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Eponine from Les Miserables

Updated on September 8, 2014
Young Orphan Girl by Delacroix, 1823
Young Orphan Girl by Delacroix, 1823 | Source

The Street Urchin Who Risks All for Love

Eponine is one of Les Miserables' best-loved characters. This girl has it tough, dragged down into a life in the gutter by her parents, but she rises above their vulgarity and acts with courage and self-sacrificing love.

In the musical theater version of 'Les Miz', Eponine is known above all for her song On My Own, a lament for non-requited love everywhere. Young British actress Samantha Barks is the newest on-screen Eponine in the major movie musical version of Les Miserables, having also played the role on stage.


Note: Please forgive the lack of accented characters on Miserables and Thenadier -- these had to be removed as they were not displaying correctly.

Two Sisters, 1830s
Two Sisters, 1830s | Source

Who Was Eponine Thenadier?

Hugo's Ragged but Spirited Heroine

Eponine was the daughter of Monsieur and Madame Thenadier, an unpleasant couple who were paid to care for the young Cosette but instead treated her as a slave.

Eponine was the eldest of three Thenadier children. At the beginning of the story had only one sibling, a sister who was less than 2 years younger than 'Ponine. The little sister was called Azelma. The girls were named after characters in the trashy romance novels their mother liked to read. A little later on there was also a baby brother who their mother disliked and ignored.

The Thenadiers at that time were not dirt poor but had a thriving business, though they were often in debt. The two girls were nicely dressed and healthy. In fact, Eponine and her sister were rather spoiled as children. Although their mother Mme Thenadier had a vicious streak, she took this out on Cosette. Hugo wrote that if it hadn't been for Cosette, the Thénadier girls would have received blows from their mother as well as her caresses.

With no better role model than their own mother, the sisters were in turn mean to Cosette (who was almost exactly the same age as Eponine). It's hard to blame them for this, when Eponine and Cosette first met the pair played together like sisters but in time they were taught to see her as no better than the family dog.

While Cosette was eventually adopted by Valjean and brought up as a young lady, Eponine shared the fate of her parents whose criminal activities dragged them all into living as thieves and scroungers on the streets of Paris.

Gavroche Jondrette (aka Thenadier)
Gavroche Jondrette (aka Thenadier) | Source

'Ponine and Gavroche

Brother and Sister

Gavroche is Eponine's Brother

In the novel it is explained that Gavroche (pictured right), the streetwise lad who helps the student rebels, is in fact the younger brother of Eponine. This isn't made clear in the stage musical. For some reason, though Mme. Thenadier loves her daughters, the boy is rejected and left to fend for himself on the streets. By this time the family is known by the alias Jondrette.

Eponine as a Young Woman

Eponine had no chance to make a decent person of herself, but in the staged version of Les Mis her actions showed that in spite of her circumstances she had a loving heart and a fighting spirit. In the novel she was much more of a lowlife, described as 'creepy' by modern-day readers for her stalking of Marius, almost luring him to his death. However, even in the book she redeems herself at the last moment.

Eponine dies a sad death, knowing her love is hopeless and that her hard life is unlikely to ever get any easier. More of a rebel than the naïve and sheltered Cosette, tough but longing to be loved, Eponine is a favorite character for girls and women everywhere.

Young French Orphan Girl, 1823
Young French Orphan Girl, 1823 | Source
Eponine as She Appears in Les Miserables Illustrations
Eponine as She Appears in Les Miserables Illustrations | Source

What Did Eponine Look Like?

Eponine as a Child

Her hair was either dark or chestnut, and Eponine is usually played by brunettes in contrast to the (normally) blonde mother and daughter Fantine and Cosette.

Both as infants and as little girls Eponine and her sister were described as very pretty: "vivacious, neat, plump, rosy, and healthy, and a delight to the eye".

Eponine the Teenager

When Marius first encounters Eponine she is 16 years old and looks younger. "She was a frail, emaciated, slender creature" wearing "nothing but a chemise and petticoat. She already had missing teeth and a "hoarse, strangled voice".

