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 Misérables, having also played the role on stage.
Who Was Eponine Thenadier?
Hugo’s Ragged but Spirited Heroine
Eponine was the daughter of Monsieur and Madame Thénadier, 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 Thénadiers 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 Thénadier 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.
‘Ponine and Gavroche
Brother and Sister
Gavroche Jondrette (aka Thénadier)
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. Thénadier 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 naive and sheltered Cosette, tough but longing to be loved, Eponine is a favorite character for girls and women everywhere.
What Did Eponine Look Like?
Young French Orphan Girl, 1823
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.
Eponine as She Appears in Les Miserables Illustrations
Actresses Who Have Played Eponine
Les Miserables Eponine Thénadier on Stage and Screen
Although Eponine is one of the most popular of the Les Misérables 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.
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 Misérables 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 Misérables 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 1994 entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.
Her daughter is singer Eliza Doolittle. Eliza’s father is Les Misérables (stage) director John Caird. Ruffelle and Caird are no longer married.
Les Mis Original London Cast Recording
Frances Ruffelle, the Original Eponine
Frances Ruffelle joins Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Patti LuPone as Fantine, Michael Ball as Marius, and the rest of the legendary original Les Miz cast.
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, original 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.
A Musical Theater Star Who Has Been Both Eponine and Fantine
Lea Salonga (album available on Amazon.com)
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 the Les 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 Misérables 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.)
Lea Salonga as Eponine
Member of the Les Miserables ‘Dream Cast’
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 Thénadier 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 Misérables movie.
Linzi Hateley: An Enchanting Eponine
Linzi Played Eponine for 2 Years
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 Misérables 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 reality TV show casting for the part of Nancy in the 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!
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.
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 Misérables 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 Daaé in a 1998 horror version of The Phantom of the Opera (not the musical version).