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Les Misérables Cheat Sheet

  Les Misérables, Victor Hugo’s tale of redemption and getting laid in 19th century France, has seen a brand-spanking new theatrical release starring that guy and that other guy. Now, I understand that you’re busy, but this is going to be one of those things that people are going to endlessly gush about for the next bajillion years until another musical comes along to remind them that musicals, by and large, suck. For every Les Mis there are about thirty variants of Grease 2 and Bye Bye Birdie, all light and fluffy and tremendously redundant.

  Anyway, I am here to help you talk about the characters so that, when you’re at a party and a former theater major starts yakking about this stuff, you don’t have to set the couch on fire and disappear into the night. Instead, you can gesture grandly with your drink and squint meaningfully while you relay your own interpretation of the story and characters. And by “your own” I mean “mine.” After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but mine just so happens to be right.

  Below are the major characters, song name drops, a brief description, and what choosing this character as your “totes fav” tells people about your personality.


NAME: Jean Valjean
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: Irish or British, depending on the version
OCCUPATION: Bread thief, factory owner, mayor, guy who picks stuff up and puts it down again.
ALIGNMENT: Lawful Good
MEMORABLE SONG: Who am I?

DESCRIPTION: The main character of the story until his protagonist role is hijacked about two-thirds of the way through the opera, Jean Valjean starts off as a convict in a puddle for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s son. After his release, he travels trying to find work and failing because, like modern America, former convicts are ranked slightly above mildew in the arena of public opinion. After he steals from a church, he is caught and brought to face the priest’s judgment. The priest is all like “Bro, you left in such a hurry you forgot the most expensive shit!” and gives him some candle sticks with the caveat he uses the money to start a new life. This restores Valjean’s faith in God and pushes him to own a factory and become a town’s mayor. Since he hasn’t reported to the authorities as per his parole requirements, he is now being hunted by Javert, a police inspector. The Inspector’s suspicion pretty much boils down to “One time I saw this prisoner lift something heavy and this guy did, too,” but I guess that’s enough for some people. Other things happen, but that’s the gist.

Valjean is a man running away from his past while trying to redeem himself endlessly for real and perceived crimes. He has quite a few sacrificial actions in the narrative, putting his life and freedom on the line because that’s what a protagonist is supposed to do. Honestly, however, the goody-goody act is wearing at times, since if he had not earned salvation through employing the entire female population of a town (sans hookers), he should have been double-dog-saved adopting Cosette, a bit of wood with a human face stapled on it.

FUN FACT: Screaming “24601” is not an acceptable way to deflect questions about your phone number. Turns out it’s missing a few digits.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: Although you aren’t very imaginative, it make sense that Valjean is your favorite character. You like your heroes angsty and with a troubled past and have a large tolerance for introspective whining. In other words, you probably have pictures on your wall of various Final Fantasy characters from when Square Soft went through its emo phase.

Basically, as long as you view the character as a character in a story and not an ideal to become attached to, it’s fine. You may be boring at parties, though.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: No.


NAME: Inspector Javert (Apparently, Inspector is his first name)
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: British
OCCUPATION: Inspector (What are the odds?)
ALIGNMENT: Lawful Neutral
MEMORABLE SONG: Stars

DESCRIPTION: Javert was born in a prison and grew up around criminals. He dedicated his life to the law and enforcing it, meaning that on the surface he’s about as interesting as a door knob. However, his endless pursuit of Valjean, a supposed criminal who has done a lot of good, puts him on an arc which ends up destroying his system. Javert, as a character, evolves through the story, although that evolution is more internal. As his deeply held convictions are routinely upended by Valjean’s insistence on being a good person, Javert is forced to come to the conclusion that a former criminal can be a better person than one dedicated to the law.

Javert has a tragically limited black-and-white scope – there are those that obey the law and those that break it – and when his world can no longer be sustained without expanding to include a lot of grey, his reality is shattered. Javert couldn’t sustain the narrative on his own without becoming a stereotypical (albeit kind of uninspired) action hero, but his relevance to the main characters and continual presence provides a layer of depth to the story that others do not.

