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Cosette from Les Miserables

Updated on August 18, 2014

The Ragged Little Girl Who Was Saved by Valjean

Cosette, daughter of the tragic Fantine, is a Cinderella type figure who is rescued from her ragged and miserable existence by Valjean. This little girl serves to bind all of the key characters of Les Miserables both as a child and again as a young woman. Her face, first seen in the etching that illustrated Victor Hugo's nove, based on his description of this forlorn child, has become the emblem of one of theater's longest-lived and most respected musicals. Amanda Seyfried is the latest actress to be cast in role Cosette on the big screen in the 2012 Les Miserables movie musical.

Image: 'A Pensive Moment' by Charles Sillem Lidderdale

Where Did Cosette Come From?

The Story Behind Victor Hugo's Cinderella

Cosette was the illegitimate daughter of Fantine, who herself had no family and before meeting Cosette's father had relied on her trade as a seamstress to survive. He was a man who abandoned the pregnant Fantine -- if he had not known that she was expecting his child at the time, he would have known it later as Fantine employed a letter writer to write several letters to him. His name was Felix Tholomeys and he was 30 years old and from a fairly wealthy background.

Cosette's real name was Euphrasie, but Fantine liked to call her Cosette and this is the name by which she is known throughout the novel.

Fantine needed to work to support herself and her child, so she left the 3 year old Cosette with an inn-keeping couple by the name of Monsieur and Madame Thénadier. The Thénadiers had two little girls, the eldest (Eponine) being the same age as Cosette.

Although Fantine's first impression of Madame Thénadier was of a proud mother with two clean, healthy and happy girls of her own, the pair were greedy and turned out to be the worst kind of people to trust. Fantine sent money each month for her daughter's care but it was spent on debts and the clothes she left or sent on for Cosette were given to Eponine and her sister Azelma.

Etching of the young Cosette from Les Miserables
Etching of the young Cosette from Les Miserables

Cosette's Life with the Thenadiers

The 'Lark' Lived Who Ate Under the Table

Cosette wore Eponine's cast off clothes, which were already worn out and became rages on Cosette. She had been a pretty child (as was Eponine and her sister) but was underfed and overworked and soon lost her charm. Her life was like that of a mistreated dog, always steeling herself for the next blow.

In fact Cosette was described as eating "what all the rest had left -- a little better than the dog, a little worse than the cat", and she ate from a wooden bowl under the table with both cat and dog.

From the age of 5 she became a servant to the family, helping with the work of the inn. This work was hard and heavy for a small child, and the weather would have been bitterly cold in winter when she was outdoors in threadbare rags. She would often be seen sweeping with a broom much too large for her in the early morning while it was still dark. People assumed she was an orphan being kept out of charity and called her the 'Lark'.

The little Thénadier girls had learned to ignore her and did not share their doll, which Cosette looked at with envy, having no playthings of her own.

Young woman in 1830, painted by Samuel Morse
Young woman in 1830, painted by Samuel Morse

Cosette as a Young Woman

Marius Falls in Love.. Not Quite at First Sight

Fortunately for Cosette, she is rescued by Valjean when her mother dies. She is young enough to be sent to a convent school where she can grow up as a normal, healthy and happy girl. Her adopted father is wealthy but they live a secluded life and only venture out to do charitable works.

In the stage production of Les Misérables and some filmed versions Cosette and Marius meet and fall in love at first sight. In the novel he first crosses paths with her when she is still an awkward schoolgirl and he barely notices her. Within less than a year she has matured into a very pretty young woman of sixteen and it is then that she catches his attention.

"She wore a dress of black damask, a cape of the same material, and a bonnet of white crape" the day Marius first notices her.

As a child she was fair-haired like her mother with big, soulful eyes. Her hair has darkened as she grew older and is now a "wonderful brown.. shaded with threads of gold". She has a pretty nose and long chestnut lashes.

The Cosette played by Claire Danes in 1998 was petite and had light brown hair worn in a sort of raised French pleat style that ended in a knot high on the back of her head -- a modest version of the elaborate up-dos worn by aristocratic women. In the stage musical Cosette is usually a brunette with fashionable ringlets in her hair, but in the 25th Anniversary Concert sometimes was played by Katie Hall with her own blonde hair worn long and simply styled.

