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19th Century Illustration of Éponine. "A Rose in Misery" by artist Pierre Jeanniot.

Éponine Thénardier (pronounced /ˈɛpɵˌniːn tɨˈnɑrdiˌeɪ/, French /epɔnin tenaʁdje/) is a fictional character in the 1862 novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.



As children, 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. They also tease and mistreat Cosette.

As an adolescent, Éponine and her family descend into poverty due to the bankruptcy of her parents' inn. Éponine becomes a "pale, puny, meagre creature," with a voice like "a drunken galley slave’s." She now wears dirty and tattered clothing that consists of a chemise and a skirt. She also has missing teeth, mangled hair, heavy brooding eyes, and a premature-aging face with only a trace of beauty lingering.

Éponine brings Marius and Cosette together, even though she is in love with him herself.


Early life

Éponine is the elder daughter of M. and Mme. Thénardier, who run an inn in the town of Montfermeil. A woman named Fantine and her illegitimate daughter Cosette arrive. Upon seeing Éponine and Azelma, Fantine asks the Thénardiers to take care of Cosette while she goes to look for work. The Thénardiers agree on the condition that she sends them money to pay for the child. However, the Thénardiers abuse Cosette and use her as forced labor while pampering Éponine and Azelma. This occurs for five years.

On Christmas Eve 1823, Jean Valjean arrives at the inn with Cosette after finding her retrieving water at night in the woods alone. During the short time he stays, it becomes apparent that Éponine and Azelma are unkind to Cosette as well, telling on her to their mother when she tries to play with their discarded doll. After seeing this, Valjean briefly leaves the inn and returns with a beautiful new doll to give to Cosette, which she happily accepts. This results in Éponine and Azelma to become jealous of Cosette for the first time.

The next morning, Christmas Day, Valjean pays off all of Fantine’s debts to the Thénardiers and whisks Cosette away.

Life in Paris

Éponine is not seen again for nine years. In Paris, she and her family have lost their inn and now live under the name "Jondrette" in an apartment at Gorbeau House, nextdoor to that of Marius Pontmercy. They live in utter squalor. Éponine and Azelma, reduced to being ragged, emaciated and barefoot, are running away from the police. They run past Marius, unaware that they dropped their package of begging letters. Marius picks up the package and takes it back to his apartment.

The next day, Éponine visits Marius at his apartment and gives him a letter, begging for money. As Marius reads the letter, he discovers the handwriting and the stationery are identical to the four letters from the package. Éponine suddenly spots Marius’ mirror and goes to it to look at it while singing to herself. To impress him further, she proves that she is literate by reading aloud from one of his books and writing "The cognes (police) are here" on a piece of paper. Éponine then compliments to Marius that he is handsome, and also mentions that she has previously noticed him a number of times before. Changing the subject, Marius hands her back the other letters. She gleefully takes them. Éponine then reveals to Marius about her current life, telling him how she and her family once lived under the arches of bridges the previous winter, her contemplating about drowning herself in the water and having hallucinations. Pitying her, Marius gives her five francs. Seeing the coin, she takes it from him and thanks him in a chain of argot.

Éponine leaves and some time later Marius observes her and her family in their apartment nextdoor. She had claimed that she had arranged for a philanthropist from the local church to come to their home and give them money to help pay the rent. In an effort to make his family look poorer, M. Jondrette orders Azelma to punch out the window, which she does, cutting her hand open. It turns out that the "philanthropist" is in reality Jean Valjean. Cosette is with him, with whom Marius has fallen in love. Valjean promises to return later with money for them.

As soon as Valjean and Cosette leave, Marius attempts to follow them but is unable to pay for a cab due to giving Éponine his remaining five francs. While returning morosely to his room, Éponine follows him. She notices Marius unhappy and offers to assist him on what is troubling him. Marius decides to ask her to find the address of the father and daughter that just visited her family earlier. Éponine reacts bitterly upon hearing Marius’ request, realizing that he has an interest in the philanthropist’s daughter, but agrees to do so after he promises to give her anything she wishes in return.

