Disliking Cosette

I, like pretty much everyone who has seen Les Miserables, am a firm supporter of Team Eponine. I fangirl Lea Salonga, I love On My Own, and my gut reactions sort Eponine and Cosette into “the awesome one” and “the annoying one.”

It’s easy for me to understand my love for Eponine. She has great songs, she’s sympathetic, and as the brave girl suffering under unrequited love, she’s fairly easy to connect with and hope for happiness for her. The general dislike of Cosette is harder to understand, because… well, because there’s not much there to dislike. And that is, I think, actually the reason why Cosette is so unpopular. She has little personality and little struggle of her own. She’s a cipher, a plot device, so that Marius can fall in love, so that Eponine can have more conflict, so that Valjean can struggle and have a reason to join the barricades in the second half of the play. And when a cipher seems to float into a position (or in this case, a relationship) that a more sympathetic character has strived for and failed to get, it is more than easy to dislike her, because she has no personality or struggles of her own to recommend her.

Young!Cosette is quite sympathetic, even heartbreaking, but if I were asked to describe adult!Cosette, I think I would get stuck on “blonde.” Perhaps I could expand it to include her rather high-pitched singing voice, and throw in “loving daughter” and “in love with Marius.” The song In My Life makes some effort to throw light on her generally isolated life and her frustration that her father is keeping secrets from her, but I think these details are quickly lost when the song merges into a love song with Marius. As an adult, her entire presence in the story involves seeing Marius, falling instantly in love with him, singing a song about it, and then getting married at the end. Happiness seems to come easily to her; her romance is unbelievable, and her pure sweetness and fairytale fortune seem rather out of place in an otherwise dark and bitter world.

I find it interesting, and a little disheartening, that it is so easy to dislike a female character who isn’t really a character at all. It’s not that her focus on romance makes her too “girly,” since Eponine’s highly sympathetic plotline also involves her love for Marius, but that, without the depth that other Les Miserables characters receive, it’s too easy to dismiss her into a dislikeable feminine trope: the simpering, unworthy other woman. There’s little evidence to support this conclusion, but there’s also little evidence to disprove it, and so a viewing public that is both used to these kinds of simple categories and immersed in a show where most people don’t get the happy endings they would seem to deserve, are happy to dislike and dismiss her.

05 comments on “Disliking Cosette

  • Alex , Direct link to comment

    I actually disagree with you on this one- Cosette has long been my favourite character in Les Miserables. This might be because I’ve read the book (or the Brick), but I’ve always loved her. She is the physical embodiement of the human spirit, of the idea that there is goodness and light even in misery and despair, both in her own childhood with her dreams, and her own role in the lives of those around her as she is older (which is why her face always represents Les Miserables, because she is the symbol of the entire point of the novel). She is loving and gentle, she’s a caregiver, but she’s strong and mature enough to tell her father that he’s being a jerk for not telling her the truth about her life. She falls in lust with Marius via instant chemistry and thinks it’s love because all she knows of love comes through books, but truly falls in love with him as she helps him recover from both physical injuries and serious PTSD (which she probably suffered from to some degree after the Thenardiers). She knows Marius is lying when Valjean leaves. And she moves heaven and hell and runs across the entire country to find her dad when he’s dying.

    Yes, I think it’s frustrating that she isn’t given enough agency in the musical. I think it’s really upsetting that people can only like one female character in a story, and that if they don’t particularly like another they consider her awful and hateable. And there are lots of problems with a female character being a symbol more than she is her own person. But I don’t think she is as devoid of character as you paint her to be.

    Again, I have read the novel and seen a lot of productions of the musical, so I am coming from a different place than a lot of people. (But my love for this girl is up there with my love for Sansa and Aurora, so…)

    Anyway, this comment became too long, but I’ll end with a quote from the Brick:

    “It must be remembered that she was a lark rather than a dove. She was wild and brave at heart.”

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      That’s an awesome quote! I haven’t actually read the book, although it is currently sitting on my Kindle waiting to be started, but your thoughts have made me really eager to dig in. My impression of Cosette in the musical is that she’s just sort of *there* — that she could have been more of a character, but I didn’t really get to see much of her. So I’m really looking forward to seeing all that depth and development in the book!

  • Allie , Direct link to comment

    It really pisses me off when people say they hate Cosette but love Eponine. The point of those two characters is that they’re foils for each other, and yet they’re both motivated by the same thing: love. The only reason Cosette wasn’t at the barricade fighting beside Marius is because she felt a duty and responsibility to her father

  • mphadventuregirl , Direct link to comment

    I love Eponine more then Cosette in Les Mis. But I don’t dislike Cosette at all. The thing I love the most about both girls is that they are like mirror images of each other. When they are kids, Cosette has a very terrible life with the Thenardiers’, who horribly abuse her. But at the same time you see Eponine being spoiled by her mother. But as the girls get older, their situations get reversed. I am one of the many few who actually likes Cosette with Marius. I just don’t know who Eponine would be without the unrequited love in the first place.

  • Jan , Direct link to comment

    You are totally wrong to me, like every Eponine fan. The musical reduces the awesome personality of Cosette, but she’s still one of the best characters of the entire Les Mis world: Eponine is the plot device (in many films based on the novel all of her is cut), you should really read the book, it explains everything.
    Since one has already described Cosette’s nature, I’ll finish here.

What do you think?

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