The image shows a young woman painted in 1830 who might have borne a resemblance to Cosette (who Marius began seeking out in 1831).

Eponine and Cosette (with Valjean)
Eponine and Cosette (with Valjean)

Cosette -- Why is She an Unpopular Character?

A Romantic Heroine and Daddy's Girl

The older Cosette is lovely in voice and appearance, but it's not uncommon for fans of the musical to prefer the rebellious and ill-fated Eponine. Some see Cosette as 'stealing' Marius from Eponine, though in truth Eponine is now a 16 year old jailbird living in the gutter, drinking and with missing teeth, and it's unlikely Marius would have crossed such a social divide.

Cosette is a young woman typical of her era, able to fall in love from afar but not to leave the grounds of her home without her father's supervision. She does have moments where she is impulsive and even flirtatious, but mostly she acts the way a modest young lady should in the early 1800s. She is a dutiful daughter to Valjean. This can make her character difficult to relate to in our own era.

Another way of looking at it?

Cosette on Stage and Screen

Little Cosette and Teenaged Cosette

As she is seen at two stages of her young life, Cosette is played by two actresses. A girl plays the child Cosette and in the musical has a solo of her own to sing, Castle on a Cloud, which illustrates her longing for a mother and for kindness as a contrast with her harsh life.

The teenaged Cosette is then played by an adult actress. On stage, Cosette has a romantic duet with Marius (A Heart Full of Love) and her role is mostly to be one half of this lovelorn pair. However, her character drives the plot forward as Valjean continues to act with her happiness in mind.

Rebecca Caine

The Original Cosette in The Musical

Rebecca Caine was one of the original London cast for Les Misérables, creating the role of the older Cosette opposite Michael Ball's Marius. Three young actresses shared the role of little Cosette.

Rebecca, a Canadian by birth, was in her very early twenties when she played Cosette. She followed the role with Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and was the original Christine in the Canadian production where Colm Wilkinson (the original Valjean) was her Phantom.

Since then Rebecca has worked extensively in opera as well as concert and cabaret performances. Her March 2012 cabaret was titled No, No Cosette!

Rebecca appeared in the original Les Miserables' cast rendition of One Day More in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert.

Rebecca Caine and Michael Ball - Caine and Ball Reunite to Sing Phantom

Original Cosette, Rebecca Caine, and original Marius, Michael Ball, sing another duet together -- All I Ask of You from Phantom of the Opera.

The Original London Cast Recording of Les Miz - With Rebecca Caine as Cosette

In the original London cast of 1985, Colm Wilkinson was Cosette's protector as Valjean and Patti LuPone was her mother, Fantine. Michael Ball was Marius, with whom she sang A Heart Full of Love.

Judy Kuhn

Original Broadway Cosette... and Pocahontas

Even if you've never seen Judy Kuhn perform live, chances are you have heard her voice in the songs of Disney heroine Pocahontas. (Les Mis star Lea Salonga (Eponine, Fantine) has also done voice work for Disney, singing as Mulan. See Judy and Lea singing together with a couple of the other Disney Princesses.)

Judy created the musical role of Cosette on Broadway, which opened on March 12 1987. Her Marius was David Bryant. She reprised the role for the Les Miserables: The 10th Anniversary Dream Cast in Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. Lea joined her as Eponine and Michael Ball was Marius.

Judy has since then done a lot of work on and off-Broadway, including the 1988 original Broadway cast of Chess and the 1989 original London cast of Metropolis.

Judy Kuhn Sings Lloyd Webber with Audra McDonald and Marin Mazzie - 3 Sensational Broadway Performers

Judy is the third to sing but all three of these Broadway actresses have gorgeous voices, well worth listening to, and at the end they sing their separate songs together in a stunning musical arrangement. Judy sings 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' from Jesus Christ Superstar.

The 10th Anniversary 'Dream Cast' Concert

Judy Kuhn was the Cosette who performed in the ‘Dream Cast’ concert performance of 1995. Other Les Miz legends singing alongside her were Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Michael Ball, Lea Salonga and Ruthie Henshall.

