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YMMV: Les Misérables

The book

  • Accidental Innuendo: "I have come to sleep with you," from Marius to Courfeyrac.
  • Base Breaker: Enjolras' sexual orientation has been the topic of heated debate, bringing in issues of both shipping and queer representation.
    • Particularly since there is the possibility of Asexuality.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Oodles of 'em. The street urchin Gavroche was especially embraced by the French as a literary and cultural icon.
  • Evil Is Sexy: Montparnasse, described as 'the flower of the underworld,' has a pretty significant fanbase.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: Marius/Éponine was this, at least at in the early days (and we're talkin', like, prior to the Internet early days, here) of the fandom and still is considered to be this in popular perception of the fandom by the media. In the fandom itself, not so much anymore; there actually seems to be more Marius/Cosette and Enjolras/Éponine at, for one, than Marius/Éponine.
    • Valjean remains a Celibate Hero throughout all versions of the story, but that doesn't stop the numerous fanfics that pair him with Fantine or Javert.
    • Enjolras/Grantaire definitely qualifies; fans have taken the oodles of canon Ho Yay (see below) and run with it. It is currently by far the top pairing in the Les Miserables category on Archive of Our Own.
  • Foe Yay: Between Javert and Valjean.
    A score of times he had been tempted to fling himself upon Jean Valjean, to seize him and devour him, that is to say, to arrest him.
    Then [Javert] began to play. He enjoyed a ravishing and infernal moment; he let his man get ahead of him, knowing he had him, but wishing to put off as long as possible the moment of arrest, delighting to feel him caught and see him at liberty, fondly gazing at him...
    • And yet no such sensual language was used when Javert was pursuing the Patron-Minette, for instance, proving that Javert only reacts like this with Valjean.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: "In Which Is Explained How Javert Lost The Game."
  • Ho Yay:
    • Grantaire "admired, loved, and venerated" Enjolras, and is "subjugated" by his character. Grantaire says Enjolras' "chaste, healthy, firm, direct, hard, candid nature charmed him," and his own "soft, wavering, disjointed, diseased, deformed ideas, attached themselves to Enjolras as to a backbone. His moral spine leaned upon that firmness." The two are compared to several Greek lovers (Achilles and Patrokles, Alexander and Hephestion, Orestes and Pylades, among others) and Enjolras is the one thing Grantaire allows himself to believe in. Moreover, he's only in the revolution because of his love for Enjolras. It even goes to the point of asking to die with him, and doing so (while Enjolras smiles at him and holds his hand).
    • You can't put nine young-ish male revolutionaries in a novel without at least a little of this. Aside from Grantaire and Enjolras, the most notable is Joly and Bossuet - best friends who live together and even share a mistress.
    • Bossuet and Courfreyrac see Marius, who is somewhat known to stalk those he is fond of, in the street, during the beginning of the "Jondrette's arrest" episode. Dialogue:
    Bossuet: Hold on, Marius!
    Courfrerac: I saw him. Don't let's speak to him.
    B: Why?
    C: He's preoccupied.
    B: With what?
    C: Don't you see that look on him?
    B: What look?
    C: Like a man following somebody.
    B: That's true.
    C: And look at the eyes he's making!
    B: But who the devil is he following?
    C: Some deary-sweety-flowery-bonnet! He's in love.
    B: But I don't see any deary, nor any sweety, nor any flowery bonnet in the street. There's not one woman.
    C: He's following a man!
    B: [laughing] Who is that man?
    C: That? A poet! Poets love wearing the pants of a rabbit-skin peddler and the jacket of a peer of France.
    B: Let's see where Marius is going. Let's see where the man is going, let's follow them, eh?
    C: Bossuet! Eagle of Meaux! You are a prodigious fool. Follow man following a man!
    [They go on their way.]
    • In context, Marius is tailing the scruffy M. Thenardier, making it rather no-yay, but Bossuet and Courfreyrac don't know this.
