A Poor Kind of Hero


By Kiersten Hallie Krum

marius and cosette

A heart full of something all right

I’ve loved Les Miserables since it debuted on Broadway when I was 14-years-old. The music. The redemption story. The fact that here, in the same era of The Phantom of the Opera high soprano celebrated heyday, was a musical with not one, but two songs written in my contralto range. No surprise I identified most with Eponine, the poor, neglected girl in love with the heroic boy who falls in love with the hero’s daughter. I was fourteen after all. I have sung On My Own with suitable pathos for more than half my life so naturally I was ecstatic last year to hear a movie version of the musical was on its way led by none other than Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

Perfection.

A year later, Les Mis the movie musical plays regularly on HBO. I’ve probably run through it about half a dozen times or more in the last few weeks. There are several disappointments, I won’t lie. But like any good piece of art, as old material found a new medium, I discovered a new revelation about this well-known story.

Marius is a real shit.

marius and eponine

You’re dying, but at least you can still harmonize!

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Marius/Cosette romance (see affinity with Eponine above). Now it occurs to me that amongst all that swanning about a heart full of love, Marius is actually a total jackhole. He knows how Eponine feels about him; I mean, the guy isn’t blind. Yet he dismisses the street savvy (and likely non-virginal) Eponine for grander aspirations of liberty and equality, aspirations that mean little the minute the demure, innocent Cosette makes the scene. Yet when Eponine lies dying after taking the bullet meant for this tool, he lies and claims to love her! If Marius could close those wounds with words of love, Eponine would still be dead because he only vowed to love her when he knew there’d be no consequence! Not to mention that, once past his woeful Empty Chairs eulogy, Marius, the sole survivor of the barricade, returns to the wealthy and likely titled environs of his grandfather. Such a great guy there.

claudio and hero

Looks more like a hard bench than a luxurious bed

That death scene of Eponine’s always makes me recall Claudio from Much Ado About Nothing (my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies though Twelfth Night runs a very close second). Claudio is another romantic “hero” who derides his beloved—erm—Hero for her supposed infidelity. “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed.” Even Hero’s (supposed) death from shame doesn’t soften Claudio’s righteous indignation. It’s only when she’s proven falsely accused that he immediately change his tune, crying, “Oh, sweet Hero!” Oh, suck it, dude.

I had a similar reaction when I first read Wuthering Heights while a student at Oxford. For years I’d heard how great a romantic hero was Heathcliff, how this was a classic romance. Yet while brooding and bad boy-ish, Heathcliff is a horrible man, bitter and vengeful and totally lacking any concept of love. Mind you, Catharine is equally horrid, which further confuses the concept of this being any sort of romance, Gothic or otherwise.

wuthering heights upgrade

Updated for the teenage set

Sure, all three of these “heroes” originate from source material written hundreds of years ago, but the Les Mis movie musical just came out last year, Much Ado has had its own resurgence with the fantastic Joss Whedon interpretation that came out this past summer, and Wuthering Heights got the upgraded high-school treatment for the MTV set in 2003. Such fools as these are still being held up as a kind of romantic ideal even today.

Yet none of them truly love at all because they don’t ultimately respect the object of their affections. Eponine, Cosette, Hero, even the deplorable Catharine are but constructs of these “heroes” ideals. (In the case of Eponine, the construct is formed in the nobility of her death) and when that construct cracks, so goweth (or belatedly cometh for Eponine) their love.

There’s nothing at all heroic about that.

Who are some of the worst “heroes” you’ve encountered in fiction?

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12 Comments

  • Madeline Iva
    September 23, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Yes, yes, and YES! I could not agree with you more, Kiersten!

    I too, have always thought Marius a skeeze. My grudge was sealed at the end of Les Mis the book when Marius gets Cosette to go along with the scheme of getting Jean out of their home by gradually making him less welcome and at home until he retreats and DIES! It’s beyond horrible, how Cosette could be so spine-less as to agree is tragic, and Marius is to blame for all.