Katie Hall

One of the Most Recent Cosettes

Katie Hall is a young actress who has again played both Cosette and Christine Daaé -- a popular role progression for sopranos in musical theatre.

Katie played Cosette opposite Nick Jonas' Marius in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert in 2010 and has been Cosette on the international Les Miz Anniversary tour.

2012 sees Katie Hall touring as Christine Daaé in the Phantom of the Opera with her Phantom played alternately by John Owen Jones and Earl Carpenter.

Katie Hall and Samantha Barks

Katie has something in common with the new screen Eponine, Samantha Barks. Katie also made her move into professional theater after having been 'discovered' by Andrew Lloyd Webber who was selecting contestants for a TV reality show called I'd Do Anything. The show's goal was to cast the part of Nancy for a London revival of Oliver! and Samantha made it to the final 3. Meanwhile, Katie had moved into understudying the role of Christine in Phantom.

Katie and Gareth Gates?

In 2010, gossip had it that Katie was romantically involved with the actor playing opposite her as Marius in the 25th Anniversary Tour, pop star Gareth Gates. Another parallel with Samantha, who was romantically linked to the performer playing Marius in the 25th Anniversary Concert, pop star Nick Jonas. Katie is now in a relationship with composer and musician Tom Deering. In addition to his own theatre and TV work, Tom plays in a band (Sheytoons) formed by Les Mis stars Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser.

Les Mis 25th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall

See Katie Hall singing as Cosette with Nick Jonas as Marius and Samantha Barks as Eponine. The 25th Anniversary Concert’s Valjean was Alfie Boe and Javert was Norm Lewis. Fantine was played by Lea Salonga.

Claire Danes (AllPosters.com)
Claire Danes (AllPosters.com)

Claire Danes

Cosette in the 1998 Movie Les Miserables

Claire Danes has become a familiar face and name over the last 15 or so years. As a teen she was already starring in a TV series, My So-Called Life, and had played Beth March in a star-studded movie of Little Women with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Christian Bale and a very young Kirsten Dunst. Her youthful talent earned her the star role of Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet opposite a young Leonardo di Caprio (but she is said to have turned down the role of Rose in Titanic).

2 years later Danes again joined a big cast, this time in as Cosette in the 1998 movie version of Les Miserables. Claire was 19 years old (and looked younger) in the year of release. Uma Thurman played her mother Fantine, and Liam Neeson was her adopted father Valjean. Dane's Cosette fell in love with Hans Matheson's Marius. Her Cosette was tiny next to 6'4" Neeson and she was entirely believable as the 16 year old.

Since then, Claire Danes has starred in a number of popular movies including Stardust as well as the challenging and critically-acclaimed TV movie Temple Grandin portraying a visionary autistic woman. She has also appeared on Broadway in Pygmalion.

Claire Danes photo available at AllPosters.com.

Claire was the Les Miserables (1998) Cosette

Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush starred as Valjean and Javert, with Uma Thurman as Fantine.

Amanda Seyfried (AllPosters.com)
Amanda Seyfried (AllPosters.com)

Amanda Seyfried

Amanda is the Les Miserables Movie Musical's Cosette

Cosette in the 2012 all-star Les Mis movie musical is played by Amanda Seyfried.

Amanda is an actress and singer who at 26 (at time of production) is a decade older that the role of Cosette, but petite Seyfried is known for her youthful appearance and should be as convincing as Cosette as she was as the young daughter, Sophie, in the movie musical Mamma Mia! The Movie. In Mamma Mia! her mother was played by Meryl Streep, in Les Miserables her character's mother (shown at an earlier stage in her life) was played by Anne Hathaway.

Amanda has played a number of other romantic heroines including another Sopie in Letters to Juliet, and Savannah in Dear John. Prior to taking on the role of Cosette, Amanda filmed Lovelace in the lead role of the controversial Linda Lovelace, with James Franco as Hugh Hefner.