    • Marius and Courfeyrac. Barring the infamous "I have come to sleep with you," line (which is more like an example of Have a Gay Old Time), there's also the fact the first thing Courfeyrac ever says to Marius is "Come home with me," the paragraph immediately after their meeting where Hugo describes how Marius "breathed freely" in Courfeyrac's company, something which is apparently new to him, Courfeyrac's attempt to introduce Marius to Les Amis which goes not unlike trying to introduce your new girlfriend to your friends (and it not going very well), and Courfeyrac "flinging himself upon Marius's neck" after Marius saves his life at the barricades.
  • Iron Woobie: Jean Valjean himself, of course.
  • Magnum Opus: For Hugo.
  • Memetic Mutation: "Will you permit it?" That single line also manages to double as Tear Jerker and Ho Yay.
  • Moe: Cosette. The TV tropes page for Moe uses Cosette as an example of the Moe archetype in Anime originating from Western literature (although, Victorian-era authors had different views on how to use this character type). The Animated Adaptations that have aired in Japan over the years seem like they might've cranked the "moe" meter for her up to 11... but, uh, nope, that's pretty much exactly how she was described and acted in the book. Especially once she starts getting abused by the Thenadiers, even the most stoic among us pretty much want to scoop her up and give her a big hug and tell her it'll all be okay. Valjean then does this, and you can't help but cheer. This fades a little when she gets older, but Victor Hugo still makes her seem quite vulnerable.
    • Hell, on the subject of Les Mis, we can't forget to talk about Cosette's mother, Fantine. She gets knocked up and abandoned, debases herself in every way to help her daughter, and ends up dying of several diseases at once. Or how about Eponine in the second half, who ends up destitute, uneducated, and in love with Marius but with no way to really express it, complete with Verbal Tics? (Not to mention shot dead pointlessly?) Really, the only major female character who doesn't have some of these elements is Madame Thenadier.
  • Moment Of Awesome: See Awesome: Les Misérables
  • Narm: A single tear running silently down Enjolras' cheek as he snipes a young artillery officer.
    • Fantine's Death by Despair can come off as melodramatic as it is described in a slightly over the top way, with lots of gasping and hand convulsions, as a result of a few words from Javert. Of note is that the theater and 2012 film changed this, so that Fantine dies happy and never sees Valjean arrested.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Many, many good anvils.
  • Tear Jerker:
    • Every death scene.
    • Fantine's descent into prostitution and sickness, amplified by extortion by the Thénardier couple and the cruelty of Montreuil's townsfolk.
    • The story of Mabeuf's growing poverty and despair, and the whole book onwards from 'The Sleepless Night'.
  • Threesome Subtext: A weird example. Two of Les Amis, Joly and Bossuet, are explicitly stated to be sleeping with the same woman, Musichetta; however, she is primarily identified as Joly's mistress who they occasionally "share", and to further complicate matters, Joly and Bossuet live together and are Heterosexual Life-Partners, while Musichetta (despite being a reasonably popular character in fanfiction) never actually appears in the story and is only mentioned, so her side of events are never explained. Thus, it's hard to say definitively if the relationship between the three is simply Joly and Musichetta having an open relationship, Musichetta being polyamorous with two platonic friends, or a straight-up ménage à trois.
  • Values Dissonance: Being over 150 years old at this point, the book runs into this rather hard in some places.
    • The most notable is the above, with She Is All Grown Up happening to Cosette and Marius becoming infatuated with her. Marius' behavior during all this can strike many readers as profoundly creepy, what with hanging about the places she and Valjean hang out for hours on end (and certainly Valjean gets annoyed with him in-story) and the fact that Marius is 20 while Cosette had just turned 15, but in the 19th century Marius' incredible shyness and his devotion to wanting to see her would have come across as extremely romantic.
    • Very modern readers may have some difficulty feeling sympathy for Valjean's initial plight: "so his sister's children needed bread, just wait to morning; so he gets five years hard time, so what, just wait it out, don't try to escape and make your sentence worse, idiot". Given how poverty in almost all Western countries in the 21st century still provides at least some way to eat and is much gentler than in any time in history, modern readers can have difficulty understanding the absolute depths of destitution and lack of learning that Valjean was subjected to as a young man and his subsequent lack of judgment, even when Hugo attempts to point this out himself.