    Claudio is a turd to Hero, for sure. I mean, I think you need to cast some can’t-help-but-like him guy in that role. Perhaps Ryan Kwanten (Jason from True Blood)? But Shakespeare has a lot of these young turds in his plays…in my mind the successful director will add in a significant portion of pain and suffering into the staging for these guys so that we see them take it on the chin a few times before they get their happy ending.

    Great first post–we’re so excited and happy to have join us at Lady Smut!

  • Elizabeth Shore
    September 23, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Welcome aboard, Kiersten! Great post.

    Full disclosure – I’m not a fan of Les Miz. Sorry! I know it warms the hearts of many but I just didn’t connect with it. However, there really is something about Eponine. Despite the play not resonating with me, she’s the one character I did find interesting and kept wondering why she’s so gung ho about Marius. Ah, but there’s truly a reason for the expression “love is blind,” isn’t there?

  • LizEverly
    September 23, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Great post and welcome to Lady Smut. I love Les Mis and Eponine is definitely my favorite character. I think we are all agreed that Marius is a shit.

  • Nancy Herkness
    September 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I’m with you: I never got any joy from Wuthering Heights, whereas I adored Jane Eyre. And I’ve never been much on heroes who are more interested in abstracts than real people. They tend to be very dangerous to those around them. Great blog!

    • Madeline Iva
      September 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      With Heathcliff, I kept waiting for him to soften up, to turn the other way at any second–and I thought he maybe might, so I was clinging to the page. So it was brilliant writing in that way — but do I go back and reread it all the time? I confess I don’t. Their pride issues are too painful (maybe because they hit too close to home?)

  • RoseAnn DeFranco
    September 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I love that you called Marius out for his wishy washy whimpy ways. I always identify with Eponine. No matter the number of times I’ve seen the broadway show, the movie, etc., I always find myself hoping it will go different for this time! Personally, I NEVER liked nor will I ever be a fan of Heathcliff. I don’t get it and I never will. He is the worst Anti-hero and I’m shocked that women have embraced him as hero material all these years.

    Great post!

    • Madeline Iva
      September 23, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Are there NO Marius/Heathcliff defenders out there at all? Don’t be afraid to speak up—Lady Smut has room for respectful disagreement and even lively descent!

      It feel so snug to be in agreement with everyone — but I love a good devil’s advocate. ;>

      • RoseAnn DeFranco
        September 23, 2013 at 3:30 pm

        In defense of Marius… I will chime in…he was YOUNG. More than likely he had been sheltered all his life. Eponine was someone he saw as a comrade in arms, not as a woman. He had been raised with an ideal of what type of woman was meant for him. He literally fell in love at first sight with Cossette. I don’t think he ever meant to be cruel to Eponine and when he sings of his words of love to her while she is dying, I think he means love as a friend.

        I would be willing to listen to an argument for Heathcliff…but more than likely would not be swayed. The guy seriously creeps me out. 🙂

  • Kiersten Hallie Krum
    September 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Hi everybody! Sorry haven’t responded individually to your great, great comments, but day job is kicking my arse today. That said, I’m delighted to be in such great anti-Marius, anti-Heathcliff company. 😉 So glad you all stopped by for a gander. You’ve made my debut day extraordinary!

  • Lena Pinto
    September 23, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I agree with RoseAnn that Marius is basically a callow youth. Heathcliff, however, is a total creep. I, also, don’t understand why women find him attractive. As for Claudio, he’s a jerk, bu the Two Gentlemen of Verona are worse!

    • Madeline Iva
      September 24, 2013 at 8:18 am

      That’s what I’m talking about Lena! I directed Two Gents one time and Proteus was getting the smack down from the forest thieves, from just about everyone that looked at him cross-eyed. By the time he got his happy ending with Julia he was muddy, and tired, and very, very sorry. I wonder if back in the day people pelted him with rotten veggies — seriously, I do! I think the audience would enjoy that, don’t you?

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