The lead character, a convict who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and repeatedly trying to escape. After getting his parole ticket, Valjean steals two candlesticks from the Bishop of Digne but is allowed to take them with the promise he uses them to make something of his life. Several years on, Valjean becomes the guardian of young Cosette after making a promise to her mother Fantine.
Being Good Sucks: Repeatedly sacrifices his own happiness to do what's right, whether it's denouncing himself to prevent an innocent man from going to prison in his place, saving the man his daughter loves even though it means he'll lose her, or confessing his criminal past to Marius and withdrawing from Cosette's life for her protection.
Chekhov's Gun: The two candlesticks he steals from the Bishop of Digne lead him to turn his life around.
Consummate Liar: In a way, coupled with his The Messiah tendencies. He becomes a successful town mayor for eight years and lives with Cosette for another nine without anybody (save Javert) suspecting it's all an alias and he was an ex-convict.
Criminal Doppelgänger: Played with. Champmathieu is also an ex-convict, but unfortunately for everyone involved, he is mistaken for Valjean.
Death by Despair: Valjean takes to his deathbed when Marius takes Cosette from him. It is averted when Marius and Cosette track him down to apologize and reunite with him.
Disease Bleach: In the novel, his hair turns completely white after he decides to turn himself in to the police.
Iconic Outfit: The national guard uniform he wears to get in to the barricade in the musical.
I Have Many Names: To take directly from Wikipedia's page, "Jean Valjean: a.k.a. Monsieur Madeleine, a.k.a. Ultime Fauchelevent, a.k.a. Monsieur Leblanc, a.k.a. Urbain Fabre, a.k.a. 24601, a.k.a. 9430."
Meaningful Name: As stated above, "John's as good as any other John." His alias, Madeleine, is derived from Mary Magdalene (Marie-Madeleine), the repentant sinner.
The Messiah: He's kind, generous, forgiving, loving, self-sacrificing, etc. In the musical, Fantine and Fauchelevent both tell him directly that he comes from God, and Fauchelevent and Marius both call him 'a saint'.
My God, What Have I Done?: After he steals the bishop's silver after the latter showed him mercy. In the musical, the song even opens with (and is titled) "What have I done?" and continues with "Sweet Jesus, what have I done?"
What You Are in the Dark: Early in the story, Valjean actually has a chance to send someone else in his place to jail due to a case of mistaken identity, but he could never live with such a decision.
Wife Husbandry: Seems to consider doing this for a split second at one point. Probably fortunately for all involved, the idea just as quickly Squicks him out. Some adaptations play this up a little more, particularly the 2000 TV miniseries, whose Valjean is generally agreed to be a huge creeper by fans.
Yank the Dog's Chain: He believes himself safe in his new identity as Madeleine, only for Javert to make the whole thing crumble and put Valjean in front of the terrible choice of going back to prison or letting an innocent go to prison in his place.
Adaptational Attractiveness: While not overly unattractive, Javert is said to look like a "dog son of a wolf", and according to Hugo, he has a flat nose accompanied with enormous nostrils and thin, pinched lips that, along with his furrowed brow and thick sideburns, give him a permanent visage of 'unyielding, cruel authority'. Some of the most well-known adaptations have had Philip Quast, Anthony Perkins and Russell Crowe play the role.
Ambiguously Brown: Hugo gives few subtle hints in his description of Javert's past which suggest he might be part Romani, but since the subject of his parentage is never mentioned again, it's debatable whether it is canon or a case of Lost in Translation
'Javert had been born in prison, of a fortune-teller, whose husband was in the galleys. As he grew up, he thought that he was outside the pale of society, and he despaired of ever re-entering it. He observed that society unpardoningly excludes two classes of men,—those who attack it and those who guard it; he had no choice except between these two classes; at the same time, he was conscious of an indescribable foundation of rigidity, regularity, and probity, complicated with an inexpressible hatred for the race of bohemians whence he was sprung.'
Badass: How do you think he became one of the most well known police officers in France?
Badass Baritone: Quite literally, since his role in the musical is played by either a baritone or a bass-baritone.
Badass Beard: Or Badass Muttonchops, depending on the adaptation.
Badass Boast: In the anime, when Javert arrests Thénardier for the second time, he practically vows that if the latter breaks out of prison again and again, he will just send him back until he repents.
Badass Longcoat: Owner of a very nice black trenchcoat, and is the terror of criminals everywhere.
Character Exaggeration: In the musical, Javert is completely obsessed with finding Valjean, while in the novel, it is more about his loyalty to the law.note Reference: Character Exaggeration page, under "Theater."
