Before we continue, there are a few more things to say about Eponine.
Eponine and Cosette are a glaring example of the idea that “the last in this world shall be first and the first shall be last”, which is prevalent in Christian belief. At the age of three, they were both pretty, as we see from this description of Eponine and her sister Azelma:
The radiant children, attractively dressed, were like two roses twined on the rusty iron, with their perfect, sparkling eyes and their fresh, laughing faces. One was a rosy blonde, the other a brunette, their artless faces two delightful surprises; the perfume shed by a flowering shrub nearly seemed their own breath; the smaller one had her pretty little stomach bared with the chaste indecency of infancy.
…and of Cosette at the same age:
This woman’s child was the loveliest creature imaginable: a little girl of two or three. She could have competed with the other little ones for the most appealing attire; there were ribbons at her shoulders and Valenciennes lace above the fine linen wings on her cap. The folds of her skirt were raised enough to show her plump white thighs. She was charmingly rosy and healthful. One wanted to nibble at the pretty little creature’s cheeks.
Under the Thenardiers’ care, Cosette received nothing but neglect, hard work, and abuse, while Eponine and Azelma received the royal treatment. Here is a description of Cosette after five years of this treatment:
Cosette was ugly. If happy, she might have been pretty. We have already sketched this pitiful little face. Cosette was thin and pale; she was about eight years old, but one would hardly have thought her six. Her large eyes, sunk in a sort of shadow, were dimmed by continual weeping. The corners of her mouth had that curve of habitual anguish seen in the condemned and the terminally ill. Her hands were, as her mother had guessed, covered with chillblains. The light of the fire shining upon her made her bones stand out and her emaciation hideously visible. Because she was always shivering, she had acquired the habit of drawing her knees together. Her clothing was only rags that would have provoked pity in the summer and that elicited horror in the winter. She had on nothing but cotton, and that full of holes, not a speck of wool. Her skin showed here and there, and on it, bruises, where the Thenardiess had grabbed her. Her naked legs were red and rough. The hollows below her collarbones were enough to make you weep. Everything about this child, her walk, her attitude, the sound of her voice, the pauses between one word and another, her look, her silences, her slightest gesture, expressed and portrayed a single idea: fear.
Now check out this description of Eponine and Azelma at the same age. They had experienced nothing but good things from the Thenardiers while Cosette was receiving nothing but bad from them:
They were really two pretty little girls, more city girls than peasants, very charming, one with her shiny auburn tresses, the other with her long black braids falling down her back, and both so lively, neat, plump, fresh, and healthy that it was a pleasure to look at them. They were warmly dressed, but with such maternal art that the thickness of the material detracted nothing from the daintiness of fit. Winter was taken care of without smothering spring. These two little girls shed light around them. Besides, in the tavern, they were royalty. In their clothing, their gaiety, the sounds they made, there was authority. When they came in, the Thenardiess said to them in a scolding tone full of adoration, “Ah! There you are, you two!”
Things changed rapidly after this. Valjean rescued Cosette from the Thenardiers’ clutches. He cared for her, saw to it that she got a proper education, and you have seen how she turned out as an adolescent. Meanwhile, the Thenardiers’ inn failed and they hid out in Paris and took up the life of criminals. Eponine and Azelma did not make out well at all in this, and you have seen what they looked like.
This bears a strong resemblance to the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This rich man lived richly and feasted abundantly, and paid no heed to the beggar Lazarus who was at his gates day in and day out. Eventually they both died. Lazarus was taken up to Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man went to hell, where he was in torment. He called up to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus down to dip his fingertip in water and cool his tongue. But Abraham responded: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26)
In the same way, during the time that Cosette was in the Thenardiers’ care Eponine received good things from them while Cosette received only bad things. Now the tables have turned and Cosette is comforted with Valjean’s love and provision while Eponine is in misery.
Another point: Even as bad off as Cosette was after five years of living with the Thenardiers, all it took was some love from Valjean to make her beautiful. If Marius had been willing to love and care for Eponine as Valjean had Cosette, might Eponine have turned out to be beautiful?
Some more loose ends on Eponine:
–Eponine is nobler than any of the other Thenardiers because she is capable of selfless action. She truly loves Marius and wants him to be happy, and is willing to do whatever she has to do to bring this about, even if it means that she will not have the opportunity to love him. As the story progresses, we will see all that she gives up for his sake.
–Eponine could read and write. That put her ahead of the other Thenardiers as well.