When he meets her again some time later, Eponine has "grown poorer and prettier... She was barefooted and in rags..."

Eponine has already been in prison thanks to her father's activities, and she is already a little like a wild animal. "She had bits of straw and hay in her hair... because she had slept in the loft of some stable. And in spite of it all, she was beautiful."

A Model for Eponine?

It wasn't easy finding an image of someone who might look like Eponine. Not surprisingly, portraits were pretty much restricted to wealthy women in this era. They wore fine clothes and jewels, and were well-fed.

The image above is by Delacroix, the French artist who painted the famous French Revolution image Liberty Guiding the People and shows an orphan girl in 1823 who might well have been Hugo's model for Eponine.

Actresses Who Have Played Eponine

Les Miserables Eponine Thenadier on Stage and Screen

Although Eponine is one of the most popular of the Les Miserables characters, it seems when being cast she is not seen as one of the big roles in quite the same way that Cosette is.

In the musical theater version of Les Mis, Eponine has one big solo (On My Own) and also a moving duet with Marius (A Little Fall of Rain), which makes it quite a substantial part to play.

However, in the non-sung film adaptations of the novel her role has often been made more marginal and has not attracted the big-name actresses who have been cast over the years as Fantine or even as Cosette. She doesn't even appear in the 1978 TV film credits, suggesting her part was cut altogether.

Frances Ruffelle

The Les Miz Original London Cast's Eponine

Frances Ruffelle was the first Eponine of musical theater, creating the role with the original London cast of Les Miserables and winning a Tony Award for her performance in the same role on Broadway.

Ruffelle made an appearance in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert and she has a small role in the new Les Miserables movie musical as a prostitute.

She has done a variety of theatre and TV work and has released several albums. Frances Ruffelle was also the UK's d1994 entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.

Her daughter is singer Eliza Doolittle. Eliza's father is Les Miserables (stage) director John Caird. Ruffelle and Caird are no longer married.

Frances Ruffelle: We Will Be Free - 1994 Entry for UK into Eurovision Song Contest

Eurovision is an annual, Europe-wide song contest. These days the UK does not take it very seriously although some other countries do, but there were a number of high quality entrants in the 1990s including France Ruffelle and, a few years earlier, her Les Mis co-star Michael Ball. (Colm Wilkinson, who starred as the original Jean Valjean, was the entry for Ireland in 1978.)

The 1994 Eurovision Contest was famous as the event at which the interval-act Riverdance burst onto our screens and into our lives, becoming a global phenomenon.

Lea Salonga

A Musical Theater Star Who Has Been Both Eponine and Fantine

Lea Salonga, from the Philippines was like Samantha Barks just a youngster when she first shot to fame. Already known in her home country, she became part of musical theatre history when cast as the original Kim in Miss Saigon back in 1989.

Lea has one of the most beautiful voices in musical theater (and beyond). Her career has seen her take a number of leading roles in London and on Broadway, in addition to releasing albums and even doing voice work for Disney.

She was Eponine in theLes Miserables: The 10th Anniversary Dream Cast in Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, with Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Michael Ball as Marius and Ruthie Henshall as Fantine.

Fast forward 15 years and, Lea (more mature but not looking a day older!) rejoined a Les Miserables cast as Fantine in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert, making her a Les Mis legend. (Samantha Barks made her screen debut as Eponine in the same concert.)

The 10th Anniversary Les Miserables 'Dream Cast'

Les Miserables - Special Edition (1995) (BBC)
Les Miserables - Special Edition (1995) (BBC)

Lea was a delight as Eponine and this production saw her starring with other great names from Les Mis history including Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Philip Quast and Ruthie Henshall. Get your own copy to keep on DVD.

 

Linzi Hateley

Another Classic Stage Musical Eponine

Linzi Hateley is a name that will be familiar to many loyal Les Miserables fans. This stage actress played Eponine in London for 2 years.