Characterization Marches On: In the anime, Javert overcomes his belief that no one can change and aids Marius when Thénardier tries to blackmail him.
Character Tics: Javert has a very strange laugh/smile, which contorts his face in a frighteningly feral way. Also, his penchant for snuff.
Deadpan Snarker: Especially in the book, though he sneaks a few lines into the musical as well.
Freudian Excuse: The reason for Javert's extremely harsh black and white worldview and his complete inability to relate to other people. The trope is very interestingly used in Javert's situation, as he was born in prison the child of a prostitute and a thief, but completely rejects the idea that circumstances rather than evil nature can explain crimes, possibly because, since he raised himself from the gutter with his integrity and dedication, he can't see why any good person in dire straits wouldn't be able to do the same.
Hero of Another Story: Almost surely. Presumably when he's not hunting down Valjean, he's chasing down and arresting muggers, arsonists, rapists, and murderers. Considering the tenacity, integrity, and courage he shows in dealing with Valjean, he's probably very good at it too.
Honor Before Reason: When Javert accuses the mayor Madeleine of being Valjean and is informed Valjean is already in custody, he doesn't just apologize or resign. He goes into the mayor's office and asks to be dishonorably fired for making such a grave mistake. Madeleine asks him to keep his job, because he's too much of an honorable man to lose (and also because he was right).
"If I were not severe towards myself, all the justice that I have done would become injustice."
Nerves of Steel: Sort of. No danger can shake his cool, calm reserve: he'll arrest an armed gang with a grin and a barrage of pithy one-liners, stare down the barrel of a gun and (accurately) predict it will misfire, duck hurled paving stones, and face his execution at the hands of angry revolutionaries with equanimity. Show him mercy when he's not expecting it, though, and it's a wholedifferentstory...
Nice Hat: Wears a nice 19th Century French hat or a top hat, depending on the adaptations.
A single mother, Fantine suffers through life trying to earn money to send to her daughter Cosette, under the care of the Thénardiers. After losing her job, her beauty, and her dignity, Fantine dies in a hospital — but not before Jean Valjean appears with the promise to find and care for Cosette until his death.
The Alcoholic: Some adaptations have her getting addicted to drink.
Broken Bird: By the time Valjean rescues Fantine, she has sold her hair, some of her teeth, her clothes, and took up prostitution to get money for Cosette and is on the edge of sanity.
Best punctuated by "I Dreamed a Dream".
Fantine: I had a dream my life would be
So different from this HELL I'm living!
Death by Despair: Fantine is taken to a hospital and improves significantly when told Cosette is there to visit her. When she realizes Cosette is actually not here and that Monsieur Madeline is a convict, she drops dead from shock.
Go Out with a Smile: In the musical, it was instead too late to save her but she dies happy knowing her daughter will be cared for.
Psychopomp: In the musical, she seemingly fulfills this role for Valjean at his death.
Single Mom Stripper: Sadly resorts to prostitution to pay the Thénardiers for Cosette's up-keeping.
Spiteful Spit: To Valjean, after his strict moral codes drive her to her lowest point. He forgives her.
Take Care of the Kids: Fantine's request to Valjean to look after Cosette, becomes his key motivation in the book, musical, etc.
The Tooth Hurts: In the book, she sells her two front teeth (and rips them out herself with pliers) to raise money to help Cosette.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: She trusts the Thènardiers too much to take good care of Cosette, which leads to her selling out her life and body to pay for her daughter's supposed needs and illnesses. In reality, the Thènardiers are just ripping her off, lying about each need, and mistreating Cosette regardless of if they have enough money to raise her.
The poster girl of the book and musical, Cosette is the daughter of Fantine, left in the "care" of the Thénardiers. Becoming their abused child servant, Cosette manages to keep an optimistic outlook on life and is eventually adopted by Jean Valjean as her mother's final request. She grows into a lovely woman and falls in love with Marius.
Barefoot Poverty: As a child in the musical. Although the book explains that she had wooden shoes but no socks in the freezing winter, the engraving of a barefoot Cosette has become the signature image of this story. It is also the page image for Barefoot Poverty's Literature work page.
Break the Cutie: As a child when she was abused. Luckily for her, she got better.
Cinderella Circumstances: Treated like garbage by her step-family, rescued by a savior, and falls in love with a handsome man.
Hourglass Plot: With Eponine. Cosette starts off abused and forced to do labor for the Thenardiers while they spoil Eponine. Eventually, Cosette gets adopted by Valjean, who treats her very well and gives her a happy life. The Thenardiers lose all their money and have to live in poverty and turn to a life of crime, forcing Eponine to participate. When Cosette and Eponine appear as teenagers, the changes are hard not to notice.
