Cosette

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For other uses, see Cosette (disambiguation).
Cosette
Les Misérables character
Ebcosette.jpg
Illustration of Cosette in the Thénardiers' inn at Montfermeil depicted by Émile Bayard (1837-1891).
Created by Victor Hugo
Information
Aliases Euphrasie, Ursule or Ursula, the Lark, Mademoiselle Lanoire
Gender Female
Family Fantine (mother)
Félix Tholomyès (father)
Jean Valjean (surrogate father; no legal or blood relation)
Significant other(s) Marius Pontmercy
Relatives Georges Pontmercy (father-in-law)
Religion Roman Catholic
Nationality French

Cosette is a fictional character in the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and in the many adaptations of the story for stage, film, and television. Her given name Euphrasie is only mentioned briefly, and as the orphaned child of an unwed mother deserted by her father, Hugo never labels her with a surname. In the course of the novel, she either presents herself or is mistakenly identified as Ursule, the Lark, or Mademoiselle Lanoire.

She is the daughter of Fantine. After her mother leaves her to be looked after by the Thénardiers, she becomes an exploited and victimised child. Rescued by Jean Valjean, who raises her as if she were his own family, she grows up in a convent school to become a radiant and innocent young beauty. She falls in love with Marius Pontmercy, a young lawyer. Valjean's struggle to protect her while disguising his past drives much of the plot until Valjean recognizes he must allow Cosette her own life—"that this child had a right to know life before renouncing it"[1]— and must surrender to her romantic attachment to Marius.

Cosette in the novel[edit]

Early life[edit]

Euphrasie, nicknamed Cosette (from "chosette", or "little thing") by her mother, is the illegitimate daughter of Fantine and Félix Tholomyès, a rich student. She is born in Paris in circa 1815. After Tholomyès abandons Fantine, she leaves Cosette with the Thénardiers at their inn in Montfermeil, paying them to care for her child while she goes to work in the city of Montreuil-sur-Mer when Cosette is three years old. Unbeknownst to Fantine, the Thénardiers severely abuse and mistreat Cosette while she is under their care for the next five years. They beat her, starve her, and force her to perform heavy labor in their inn. Under the Thénardiers' care, she is described as "thin and pale," wears rags for clothing, and she has chilblains on her hands as well as bruised and reddened skin. She is forced to go barefoot in winter.[2] The narrator also states that "fear was spread all over her."

While Fantine is in the hospital, the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer—who is Jean Valjean masquerading under the name "Madeleine" to avoid being known as a paroled convict—vows to retrieve Cosette for her. Although Fantine dies before her daughter can be brought to her, Valjean becomes determined to look after the young girl.

Cosette with her doll, painting by Léon Comerre (1850-1916)

When he arrives in Montfermeil on Christmas Eve, he finds Cosette fetching a pail of water for the Thénardiers. He accompanies her back to the inn and witnesses the Thénardiers’ mistreatment of her, as well as the unkindness that their daughters Éponine and Azelma show her when they do not let her play with their doll. After seeing this, Valjean leaves the inn and soon returns with an expensive new doll, which he offers to Cosette. At first Cosette is reluctant to take the doll, but then she joyfully accepts it. This makes Thénardier furious at Valjean, and Éponine and Azelma become jealous.

The next morning on Christmas Day, Valjean informs the Thénardiers that the real reason he is at the inn is because he wants to take Cosette with him. Mme. Thénardier immediately agrees to this, but Thénardier pretends to have adoration for Cosette and acts reluctant to give her up. Valjean pays them 1,500 francs, settling all of Fantine's debts, and he and Cosette leave the inn. However, Thénardier tries to swindle more money out of Valjean by running after them and telling Valjean that he has changed his mind and now wants Cosette back.

He informs Valjean that Cosette's mother had entrusted her to their care and that he cannot release Cosette without a note from her mother. Valjean, agreeing with him, hands him a letter signed by Fantine. Thénardier then attempts to order Valjean to either return Cosette or pay a thousand crowns, but Valjean ignores him and leaves with Cosette.