After Éponine leaves, Marius overhears M. Jondrette and his wife begin to plot to rob and murder Valjean, as they recognize him as the man who adopted Cosette, and want their revenge. To help in this they enlist the aid of the Patron-Minette street gang.

Determined to prevent this crime against his beloved and her father, Marius informs Javert of the planned crime, and Javert gives him two pistols with the order to fire one when the crime is going to happen. Marius returns to his house and waits. Éponine and Azelma are sent outside the building to watch for the police, but the police sneak in the back door and prepare to spring their trap once Marius fires his pistol. Valjean returns to the Jondrettes' home; they capture him and M. Thénardier reveals his true identity to him. Marius, recognizing the name as that of the man who "saved" his father at Waterloo, is torn. He does not want to let Valjean die, but he does not want to betray his father’s "savior." Seeing the scrap of paper Éponine wrote on earlier, he tosses it frantically into the room via the crack in the wall. M. Thénardier reads the note and, recognizing Éponine's writing, thinks that she threw it inside. They try to escape, but nonetheless Javert enters and arrests the Thénardiers and the street gang, while Valjean escapes unnoticed.

Éponine and Montparnasse avoid being arrested due to abandoning the scene earlier. However, Éponine is caught at a later time and joins Azelma in prison. Both sisters are released two weeks later due to lack of evidence.

Marius, Cosette, and Éponine

While in jail, Babet sends Éponine to investigate a house at the Rue Plumet, and she does so. Discovering that Valjean and Cosette live there and knowing that Marius is trying to find "that girl" (Cosette), Éponine sends back a biscuit to Babet (which is code for "nothing to do"). After she learns of Marius' whereabouts from the churchwarden Mabeuf, she finds Marius in a park called "The Field of the Lark." She tells him that she knows where Cosette lives, hoping to impress him and make him happy. Marius makes Éponine swear not to tell the address to her father, which she promises not to. She then reminds him that he promised to give her something in return for finding Cosette, and he offers her his last five-franc coin. She sadly lets the coin fall to the ground, saying she does not want his money.

Marius visits Cosette several times, and each time Éponine secretly watches him walking to the Rue Plumet. On one occasion, Éponine follows him to the house and sits down by the gates, lost in thought. At that moment, M. Thénardier, Patron-Minette and Brujon arrive to rob the house after breaking out of jail. Out of love for Marius, Éponine threatens to scream and alert the police if they try to carry out their plans. They retire, and Éponine has saved both the house from being robbed and Marius and Cosette from being discovered. Meanwhile, Cosette informs Marius that she and Valjean will be leaving for England soon, which causes them much concern about what will happen to their relationship.

The next day, Éponine swaps clothing with a man, disguising herself as a boy. She finds Valjean sitting in an embankment in the Champ de Mars and secretly throws to him a written message, which reads "remove." After reading it, he returns to the Rue Plumet and reconfirms with Cosette that they will relocate to their other house and leave for England in a week. Cosette quickly writes a letter to Marius with this information. She finds Éponine outside the gates and, thinking her to be a workman, gives her five francs and asks her to deliver the letter to Marius. Éponine takes the letter, but does not deliver it.

On the night of the insurrection, Éponine visits Courfeyrac (one of the revolutionary students from the Friends of the ABC) and asks for Marius, but he informs her that he does not know where Marius is. Éponine discovers Courfeyrac is going to the barricades and decides to accompany him. After learning the barricade's location, she goes to the Rue Plumet, expecting Marius to visit Cosette at his usual time. When he arrives, he discovers that Cosette is no longer at the house. Keeping herself hidden, Éponine tells Marius that his friends are waiting for him at the barricade at the Rue de la Chanvrerie. She goes back there.