    • A great many modern readers could very well rankle at Hugo's treatment of Gavroche; that is, the way in which he is portrayed as perfectly healthy and happy despite being a street urchin and technically a thief. Given modern attitudes concerning the necessity of children having a loving caregiver, Hugo's apparent tacit message that Gavroche is better off on the streets could shock or disgust many.
      • Then again, compared to his parents, the streets do start to seem better.
    • Cosette herself, though a feminine ideal in the nineteenth century, could strike modern readers as underdeveloped next to many of the other characters — she doesn't really serve any purpose as an adult other than the female love interest. Interestingly, the same can't necessarily be said for Hugo's other female characters; Fantine and Éponine in particular are given much more realistic personalities (even if they both wind up tortured throughout most of the story).
      • The extend of Cosette's underdevelopment tends to get exaggerated, though. And she does have her moments, approaching Marius first (as timidly as she does it, it's still more than Marius dares to do) and towards the end arguing with both of the men she loves the most when they get overprotective (even though she doesn't win). Not to mention that even as a child she lies to avoid work and borrows a doll from her step-sisters without permission (both of which are of course perfectly understandable but not something you'd expect from a perfect ideal girl and both occasions tend to be missing from adaptations).
    • There's a section in the novel where Jean Valjean goes to the Thénardiers' inn and gives Cosette a doll (the first one she's had since she's been with Thénardiers; probably the first one she's ever had, considering how poor Fantine was). Hugo then goes off on a tangent to explain how important it is for a young girl to have a doll, since it is the fate and instinct of every little girl to grow up to be a mother. Although this was a perfectly natural outlook on gender roles in the 1800s, many women today would be insulted by the gender stereotype.
      • And in general, many of the narrator's thoughts about women and their behavior come off as overly stereotypical and backward by modern standards.
  • Values Resonance: For 150 years, many issues discussed in Les Miserables are remarkably pertinent today, as we see men persecuted simply for their past reputation, families divided over such petty issues as political fanaticism, and scoundrels who abuse their position of "caretaker" simply for the money. Victor Hugo's urging that these ills must be faced are every bit as relevant today as they were in post-Revolutionary France.
  • Vindicated by History: Critical reception when it first came out was mostly negative. Today, it's often considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.
  • The Woobie: Basically every character who is not one of the Thénardier parents or working for the Thénardier parents qualifies.

The musical

  • Adaptation Displacement: The musical is arguably more well-known and more well-loved than the book it was based on. Except, unsurprisingly, in France, as Victor Hugo is considered one of the greatest novelists the country has produced.
    • Fewer still are aware that the English version is a libretto translation (albeit an excellent one) from Boublil and Natel's French lyrics, nor that said original version opened in Paris five years prior to its West End run.
    • "Do You Hear The People Sing" is used as an inspirational protest song divorced from the fact that "the people" did not sing, leaving the few diehards to... die hard.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Depending on how the actors play it, this can occur with many of the characters. For example, in the Champmathieu situation, a lot of the actors playing Javert play the situation as though Javert still suspects the Mayor despite the news of the 'real' Valjean, and is hoping to panic him into making a mistake. The 2012 film plays it as though Javert is genuinely ashamed at his accusal.
    • A few lyrics in the show are mutable, and subject to different interpretations by different actors. A small change that profoundly affects a character is the line "Be careful how you go, don't let her/your father know," sung by Marius to Eponine. The first version makes it clear that he's only thinking about Cosette and doesn't want to get caught; the second line emphasizes how he understands the risks Eponine runs, and wants her to be safe from her own family.
  • Awesome Music: The whole damn show.
  • Draco in Leather Pants:
  • Ear Worm:
    • "Master of The House" is infamous for its use in other works.
    • Do you hear the people sing...
    • "Look down, look down. Don't look 'em in the eye. Look down, look down. You're here until you die."
    • "One Day More."
    • "Red, the blood of angry men... black, the dark of ages past..."
    • "I dreamed a dream of time gone by..."
    • "On my own, pretending he's beside me..."