Paris[edit]

Sculpture of Cosette with her doll by Marthe La-Fizeliere-Ritti

Valjean takes Cosette to Paris. They lodge at Gorbeau House, and Valjean begins her education. When Inspector Javert discovers Valjean's whereabouts, Valjean and Cosette are forced to flee. Valjean climbs a wall and climbing they find themselves in a garden attached to a convent. The gardener Fauchelevant recognizes Valjean as the man who rescued him years earlier and agrees to shelter him. Valjean poses as Fauchelevant's brother and tells the nuns he is Cosette's grandfather. They live peacefully in the convent for many years as Valjean works with Fauchelevant and Cosette attends the convent school. Over time, she appears to have no recollection of her childhood before arriving at the convent. As Cosette matures, she becomes very beautiful and healthy, with chestnut brown hair, beautiful eyes, rosy cheeks, pale skin, and a radiant smile. Valjean realizes it would be unfair to allow her to become a nun without her having fully experienced the outside world that a cloistered nun renounces.

In a later chapter, Cosette does eventually remember her childhood. She remembers praying for the mother she never knew, the Thénardiers as two ugly creatures, and fetching the water for the Thénardiers somewhere "very far from Paris." In the same chapter, she asks Valjean about her mother, but he does not answer her question. When Cosette has a dream about her mother as an angel, she remarks that her mother must have been a saint. Valjean answers: "through martyrdom."

Relationship with Marius Pontmercy[edit]

The adult Cosette, by Pierre-Georges Jeanniot, 1887 edition

Marius sees Cosette for the first time in the Luxembourg Gardens. She is fourteen years old, and fresh out of the convent, so he pays little attention to her. After a few months, Marius notices her and sees that she has grown to be an extremely beautiful young woman. Soon Cosette and Marius exchange glances and fall in love. Valjean notices how attentive Marius is to their movements. When he learns that Marius has followed them home and inquired about them, he quickly moves to a more obscure address with Cosette.

Marius spots Cosette again during a charitable visit she and Valjean make to the Thénardiers at Gorbeau House, directly next door to Marius. He asks Éponine to find her address for him, and she reluctantly agrees. After many weeks, Éponine takes Marius to Cosette's new address in order to please Marius. Marius watches Cosette for a few nights before approaching her. When Cosette and Marius finally meet again in the garden, they confess their mutual love, share their first kiss, and introduce themselves. They continue to meet in secret.

Éponine prevents Thénardier, Patron-Minette and Brujon from robbing Valjean and Cosette's house. The same night, Cosette informs Marius that she and Valjean will be departing for England soon. This news devastates them both, because it will mean the end of their relationship. Marius briefly attempts to obtain money and permission to marry from his grandfather to circumvent this issue. Their discussion dissolves into a heated argument stemming from the grandfather's suggestion to "Make her (Cosette) your (Marius') mistress", and Marius storms out.

The next day, Éponine (now dressed as a boy) finds Valjean in an embankment in the Champ de Mars and anonymously throws him a note, which tells him to "move." Valjean considers this in horror for a few days, then informs Cosette they will move to their other house and will be in England in a week. Cosette quickly writes a letter to Marius with this information. She catches sight of Éponine through the gate and asks the "workman" to deliver the letter to Marius. Éponine accepts the letter, but does not deliver it.

Several nights later, Marius is led to the barricades by Éponine, in hope that they will die together. After being fatally shot, Éponine reveals this to Marius and gives him Cosette’s letter before she dies. Marius writes a farewell letter to Cosette, which is delivered to Valjean by Gavroche. Valjean reads Marius’ farewell letter and decides to follow Marius to the barricades. After the battle is over, he takes Marius' unconscious body through the sewers. After, quite literally, dragging Marius through quicksand in the sewer, Valjean finally manages to get Marius through the sewers alive, is let out by Thénardier, who has a government key and does not recognize him simply assuming him to be an assassin who killed Marius.

