Éponine becomes a "pale, puny, meagre creature", with a hoarse voice like "a drunken galley slave's", having been "roughened by brandy and by liquors". She now wears dirty and tattered clothing, consisting solely of a chemise and a skirt. She has missing teeth, mangled hair, bony shoulders, heavy brooding drooping eyes, and a prematurely-aged face with only a trace of beauty lingering. She had "the look of a corrupted old woman; fifty years joined with fifteen; one of those beings who are both feeble and horrible at once, and who make those shudder whom they do not make weep". Éponine brings Marius and Cosette together, even though she herself is in love with him and envious of Cosette. The name Éponine derives from the ancient Gaulish heroine Epponina, wife of Julius Sabinus, who rebelled against the Roman empire. She "became the symbol of great patriotism and virtue" by protecting her husband for many years and by choosing to die with him when he was finally captured. The name was quite common in post-Revolutionary France among Republicans and Bonapartists.

So upon reading both of these descriptions -- which would you fall under? A Cosette or an Eponine?

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