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Oodles of 'em, but most notably Éponine and Les Amis, who have become affectionately referred to simply as the "Barricade Boys", which can make it sound like they're a freaking boy band.
    • A parody of Les Mis featured Éponine lampshading her extreme popularity by singing about how she's the true star.
  • Estrogen Brigade: Enjolras. Marius. Jean Valjean. Javert. Grantaire. In fact, pick a male character, and there is probably a sizeable group of fans who swoon at the mere mention of his name. Specific actors can also get this: notably, Michael Maguire (Enjolras) and Michael Ball (Marius) are probably responsible for quite a bit of the show's initial female fanbase.
  • Fandom Heresy: Go into any group of die-hard Les Mis fans and say you like Nick Jonas as Marius.
  • Foe Yay: Javert's song about his obsession with finding Valjean and bringing him to justice sounds, well, almost exactly like a love song actually.
    • Some of Javert's lines in ''Confrontation ("There is no place for you to hide. Wherever you may hide away, I swear...") can come of as somewhat Stalker with a Crush-y, and the song ends with both Valjean and Javert singing "I swear to you - I will be there!". Valjean's line is actually directed at Fantine, since he is promising to save her daughter, but a lot of actors have him stare at Javert anyway.
    • And don't forget right before that, Javert's entering line is "Valjean, and last, we see each other plain..."
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • A twofer: Nick Jonas playing Marius instantly makes Éponine the original Jonas Brother fangirl. Nick Jonas playing Marius when he also originally played Gavroche means Éponine has the hots for her brother.
      • A threefer, because Nick actually dated Samantha Barks for a while, while they were in Les Mis.
    • There are multiple cases of actors playing different roles in Les Mis so you get this a lot. For example, Hugh Panaro has played both Valjean and Marius, Hans Peter Janssens as Valjean and Javert, Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras and Valjean, Lea Salonga as Éponine and Fantine etc.
      • Speaking of Ramin Karimloo, he and Hadley Fraser are the epitome of this: Ramin was Hadley's understudy when Hadley played Marius, then went on to play Enjolras in the 25th production with Hadley as Grantaire, and finally the pair played Valjean and Javert opposite each other. Plus Hadley was the army captain in the 2012 movie. So to recap: one has played Marius, Enjolras, and Valjean; the other, Marius, Grantaire, the captain, and Javert.
    • Not to mention Drew Sarich, who managed to play Grantaire, Enjolras, Javert, AND Valjean... all in a single run of the musical!
  • Ho Yay:
    • Enjolras and Grantaire. Depending on the production, they do everything from touch foreheads to hug closely during "Drink With Me".
      • Of course, the fact that their actors in the anniversary US touring cast are dating (now engaged) doesn't help.
      • Nor does the fact that the 2012 movie restored Grantaire going to die at Enjolras's side and their clasped hands as they are shot.
      • Not to mention that George Blagden has pretty much admitted to intentionally playing Grantaire as in love with Enjolras.
    • Enjolras and Marius in the 2012 movie, to a certain extent.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "You know NOTHING of Javert!!"
      • "AND I'M JAVERT!!"
    • "Who cares about your lonely soul?!"
  • Nightmare Fuel: Dog Eats Dog, arguably the darkest song in the musical, can be this for some.
    • In one production, upon recognizing an unconscious Valjean, Thenardier gets down and straddles him, puts his face about two inches from Valjean's, and yells "HA!" vindictively. He also gave an Evil Laugh as he ended the song and left the barricade. Had the potential to be Narm, but came off as extremely creepy.
    • "Lovely Ladies" is about how prostitution is the easiest thing women can do for money and anyone can fall into it if they are desperate enough.
  • One-Scene Wonder: While a relatively minor character in the book, Eponine's "I Want" Song in the musical has been a fan favorite since its creation, and has launched the career of many a young diva (Lea Salonga, Samantha Barks, Lea Michele).
  • Painful Rhyme:
    • "Castle on a Cloud" has a painful non-rhyme (that is, the line isn't supposed to rhyme, but manages to sound as if it was supposed to and didn't):
    There is a room that's full of toys,
    There are a hundred boys and girls.
