Eponine and Sonya Alone

A few days ago I was making a list of the best sequences in the novel of “Les Misérables.” My list, which I’ll put below, was heavy on actions taken by Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, and one item stood out: Eponine barring her father and his thugs from entering the house where Cosette and her father live. It’s a somewhat short sequence but I found it one of the most memorable of the novel. Eponine, especially after what she does at the barricade, really has to be considered one of the genuine heroes of the story.

Eponine does what she does purely out of love for one person, Marius, but she ends up saving far more than him.

I’ve seen the sequence in front of the house adapted in a few movies, though I don’t think it comes off in any of them nearly as well as it does in the book, where her tenacity is slowly revealed in a very tense buildup. In the musical of “Les Misérables,” Eponine’s big number is “On My Own”, and for many including me it’s a great highlight, even if it doesn’t depict that particular sequence in front of the house:

Samantha Barks as Eponine

Eponine got me thinking of a similar character, Sonya, who quietly saves Natasha from making a catastrophic mistake, by blocking her flight from her house, in “War and Peace”. And Sonya’s solo is my favorite song from that musical that was playing a few years back, about a war and a comet:

Brittain Ashford as Sonya

Oh, and about that list. These are my favorite sequences in the novel of Les Misérables:

  • Jean Valjean steals from the Bishop, is returned by the police, and is unexpectedly saved and forgiven, with a few white lies from the bishop
  • Jean Valjean, as Mayor Madeleine, forces Javert to release Fantine
  • Jean Valjean gives himself up publicly in the courtroom, renouncing his life as mayor and businessman
  • Jean Valjean, at Fantine’s bedside, is arrested by Javert and narrowly escapes the inspector, with the help of a few white lies from a nun
  • Jean Valjean helps Cosette in the forest and takes her away from the Thenardiers
  • Jean Valjean’s escape from the Gorbeau tenement and eventually into the convent, with Cosette at his side and Javert on his heels
  • Jean Valjean’s near-burial in the cemetery, and his taking refuge in the convent as Monsieur Fauchelevent
  • the ambush and escape at the Gorbeau tenement, Javert arresting Thenardier and all but Jean Valjean whom he does not recognize
  • Gavroche taking the two orphans (his brothers whom he does not recognize) into the Elephant
  • Eponine turns her father (Thenardier) and his band away from the Garden at Rue Plumet
  • Jean Valjean’s escape through the sewers with Marius on his back, encountering both Thenardier (who does not recognize him) and Javert
  • Final lengthy conversation between Thenardier and Marius (the methodical unspooling of everything, landing blow-by-blow upon Marius)
Brittain Ashford

2 thoughts on “Eponine and Sonya Alone

  1. Hi Kevin, I have been enjoying your series on Les Miserables a lot ever since you first began it. I read it some years ago over a summer, following a helpful tip that recommended that I skip the description of the Battle of Waterloo. The only thing that has an impact upon the plot in all that section being, of course, Thenardier’s rescue of Marius’s father.
    Although I have only read it once it has had a lasting impact upon me. I once led a church study day on the character of the Bishop of Digne and his impact upon Jean Valjean, noting how the attention that Hugo gives to the formation of a character is vital to an understanding of that one moment in which his act of mercy transforms Valjean’s life and destiny, and the lives of many others too.
    So, many, many thanks to you for getting me to reflect on this truly wonderful novel once again. At some point I would like to read it again although, it is on a list of great works (The Brothers Karamazov is there too) that I want to read a second time and I haven’t read Notes from the Underground once!

  2. Stephen, so glad to hear that these posts have been bringing you back to this novel. I’ve fallen in love with it, despite some difficult sections in which it’s easy to bogged down. It repays effort many times over. I really had not expected to find so much spiritual reflection and inspiration in the book; and the Bishop of Digne’s story is one that I’ll be forever grateful for having found. My two kids (12 and 10) were riveted by his scenes in the 2018 miniseries, and we’ve all been talking and reflecting on that part of the story, how it affected the character of Jean Valjean as you say, even a little bit about how the story connects with our own lives. I’d love to have participated in a study group like yours based on this story.

    The Bishop of Digne and Jim Casey from “The Grapes of Wrath” are maybe my favorite depictions of a minister in literature (though I’m surely forgetting some). Dinah Morris in “Adam Bede” is up there, too; I know you’ve said that you’ve appreciated George Eliot’s presentation of ministers and I’m sure you’d like that one.

    “Karamazov” and “Notes” are both still on my bucket list!

    thanks for your note!

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