Thinking about it now, if things went a little differently for Javert, he’d probably have wound up as a serial killer. Huh.

FUN FACT: I’m pretty sure Javert’s mom was a prostitute, which is exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to tell a first date.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: People who chose Javert as their favorite character tend to be attractive and understands depth and narrative arcs. Either that or they are simplistic control freaks who hate everyone and root for the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: No.


NAME: Fantine
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: British
OCCUPATION: Garment Worker/Hair Donation Services/Denture Building Specialist/Prostitute
ALIGNMENT: Lawful Good
MEMORABLE SONG: I Dreamed a Dream

DESCRIPTION: A woman determined to provide for her daughter, Fantine fails miserably because she gets tuberculosis and dies like a chump. What a loser, amiright?

Fantine is Valjean’s second human-shaped form of salvation, after he lifts a cart off some dude in an alley. Outside of that, Fantine is your standard, ill-developed goody-two-shoes character. She had a dalliance with some dude who knocked her up and then split, leaving her to raise the two-by-four she gives birth to. When she is unable to do that, she leaves the girl with an inn keeper and his wife to raise while she sends them money in a scheme which I’m sure was well-thought-out at the time. She’s fired from her job because the secret of her child is leaked out and, since this is 19th century uber-Catholic France, that must mean she’s a woman of loose morals. She sells her hair, some teeth, and then her body. She sings a song about how life shits all over everything, is rescued by Jean Valjean, and then dies after he promises her to take care of her lifelike Barbie doll, Cosette.

In a nutshell, Fantine is basically the idea that the world chews up innocence and then pulls your teeth out. In a shallow sense, though, she’s a misogynist’s ideal woman: dead.

FUN FACT: Fantine’s lover takes advantage of her and disappears forever, leaving behind a struggling woman and his daughter. There’s no joke here, I’m just pointing out that asshole deadbeat dads have historical precedence.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: As the second strongest female in the narrative, Fantine is a pretty good choice for your favorite character. She’s determined and capable, but ultimately flawed by her shitty immune system. However, you have to make sure you know what you like about her – if it’s not her drive to see a better life for her daughter but her reliance on Jean Valjean, you only like her cause she’s a damsel in distress. Read this, grow up, and try again.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: No.


NAME: Thénardier (Madame and Monsieur)
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: Cockney (A subdivision of British)
OCCUPATION: Asshole Innkeepers/Petty Thugs/Con Artists
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Evil
MEMORABLE SONG: Master of the House

DESCRIPTION: The Thénardiers are the ones who keep Fantine’s precious bag-of-sand-with-a-human-face-on-it safe and milk the poor mother endlessly for extra cash. They also run an inn where they abuse the tenants and steal all their shit. After giving Cosette to Valjean, they run into vaguely defined “hard times,” forcing them to take up a life of even crimier crime. Also, they have a daughter named Eponine who manages to not be nearly as terrible as them nor as bland as Cosette.

It’s hard to know how to feel about these characters. In the opera, their personality shift takes place roughly fifteen minutes apart. When we first meet them, they’re con artists and certainly not pleasant people, but they’re funny and more comic relief villains than anything else. Almost instantly, however, they become violent despoilers of Valjean’s cover. And then they go right back to being comic relief by the end. Narrative consistency? Who needs it!

Also, I’d say they get their comeuppance at some point, but they totally don’t.

FUN FACT: These characters are supposed to have another daughter in addition to Eponine. Sadly, she fell into a plot hole in the transition from book to stage.

BONUS FUN FACT: In the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen affects a goofy French accent for roughly fifteen seconds, making this first time an actor has pretended to be French in an opera about motherfucking France.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: You like your villains to oscillate violently between comedic and genuine threats. To say that you enjoy consistency is a flat out lie as you are dangerously unhinged and probably watched the film with a tray of deep-fried Zoloft instead of nachos.

Either that or you love characters that can lose their livelihood, their family, and yet still behave as if nothing has happened, ya goddamn sociopath.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: Sure, why not?