    • Also, depending on pronunciation, this rhyme can be quite painful:
    Little dear, cost us dear
    Medicines are expensive, Monsieur
    • Justified by the Thénardiers being — well, the Thénardiers, they're basically allowed to mangle the French language as the actors see fit.
  • Retroactive Recognition: From the original cast in London: Roger Allam, Alun Armstrong and Caroline Quentin.
  • Romantic Plot Tumour: "A Heart Full Of Love" is arguably the weakest song in the entire musical. This may be at least partly due to the weaker lyrics in English compared to the original French.
  • The Scrappy: Finding musical-only fans who actually like Cosette is difficult due to most of her characterization from the book being cut as a result of the musical's timeline compressing or cutting most of her scenes. Amanda Seyfried's portrayal of Cosette has a lot more personality and has significantly reduced fan dislike.
    • In terms of casting, good luck finding someone who likes Nick Jonas as Marius.
    • Gavroche becomes this depending on the adaptation due to the fact that his subplot is cut and he's just an annoying Tag Along Kid. Depending on the actor, he can either be a clever, witty, fiery little character or a cloying, irritating burden.
  • Signature Song: Either "I Dreamed a Dream" or "One Day More".
  • The Woobie:
    • Éponine, Fantine, Marius, Cosette and Valjean all have moments.
    • Hell, the entire cast, bar Monsieur and Madame Thénardier. There's a reason you're sobbing by the end.

The other adaptations

  • Mary Sue: Cosette from the 1992 French cartoon. She's got a difficult past, she's the only pretty and intelligent girl in the entirety of France (apart from her mother), she has Valjean wrapped around her finger, she gets not one, but two sidekicks ( Gavroche and Admiral, the dog), she always gets what she wants and no other character is suddenly able to succeed in anything without her ( she has to break Valjean out of jail repeatedly; Javert considers her just as much of a threat as Valjean and she takes on a job that all of the ABC-friends find too risky!).
  • Moe: Cosette.
  • Narm: Javert's death scene in the 1978 film version. It's supposed to be depressing like all the scenes portrayed in most adaptations. But instead, he flipped over a few times before he hits the water, accompanied by a dramatic saxophone note.
    • Javert's death in the 2012 film was appropriately emotional and sad until the moment Javert hit the which point a cartoony sound effect is played that ruins the moment completely.
  • Ron the Death Eater: Look at any bad Les Mis fan fiction. There is a fifty fifty chance that it involves Marius realizing Cosette is a "preppy bitch" and dumping her for Éponine, who got better.
    • Several adaptations do this to Javert, of all people. Now, Javert was never exactly warm and cuddly to begin with, but some adaptations play up the Cruel and Harsh part of his personality and tone down the integrity and honesty that made him such an interesting antagonist to begin with. For example, in the 98 version, he viciously kicks Fantine into the show over and over again, which seems out of character for him. In most versions of the story, Javert has Lackof Empathy and is a very cold man, but he's not sadistic in the sense that he enjoys being cruel to people.
    • There's a small, bizarre subgenre of fanfics where Enjolras succeeds in overthrowing the government and immediately becomes a Castro-style dictator, though most if not all of these are intended as Black Comedy rather than character-bashing. Enjolras also semi-officially received this in the 1935 film version, up to and including casting John Carradine, better known for many, many horror movie villain roles, in the part.
  • The Scrappy: Certain character archetypes that repeatedly appear in adaptations often get this. Several adapted versions give Valjean a sort of "sidekick" character who is never someone from the book and who is usually disliked, as is the "Marjolras" archetype; that is, a Composite Character with Marius' name and Love Interest status but Enjolras' role in the plot, which happens more often than one might expect. There's also the 2000 TV miniseries'... interesting interpretation of Valjean.
  • Special Effect Failure: In the 1958 movie, a bat or something similar scares Cosette in the forest. The string on which that thing is attached is clearly visible.
  • Widget Series: Arm Joe: a game based on the musical. It features Enjolras attacking people by building a barricade on top of them, Cosette throwing Valjean as a weapon, an evil robot clone of Valjean, and Javert shoots firebolts from his fingers.

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