He is confronted by Javert at the exit, who had pursued Thénardier there and was watching the exit in hopes of catching him. Javert helps Valjean return Marius to his grandfather's house and requests to be brought home to say goodbye to Cosette before being sent back to the galleys, Javert allows it, and when Valjean instinctively looks out the window, Javert is gone. We later find out that Valjean's sparing his life at the barricade had caused a moral paradox and that Javert had gone to throw himself into the Seine. After Marius' six-month recovery from his wounds, he is reunited with Cosette.

Wedding and afterwards[edit]

Cosette bids farewell to Valjean after her marriage

On February 16, 1833, Marius and Cosette marry. The next morning, Valjean tells Marius of his criminal past. Marius asks him to leave him and Cosette. He then allows Valjean to visit her each evening, but makes those visits increasingly difficult until Valjean stops coming. While Marius, assuming the worst about Valjean's character, searches for the real origin of Cosette's money, Valjean loses the will to live and becomes bedridden. When Marius learns from Thénardier that he owes his life to Valjean, Marius and Cosette go to Valjean, find him on his deathbed, and reconcile with him. As Marius looks on, Valjean tells Cosette the story of her mother Fantine and how he came to be her guardian. Valjean dies peacefully.

Character role[edit]

Critics have often considered Cosette to be something of an empty figure, with no real independent character apart from the role she plays in the lives of others: as an innocent child-victim; daughter to be protected (for Fantine and Valjean); and object of adoration (for Marius). Stephanie Barbé Hammer writes that "Having served her function as a paternalizing figure, Cosette grows up into a silent, beautiful cipher".[3] She has the same, but reverse, role as an object of jealousy and hatred for the villainous characters. As Kathryn M. Grossman remarks, she brings out the "hatred of humanity" that is typical of Hugo's villains. When Mme Thénardier sees that the grown-up Cosette has become a "well-off and radiant young woman, Mme Thénardier responds viscerally, 'I'd like to kick open her belly'."[4]

Cosette is also portrayed as largely sexless. Mario Vargas Llosa says of her relationship to Marius,

Now the love between these two is completely ethereal; the sex drive has been surgically removed so that their relationship can be purely one of feeling. Before the wedding the young people exchange one kiss, which is not repeated because, as the narrator says, neither Marius nor Cosette was aware of the existence of carnal desire.... The dialogue between these two virtuous lovers is as unreal as their amorous behavior. For this reason, the episodes where the two lovers talk to each other are the most artificial moments in the novel.[5]

However, in a novel of symbolism and metaphor, Cosette may also be seen as a symbol of hope in the world of Les Misérables, representing the rise of the oppressed and abused from darkness to a bright future. Cosette is seen as a strong female lead in the novel, aiming to achieve happiness ultimately in her life. She can be seen as restrained by the time in which she lived, but still full of subtle strength.

Adaptations[edit]

Since the original publication of Les Misérables in 1862, the character of Cosette has been included in many adaptations in various media, including books, films,[6] musicals, plays and games, most notably in the 2007 anime Les Misérables: Shōjo Cosette, in which she rather than Valjean is the central character.

Cosette in the musical[edit]

In the stage musical based on the novel, Cosette is a principal character played by two actors, a younger female for Montfermeil in 1823 and an older female for Paris in 1832. Her role as an adolescent is condensed and her joy in singing and reading and her passionate nature omitted, as are many other details, like the conversation between Valjean and Cosette as he helps her carry the water bucket, their stay at Gorbeau House, their avoidance of Javert and their arrival at the Petit-Picpus convent. The musical also condenses the time between the wedding of Cosette and Marius and their visit to the dying Valjean.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (English language) Kindle Edition, 583)
  2. ^ Victor Hugo Les Miserables page 382
  3. ^ Stephanie Barbé Hammer, The Sublime Crime: Fascination, Failure, and Form in Literature of the Enlightenment, Southern Illinois University Press, 1994, p.158
  4. ^ Kathryn M. Grossman, Figuring Transcendence in Les Miserables: Hugo's Romantic Sublime, Illinois University Press, 1994,p.21.
  5. ^ Mario Vargas Llosa, The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo and Les Miserables, Princeton University Press, 2007, p.73.
  6. ^ Cosette (Character) at the Internet Movie Database