Linzi was an enchanting Eponine who found a place in the heart of those lucky enough to see her in the role. Not only a beautiful voice but just the right youthful look, even more so if, as the novel seems to hint, Eponine was the Thenadier sister with chestnut hair. If you have never seen Linzi Hateley as Eponine or if you want to relive the magic, take a moment to watch the video below.

She has appeared in many other stage productions, including starring opposite Philip Quast (the 10th Anniversary Les Miserables 'Dream Cast' Concert's Javert) in the London cast of The Secret Garden (2000). She has released 3 albums of her own.

Linzi has a small role in the 2012 Les Mierables movie.

Samantha Barks

Eponine on Stage and on Screen

Samantha Barks is set to be one of the most memorable Eponines of all time, having won the role not only in the 2012 Les Miserables movie musical with its all-star cast but also in the magnificent 2010 Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert and on-stage in London's West End.

Samantha had a very public start to her career as an actress and singer. She was 'discovered' when she made it through to the final 10 young women auditioning for the part of Nancy in the London revival cast of Oliver! This 17 year old captured the hearts of the British public and of Andrew Lloyd Webber and legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh with her beauty and talent. She also proved she could move well, giving her an edge over the other finalists.

The part of Nancy went to Jodie Prenger, a young woman with a big voice who better fit the voting public's image of the character. Samantha did however take on the role of Nancy in the touring production of Oliver! following her role of Eponine in Les Mis in London.

Samantha is from the Isle of Man in the British Isles. Gossip has it that she briefly dated Nick Jonas, who played her Marius in the 25th Anniversary Concert. Sam has a Twitter account SamanthaBarks where you can keep up with her news.

Samantha Barks Sings 'Memory' from Cats - Samantha Barks and Rachel Tucker Compete

Samantha and Rachel had to compete in a sing-off in I'd Do Anything, a UK reality TV show casting for the part of Nancy in the London West End musical revival of Oliver!

Neither won the role from this show, but Rachel went on to star as Elphaba in Wicked and Sam played Nancy in the UK tour of Oliver! as well as Eponine in Les Mis.

This is where they started. They've come a long way!

25th Anniversary Les Miserables Concert

Les Miserables - The Musical Event of a Lifetime
Les Miserables - The Musical Event of a Lifetime

The legendary 25th anniversary performance of Les Miserables saw Samantha as Eponine joining Alfie Boe as Valjean and Nick Jonas as Marius.

 
Source

What About Taylor Swift?

Wasn't Taylor Cast for Eponine?

There were reports at the beginning of 2012 that country singer Taylor Swift was to be Eponine, and she was rehearsing with the rest of the cast. For some reason, this particular casting decision was not set in stone and didn't work out.

Swift is young, talented, popular and supremely successful. In 2011 she was the highest earning artist in the popular music industry, beating the likes of Celine Dion, U2, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga and Adele.

It's not known whether her voice or screen acting wasn't quite the best fit for Eponine or whether she had too many other commitments. Either way, the role finally went to Samantha Barks who, while virtually unknown in the US, had proved herself as Eponine on stage and screen in the UK.

Did You Want to See Taylor Swift as Eponine?

Would Taylor Swift Have Been Your Choice for Eponine?

See results

Asia Argento

Eponine in Les Miserables TV Film 2000

Italian actress Asia Argento was Eponine in the TV mini-series that starred Gerard Depardieu as Valjean and John Malkovich as Javert.

Asia's was probably as big a role as Eponine has had in any of the major movie and TV versions of Les Miserables prior to the movie musical of 2012.

The actress was born in 1975 and can also be seen in Marie Antoinette, which starred Kirsten Dunst. Much of her work is in R-rated horror movies and erotic thrillers. She played Christine Daae in a 1998 horror version of The Phantom of the Opera (not the musical version).

© 2012 Indigo Janson

Who is Your Favorite Eponine? - Les Mis Fans, Leave a Note!