Iconic Outfit: Her black dress, in both the book and the musical.
Ironic Nickname: Fantine names her baby Euphrasie in a moment of romantic inspiration, but soon calls her "Cosette" all the time (which means, basically, "Pampered" or "Indulged"). Then she leaves her child with the Thénardiers, who verbally and physically abuse the child, starve her, clothe her in rags, and force her to work for her keep — all the while still calling her "Cosette," little Indulged.
There flowed in her veins some of the blood of the bohemian and the adventuress who runs barefoot. It will be remembered that she was more of a lark than a dove. There was a foundation of wildness and bravery in her.
Spoiled Sweet: Valjean basically takes the attitude that she deserves everything good and nice in the world, though he lives very ascetically himself; she manages to turn this around on him, cajoling him into lighting a fire in his room and eating better by spending hours with him and then complaining of the cold and insisting that she eats what he does.
A charming young bachelor, Marius falls in love with Cosette, leading to Love Triangle between the two and Éponine, who is very much his friend and confidante (whether he wants her to be or not). He is a law student and a member of the Friends of the ABC, and fights in the revolution against the French law.
Disappeared Dad: His father, George Pontmercy. Marius was the result of an Inter-Class Romance between a wealthy girl and a middle-class man. Gillenormand despised Pontmercy and forbid him from ever coming near Marius, and Marius was led to believe that his father abandoned him.
Heel Realization: In the novel, he cruelly manipulates Valjean into breaking off contact with Cosette and in the end comes to regret this decision. (In the musical, Marius acts in a more sympathetic manner, although the situation is similar).
Lonely Rich Kid: Losing his father and isolating himself from his strict, but well-meaning grandfather turns him into this.
Love at First Sight: To Cosette in the musical. In the book, it's actually inverted - the only reason he notices her is because he sees the stark contrast between her black dress and Valjean's white hair. Six months later, She Is All Grown Up.
Manipulative Bastard: More sympathetic than most, but after learning of Valjean's criminal past (not to mention mistakenly thinking he killed Javert in cold blood) he comes to believe he is dangerous and conspires to limit his time with Cosette, resulting in Valjean wasting away. After learning the whole story (from Thenardier, ironically enough) he suffers a major Heel Realization.
Not in This for Your Revolution: Yes and no. He is very liberal, to the point Granddaddy Gillenormand threw him out for it, but he joined Les Amis largely on Courfeyrac's insistence in an attempt to make friends, ended up embarrassing himself by fanboying Napoleon instead of the Republic, and didn't come back until the final battle.
Oblivious to Love: Oblivious to Éponine's love, and sending her off to deliver a love letter to Cosette is a right dagger in her heart.
Raised by Grandparents: He was raised to believe his father abandoned him (when in truth Gillenormand did not see him as a worthy match for his daughter and sent him away) by Gillenormand, gaining much of his Royalist views on the world. Later, he becomes a Bonapartist after leaving his grandfather.
Stalker with a Crush: The behavior he exhibits was seen as very romantic at the time, but he does basically stalk Cosette. Taken to ridiculous levels in the 2012 film, when all he does is just look at Cosette, and is obsessed with her instantly.
Tell Me About My Father: Marius researches on his father after his death, learning he was a colonel in Napoleon's army and was saved by Thénardier of all people.
Tenor Boy: Downplayed. He fits personality-wise, but the role in the musical calls for a lyric baritone (the part, however, is often played by tenors).
Wide-Eyed Idealist: To the point of seeing the world in terms of black and white (note his treatment of Valjean after the latter's confession).
The eldest daughter and first born of the Thénardiers, Éponine starts off as spoiled bratty girl who is mean to Cosette. But, her parents' inn becomes bankrupt and the family are forced into poverty. She falls in love with Marius, and ends up bringing him and Cosette together.
Adaptational Attractiveness: While the narrator claims Book Éponine is rather ugly due to her horrid circumstancesnote despite the fact that she could have been pretty had she been given the chance, she is notably more attractive in the musical. She's also a lot less creepy.
Adapted Out: There are adaptations where she does not appear and is not even mentioned.
Affably Evil: Okay, maybe not evil, but still quite manipulative.
The Alcoholic / Lady Drunk: She's a drinker in the novel. She drinks brandy and liquors, resulting in her hoarse voice.
Ascended Extra: Her adolescent self in the musical. While she is still very important in the book, she appears to have more stage time than Cosette.