She began her acting career at 15 and was said to have been inspired to become an actress by the movie Romeo + Juliet, starring earlier Cosette actress Claire Danes (although by her own admission it was 'Romeo' Leonardo di Caprio with whom she became obsessed as a pre-teen!)

'Little House' Written and Performed by Amanda Seyfried - Amanda Sings this Song from 'Dear John'

See Seyfried as Cosette in the 2012 Les Mis Movie

A new interpretation of Cosette by Amanda Seyfried, who fall in love with Eddie Redmayne as Marius.

Other Cosette Actresses on Screen - Who Else Has Been in Les Miserables Films?

Rochelle Hudson was the Cosette of the classic 1935 film version of Les Misérables. Fredric March (Valjean) and Charles Laughton (Javert) starred. Hudson appeared in many movies in the 1930s but was often a supporting actress and had no breakthrough leading role.

The 1978 televised production of Les Misérables with Richard Jordan and Anthony Perkins respectively playing Valjean and Javert, saw Caroline Langrishe in the role of Cosette. Langrishe is a familiar face to British TV audiences, having had a long TV career from the 1970s to the current day. Her appearances have included regular roles in Lovejoy, Judge John Deed, Casualty and Doctors.

Les Miserables [2000] [DVD]
Les Miserables [2000] [DVD]

In 2000 Gerard Dépardieu and John Malkovich took on the classic roles of Valjean and Javert. French actress Virginie Ledoyen was Cosette. Ledoyen also appeared in The Beach with Leonardo di Caprio, making her the second big-screen Cosette to act opposite him.

 

Cosette Collectibles and Memorabilia - From Vintage Postcards to Photos and Posters

This self-updating selection of Cosette-themed gifts seeks out what's new on eBay.

Do You Have a Favorite Cosette? - Les Mis Fans, Leave a Note!

Submit a Comment

  • indigoj profile image
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    Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: Thanks for your insightful comments here and on my other pages -- I'm enjoying your input!

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    anonymous 5 years ago

    I have to say Katie Hall is one of my favorites. Rebecca Caine and Judy Kuhn are both fantastic in their own rights, but Hall makes Cosette a person (which, since Cosette doesnât really have that much of a personality, is saying a lot). Hall has an absolutely fantastic voice, and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

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    anonymous 5 years ago

    Cosette is my favorite character in Les Miz, but none of my friends like her (they all like Eponine). I may end up convincing some of them with this! Thanks!

  • cdevries profile image

    cdevries 5 years ago

    Very interesting analysis of the character - thanks!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

    @oxfordian: I think Amanda will be wonderful, she's already proved herself in movie musicals and she just looks like a Cosette to me!

  • oxfordian profile image

    oxfordian 5 years ago

    I've only seen Rebecca caine live, but I can hardly wait to see Amanda Seyfried in the upcoming movie. As usual, wonderful analysis and insight! This is such a terrific series of lenses!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

    @Sylvestermouse: The original fairytale of Cinderella has been lost through the years via Disney and later those pantomimes where men take the part of the sisters to make them 'ugly'. In the tale by the brothers Grimm, her step-sisters were both young and pretty girls who treated Cinderella with disdain, and their mother sent her to the kitchen to be their maid. Of course, Cosette's handsome prince was not Valjean but Marius, who came from a wealthy background and with whom she lived 'happily ever after'. Valjean was more an unlikely 'fairy godmother'... but perhaps now I'm stretching the analogy too far!

    I'm glad you are a Cosette fan and I hope other fans will find this page. It's sad that she's not liked by many who I think see her as a rival to Eponine. I have always loved Eponine but the poor girl had sunk too low to ever stand a chance in the society in which they lived.

  • Sylvestermouse profile image

    Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

    This is such a very interesting write up on Cosette. Oddly enough, I had never considered the comparison of Cosette with Cinderella. Les Mis is one of those books, plays and soon to be movies where the characters seem like people you actually know. It is easy to embrace the child, Cosette and to cheer Marius when he falls in love the the adult Cosette. What I remember most about the first actress I ever saw play Cosette, was her clear and lovely voice. Now I want to find that bulletin in my archives and look up who the actress was. Wow, I think that may actually have been 23 yrs. ago. Hard to believe!