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    Oh, tough question... For me, it's probably got to be Sam AND Lea AND Linzi. Each actress made the part her own and I think that that's a good thing because Eponine is one of those complex characters. Lea and Sam made her seem a very strong character, whereas Linzi showed her to be a poor heartbroken girl. Both of which she was.

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    SAMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lea's awesome too! i also loved Ashley Spencer! And of course Megan Hawbaker from JeffValjeff's Youtube Les Mis school edititon!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 4 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: Yes to the first statement, this was written some time ago and I'm so glad Samantha has made the question irrelevant! Thanks very much for your thoughtful input.

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    This was obviously written before the movie came out because you wouldn't ask us if we still wanted to see Taylor Swift after seeing how Sam Barks did. As for your question, when I saw Lea Salonga on stage as Eponine back in 1996, I thought I'd never need to see Les Mis ever again because I thought I had seen the best. When the movie came out I looked to see who was playing Valjean. The 2nd name I looked for was Eponine. I did not know who Sam Barks was. When I watched the movie, Samantha made me fall in love with Eponine all over again. Heroic and with a good heart despite her upbringing, the movie version of 'ponine is a cross between novel and music versions of her. She takes the bullet intended for Marius and is at the barricade instead of singing with Fantine during Valjean's death. My biggest complaint of the film is that thy cut A Little Fall of Rain in half. I love Lea Salonga but Sam Barks is easily my favorite Eponine.

  • DoctorOrEngineer profile image

    DoctorOrEngineer 4 years ago

    Samantha Barks was amazing in the 25th anniversary. I wish she had been allowed to shine a little more in the new movie, though.

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    Lea Salonga

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 4 years ago from UK

    @SteveKaye: I agree, lots of outstanding performers here.

  • profile image

    SteveKaye 4 years ago

    All of them are so talented it's difficult to decide.

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    I have to do a tie, because I canât decide who is better.

    Lea Salonga (1995) is one of the greatest Ãponine actresses to date. She is fierce and knows what she wants and, if anyone would tell her to get over Marius, she would tell them to go to hell. She would never, ever get over Marius; sheâs just as blind as he is, in a way. Inside and out, Salonga is phenomenal as Ãponine.

    Samantha Barks (2010, 2012) is right up there. She takes a different approach than Salonga: that Ãponine realizes (slightly) that loving Marius is futile. Marius belongs with Cosette and vice versa; Ãponine belongs to⦠well, no one. Ãponine doesnât really have a purpose and I think she knows it. Loving Marius gave her the purpose that she wanted. I like to think that with Barksâ interpretation, Ãponine tried to find her own identity and potential outside of being âMariusâ shadowâ. Granted, there wouldnât be much time because she dies a few scenes later, but itâs the thought that counts.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: Many thanks for your helpful note, Selene. Unfortunately I deliberately had to leave out most of the accented characters as some browsers end up putting question marks or other odd characters instead of the correct French one. It's a pity not to be able to use correct spelling throughout. Thanks for your compliment though, and especially for letting me know which was the sister with chestnut hair.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    it's spelled thenardier, with an accent mark over the first e, and eponine has an accent mark over the e as well, but other than that tiny detail (niether really need accent marks) this was ver well written and enjoyable thank you (PS Azelma is the one with the chestnut hair)

    Also, if you like les mis, you'll like shoujo costte (lis mis anime) though cosette has an extremly annoyingly high voice and they turned her into the main character, so you constantly want her off your screen.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    @oxfordian: Who do u think is the best though samantha all the way I say

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    SAMANTHA BARKS I WORSHIP HER

  • Camden1 profile image

    Camden1 5 years ago

    Very informative! I'm impressed by the amount of research and knowledge!

  • oxfordian profile image

    oxfordian 5 years ago

    Simply wonderful. You make the wait until the movie comes out easier to bear. Thank you so much for your entire collection of Les Mis lenses.