Character Exaggeration: Most, if not all, productions of the musical focus more on her unrequited love for Marius (as it fits into the musical's theme of yearning for what is ultimately impossible) and not really highlight everything else about her character from the novel. However, the numbers "Castle on a Cloud" and "The Robbery/Javert's Intervention" do highlight how Éponine lived as a child and then as a teen.
Chekhov's Gunman: In the novel, Éponine is the "young (working) man," dressed in a grey blouse and pantaloons. While it is hinted once by Hugo that it was her, it was not made official until after she took the bullet for Marius at the barricades.
Iconic Outfit: The large trench coat and baker boy hat she wears at the barricade.
If I Can't Have You: In a rather shocking move, Éponine anonymously tells Marius that his friends are expecting him at the barricade. Believing Cosette has left for England, Marius goes, with Éponine close behind hoping they can die together.
Ironic Echo: When Cosette was a child, Hugo said "Cosette was ugly. Happy, she might, perhaps, have been pretty." However, when she and Éponine's statuses switch as adolescents, Hugo says this about Éponine: "The most touching thing about it was that this young girl had not come into the world to be ugly. In her early childhood, she must have even been pretty."
Samus Is a Girl: Éponine disguises herself as a boy to secretly go to the barricades and die with Marius after telling him to go there, and when she takes a bullet for him and her identity is revealed, he is shocked.
She Cleans Up Nicely: She never gets the chance to, poor thing, but the narration mentions that she would if she could.
Together in Death: The other possible interpretation as to why she took the bullet for Marius. The Flame Wars that have erupted around this are legendary, and the debate was once considered notable enough to be once mentioned on Wikipedia.
She actually confirms this to Marius moments before her death.
"See, you are lost! Nobody will get out of the barricade, now. It was I who led you into this, it was! You are going to die, I am sure. And still when I saw him aiming at you, I put up my hand upon the muzzle of the musket. How droll it is! But it was because I wanted to die before you."
Unkempt Beauty: The book notes her to be one; she's rather more traditionally pretty in the musical.
In the book, Hugo calls Éponine "beautiful" during her visit with Marius at The Field of the Lark.
Head of the Friends of the ABC club, Enjolras seeks radical change in France and starts a revolution against the French law, building a barricade to take a stand with his friends.
Adaptational Villainy: He of all characters is hit with this hard in the 1935 American film adaptation, in which, due to the Thenardiers' screen time being drastically reduced, he's actually the closest character to pure evil. He is portrayed as an Ax-CrazyBlood Knight who stages a coup on Maruis's nonviolent protest movement, sparking the violence. He's even played by John Carradine, who is better known for playing Dracula numerous times and who looks about as unlike a radiant Greek god as possible. The reason for this is due to the film being made during the First Red Scare, and a heroic revolutionary being considered too much for the public of the day to swallow.
Adapted Out: There are adaptations where he does not appear and is not even mentioned.
Asexuality: Possibly this. Has zero interest in women, even going so far to claim his homeland as his mistress.
Badass Gay: Another possibility. He is compared to quite a few gay classical figures, is described as feminine, and has a certain amount of Ho Yay with Grantaire. Needless to say, it's been a topic of some debate.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Grantaire. Most of the time Enjolras sees Grantaire as a annoyance, although there's a fair amount of suggestion that heterosexual might not be the best term here. Tends to depend on the actors in the musical but the 2012 movie and most modern performances tend to suggest this. In the book, it mostly takes the form of one sided love and veneration until their death scene, when they seem to be on more equal terms.
A pair of devious, greedy innkeepers who take in Cosette but use her as a cleaner, demanding bigger payments from Fantine. After Jean Valjean adopts Cosette, the Thénardiers are forced out of their inn and becomes criminals in Paris. They have five children, who are Éponine, Azelma, Gavroche and two other unnamed sons.
Abusive Parents: Mainly Thénardier, Madame Thénardier seems to genuinely care for her daughters, and continued to be so when they were in poverty. (Though in the musical, she is the most clearly abusive of Cosette, and clearly doesn't care a bit about Éponine post-bankruptcy.)
This is played with in the film by having her verse of "Master of the House" sung to a guest in flirtation, distracting him with the sexy while she steals from him. Later, she tries to do this near the end of "Javert's Intervention" to Javert but he remains unfazed.
Also in the 2000 mini-series.
Adapted Out: Both of them in the 1952 film. They are only mentioned once as "an inkeeper and his wife."
Karma Houdini: Thénardier gets away with all of his crimes in the book and musical.
Averted in the 2007 anime.