Distraught over the loss of Cosette, Marius goes to the barricade. He is armed with the two pistols Javert gave him months ago, and uses them both during the fighting. While he is unarmed and searching for a weapon, a soldier makes it inside the barricade and aims at Marius. Éponine puts her hand, and her body, in front of the musket, and the musket ball enters her, saving Marius’ life. Marius does not think much of it, and it is not until later that he recognizes her, when she is lying at his feet. She tells him that she had taken the bullet for him, piercing through her hand and then through her back. She requests to him that he lay her on his knees, and he complies. After he does so, Éponine reveals to Marius that it was she who led him to the barricades, hoping that the two of them would die and be united in heaven together. Yet, when the musket was aimed at him, she still blocked the bullet despite her hopes. She, herself, states that she does not understand her actions: "And still when I saw him aiming at you, I put up my hand upon the muzzle of the musket. How droll it is!" Éponine tells Marius that her reason for doing so is that she wanted to die first, but does not provide an explanation to this afterwards. She then reminisces on her and Marius’ previous encounters together, and says she is happy that everyone will die. She reveals that Gavroche is her brother when they hear him singing nearby, and she asks Marius that Gavroche not see her in fear that he will "scold" her. Éponine then says to Marius that she cannot lie to him, and confesses she has a letter for him (which is the letter that Cosette gave to her a day earlier). She tells him she kept it and did not want it to reach him, but decides to give it to him in hopes that he will not be angry with her in the afterlife. After Marius takes the letter, Éponine asks him to promise that he kiss her on the forehead after she dies, which he agrees to do. With her dying breath, Éponine confesses her love for him, saying, "And then, do you know, Monsieur Marius, I believe I was a little in love with you." Éponine dies and Marius kisses her on the forehead as he had promised as "a thoughtful and gentle farewell to an unhappy soul."

Selfish or selfless?

A common debate among readers is Éponine’s motive for saving Marius’ life. Some readers state that though Éponine wished for Marius’ death, she still took the bullet for him selflessly. To further prove this, they also bring up Cosette’s letter that Éponine gave to Marius despite her feelings for him. Other readers interpret Éponine’s action as an act of selfishness. They believe that Éponine only took the bullet because she wanted to die first, and that her thinking "No one shall have him!" is her main thought that drives her towards leading Marius to the barricade. These same readers also go on to say that she only gave Marius the letter so she would be forgiven, not out of her own selflessness, but asking for forgiveness upon death is a sure sign of selflessness which would contradict these readers' claim.


Éponine is featured in the stage musical of the same name. She is played by two people, a young girl for Young Éponine in Montfermeil and a young woman for the adolescent Éponine in Paris.

Differences in the musical

There are a few notable plot differences in the musical adaptation.
(For other similarities and differences to the novel, see the "Songs" category below.)

  • Although still ragged, Éponine’s appearance and voice is more appealing and her personality is moderately more approachable.
  • Éponine and Marius are portrayed as friends.
  • Éponine's younger sister Azelma and their two youngest brothers are completely cut from the musical.
  • In the novel, Gavroche is Éponine’s other younger brother and the Thénardiers’ eldest son. Although he is featured in the musical, he is portrayed as if he is not related to the Thénardiers at all. This could imply that Éponine is the Thénardiers’ only child.
  • In the musical, Éponine is sent by Marius to deliver a letter to Cosette. In the novel, Gavroche is sent to deliver it.
  • The musical gives a pointedly sympathetic depiction of Éponine, which has made her one of the show's most popular characters. Throughout the musical, the ragged, headstrong and independent Éponine serves as a clear foil for Cosette, who is soft, demure, pretty and innocent.


Éponine is featured in the following songs in the musical:

  • Castle On A Cloud (silent) — Éponine makes her first appearance as a child. As soon as she comes in, her mother Mme. Thénardier praises her for looking well "in that little blue hat." Éponine is shown to be unkind to Cosette, such as pointing to Cosette to reveal to her mother that she did not leave to retrieve water and making faces at her while pushing her towards the door.
  • Look Down — Éponine re-enters as a ragged young woman and a member of her father's gang. She is introduced to the audience by Gavroche, who says that she "knows her way about" and is "only a kid, but hard to scare."
  • The Robbery/Javert's Intervention — Éponine meets with Marius and it becomes apparent that she loves him (although he only sees her as a friend). M. and Mme. Thénardier send her off to watch for the police when M. Thénardier and his gang try to con and then rob Valjean (who comes to the street with Cosette to give money to the poor). Before the gang can rob Valjean, Éponine returns, screaming that everyone must run as Javert is coming. She avoids arrest herself.
  • Éponine's Errand — Éponine recognizes Cosette from her childhood. When Marius returns, she sees that he has fallen in love with Cosette. He asks Éponine to find where Cosette lives which she agrees to, despite her jealousy (as she wants to please Marius).
  • In My Life — Éponine brings Marius to Rue Plumet, where Valjean and Cosette live. While Cosette is in the garden and Marius anticipates meeting her, Éponine sings to herself how she loves him and "would be his" if he wished it.
  • A Heart Full Of Love — After hearing Cosette and Marius meet and declare their love for each other, Éponine knows that Marius never loved her.
  • The Attack On Rue Plumet — Éponine notices her father and his gang attempting to break into the house to rob Valjean. She first tries to dissuade them by insisting that there is nothing in the house worth stealing and then threatens to scream and awaken everyone inside if they do not leave. When they refuse, she carries out her threat, forcing them to retreat and warning Marius and Cosette. Marius introduces Éponine to Cosette as the one who brought them together and who once more saved them. It was Éponine's scream however, which frightened Valjean into deciding to move to England (Cosette told her father that she saw shadows on the wall and screamed, which Valjean took to mean that Javert had found him once more).
  • One Day More — The main characters sing their own viewpoints about the next day. In Éponine’s part, she laments her loss of Marius and how she is alone ("One more day all on my own, one more day with him not caring, what a life I might have known, but he never saw me there.") Marius is contemplating whether to follow Cosette to England, or fight with the other students. Éponine then grabs Marius by the arm and they both run off. They are next seen a moment later among Enjolras and the students, with Marius telling Enjolras "My place is here, I fight with you."
  • At The Barricade (Upon These Stones) — Éponine appears dressed as a boy. Marius finds her and she tells him that she wants to stay with him. He asks her to take a letter to Cosette, as a means to bid Cosette goodbye and to get Éponine to safety. She is caught in the garden by Valjean, who takes the letter and tells her to be careful on her way home.
  • On My Own — Éponine's solo song. Éponine walks the streets of Paris and reflects on her solitary life and her love for Marius, ultimately knowing that he can live without her and that there is no hope of them ever being together.
  • A Little Fall Of Rain — Éponine returns to the barricade but is shot as she re-enters. Marius holds and comforts her while she expresses happiness that they are together for that little time at least. She leans up and kisses him, and then dies in his arms.
  • Night Of Anguish (silent) — Enjolras announces that Éponine is "the first to fall" at the barricade. Marius, still holding Éponine's body, tells him that "her life was cold and dark, yet she was unafraid." The other students resolve to fight in her name, and carry her body away.
  • Epilogue — Éponine makes one final appearance as a ghost with Fantine to meet the newly-deceased Valjean.


Actress Version
Mistinguett 1913 Adaptation
Dorothy Bernard 1917 Adaptation
Suzanne Nivette
(as Nivette Saillard)
1925 Adaptation
Orane Demazis 1934 Adaptation
Frances Drake 1935 Adaptation
Silvia Monfort 1958 Adaptation
Hermine Karagheuz 1972 Adaptation
Candice Patou 1982 Adaptation
Frances Ruffelle 1985 London Musical
1987 Broadway Musical
Lea Salonga 1995 Concert
Asia Argento 2000 Adaptation
Allyson Brown 2003-2004 Danish Tour Cast
Celia Keenan-Bolger 2006 Broadway Revival
Lucy Scherer 2007 St. Gallen Production
Sophie Tremblay 2008 Quebec City Production
Lea Michele 2008 Hollywood Bowl Concert
Nancy Sullivan 2008-2010 West End Production
Ashley Spencer 2009 Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Production


External links


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