NAME: Eponine
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: British
OCCUPATION: Street Rat
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Neutral
MEMORABLE SONG: On My Own

DESCRIPTION: Eponine, daughter of the Thénardiers and kinda-sorta sister of a potato with googly eyes glued on it, grows up to live out on the street. She’s also in love with a dipshit student by the name of Marius because he speaks of freedom and other such rot.

Basically, Eponine is a dumb teenager in love with another dumb teenager and mopes about it. However, she is an active agent in her own life, unlike certain other protagonists I could name. Eponine is certainly one of the most tragic of characters, abused by her parents, homeless, and ignored by the man she loves. Surprisingly enough, despite my indifference to the whims of teenage romantics, her plight seems more legitimate than other fictional characters: she’s living in the gutter (which can’t do a whole lot for one’s life expectancy) and the object of her affection not only “loves” someone else but is marching off to die.

What I’m saying is there’s suitable justification to the melodrama for once.

Also, Eponine is the anti-Ayn Rand: a woman who loses a life of (modest) comfort still believes in sacrificing herself for others. Kind of neat, in my (once again, correct) opinion.

FUN FACT: If you don’t cry during “On My Own,” the actress is doing it wrong or you have no soul.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: You enjoy a good love story, especially one tinged with tragedy and loss. This is probably because you have spent enough time pining for someone you can’t have and therefore Eponine’s plight speaks to you personally. Or you want your very own unrequited love interest to ferret secret messages between you and your real love interest because you’re an unbelievable bastard.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: Ha ha ha ha, no. Victor Hugo hates women almost as much as he hates you, personally.


NAME: Marius Pontmercy
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: British
OCCUPATION: Useless Prick/Student/Wannabe Rebel
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Good => Neutral Good
MEMORABLE SONG: Whinging About Love

DESCRIPTION: A member of the student rebellion, Marius falls in love with a sack of batteries in a dress named Cosette at first sight, turning his brain into jelly. He sends Eponine to go find his new love because he can’t see that EPONINE IS RIGHT THERE AND LOVES HIM, GODDAMN. They proclaim their mutual love through the power of cliched song, then he goes and participates in (but doesn’t lead, mind you) the student revolution. He gets Eponine shot because he sucks, and is further saved thanks to bullshit plot armor and Jean Valjean. He sings a song about how sad it is that all of his friends are dead, then immediately gets over it by reconciling with his royalist family and living in opulence and marrying Cosette, rendering all his good traits (fighting for the poor and disaffected) moot by nature of the fact that he buys into the system he wanted so badly to destroy.

FUN FACT: Turns out, you can spell “douchebag” without Marius. But his name is an anagram for “O, Stumpy Crime Ran,” which I think says everything I can possibly say.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: You believe in love at first sight, but that’s negotiable. You know, like every other conviction you have. You’re about as reliable good weather in Silent Hill and when you were voted “Mr. Opportunistic” in your senior graduating class, you thought it was a compliment.

In other words, you are a dickhead.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: Yup. Like I said: Plot armor.


NAME: Cosette
CHARACTER’S NATIONALITY: French
CHARACTER’S ACCENT: British
OCCUPATION: Trophy
ALIGNMENT: Bland
MEMORABLE SONG: Castle on a Cloud (Young) - Not A Damn Thing (Older)

DESCRIPTION: Cosette is a plot device in human form, Valjean’s salvation and Marius’s love interest. This is an amazing feat, as she displays the personality of a dried rutabaga cross-bred with a bowling trophy.

There’s not much to say about Cosette because she’s useless. She’s an early Disney princess, something to be fought over and compliant to others’ wills. Eponine is the stronger character, Fantine is a better symbol of the oppression of early 19th century France, we spend most of our time with Valjean, but the doe-eyed blonde is the enduring symbol of Les Misérables. Wee!

FUN FACT: That’s her on the cover as a young moppet with a broom. You want any more proof that people have a hard-on for bland, pliant women, look no further.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU: You are not worthy of having an opinion. Chances are, you vote for political candidates based on who has the best hair. If you’re a woman, you think that the concept of femininity as told by Leave it to Beaver is an ideal to be emulated. If you’re a man, your idea of respecting women involves using the word “Please” when telling them to get you another beer.

SHOULD YOU GET ATTACHED: Sigh. I guess.

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