Also averted, to a degree, in the 2012 film. While they still don't receive any formal punishment, they are last seen being beaten up and physically thrown out of the wedding for impersonating a Baron and Baroness.
Self-Serving Memory: Thénardier claims that he sold Cosette to Valjean for a pittance and tries to find a way to extort more after their paths cross again. In fact, Valjean paid him 1500 francs to get custody of Cosette, which was a lump sum worth considerably more than what Fantine would have been paying for him to raise Cosette in that time period, delivered in monthly payments of 10 francs.
Infant Immortality: Averted, with varying degrees of brutality depending on the adaptation. A particularly harsh example is the 2012 movie, as the camera is up close as he gets shot while singing Little People.
Street Urchin: To the point that, after the book was published, "gavroche" essentially became the French word for "street urchin".
Tagalong Kid: An inversion; he proves to be very helpful to the rebels, although they all find it disconcerting to have a little kid fight alongside them.
The Bishop of Digne
Bishop Charles Francois-Bienvenu Myriel of Digne
A friendly bishop who takes Jean Valjean in after he left prison. Valjean steals two candlesticks but is arrested and taken back to Bishop Myriel. To Valjean's shock, the Bishop claimed he had given to him as a gift and tells Valjean to use the candlesticks to make something of his life.
Decoy Protagonist: The book starts with establishing his personality and describing his life; then, Valjean bursts onto the scene.
Demoted to Extra: In some adaptations, the musical included, all of his backstory and history from the novel is cut.
Small Role, Big Impact: Only appears at the beginning of the tale, but his influence not only triggers Valjean's Heel-Face Turn, but shapes the man he soon turns into. The Bishop's simple act of forgiveness ripples through the rest of the play and is felt in every decision Valjean makes after meeting him.
A group of gentlemen led by Enjolras who start the revolution against the French law. Other members include Marius, Courfeyrac, Combeferre, Jean Prouvaire, Feuilly, Bahorel, Laigle (nicknamed Bossuet), Joly and the resident drunk Grantaire (with his own section below).
Adapted Out: In some adaptations, they are unnamed. Justified, as it is quite easy to think of them as a unit as opposed to individual personalities, especially for the first-time viewer.
All There in the Script: Easy to miss for the first-time watcher, but Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Grantaire and Feuilly are all name-dropped in the same song. Everyone else's name is never mentioned, but their names do find their way onto the program - with the one exception of Bahorel. Enjolras's name is often ad-libbed in the opening of the Cafe scene.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: save for Grantaire. Justified as most of them had participated in a successful revolution two years earliernote which makes the "they were schoolboys/never held a gun" line in the musical kind of moot.
A scholarly young medical student described as the "guide" of Les Amis.
The notoriously unlucky member of Les Amis, with a limitless suply of good humor.
Born Unlucky: Despite this, he is described as the happiest of Les Amis.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Joly and Bosset are specifically said to hold everything in common, including Joly's mistress Musichetta.
In Universe Nickname: Bossuet. Doubles as a Genius Bonus. It is actually a reference to monarchist and Bishop of Meaux Jacques-Benigne Bossuet. note Lesgle sounds like "L'aigle" and Bossuet himself was a fierce orator, gaining the nickname "L'Aigle de Mots" (the Eagle of Words), pronounced like "Meaux."
Wall of Text: Has at least two very long rants concerning philosophy, revolution, and general rambling nonsense.
The second daughter and second born of the Thénardiers. Like her sister, Azelma was also spoiled and was disrespectful to Cosette, but ended up in poverty after her parents' inn went bankrupt. Azelma becomes dependent and weak-minded and never disobeys her parents.
An elderly churchwarden, Mabeuf was a friend of Marius' father and buries Colonel Pontmercy after meeting Marius. He is fond of books and plants, but when he is forced to sell all of his books and his wife dies, he joins the rebellion.
Adapted Out: In the musical adaptations and some films.
Dirty Old Man: Still maintains an active interest in skirt-chasing.
Disco Dan: Monsieur Gillenormand is close to 90, and was a young man during the end of the Ancient Regime, and hasn't changed his attitudes, dress, etc., even though the world has changed around him. The result is that without changing anything, he's gone from a well-dressed man of the Enlightenment to a ridiculously unfashionable reactionary.
Four petty thieves who closely associate with Thenardier. They try to rob the house where Valjean and Cosette take up residence, and are promptly arrested.
Conveniently Cellmates: When Thénardier and the Patron-Minette gang get arrested, only Thénardier is put into a different cell from the others, who of course quickly devise a plan together and even manage to communicate the plan to Thénardier.