A Little in Love (Susan Fletcher)
“I was just one little person in a world of millions but I still mattered” (loc. 1209).
“It’s hard to imagine it—fifty years from now. Or one hundred. Or two hundred. What will the world be like? I don’t know. But I know the starry sky will look the same” (loc. 2972).
Fletcher’s A Little in Love, a slice of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables told from the perspective of Eponine Thenardier is all an adaptation should be. Balancing freshness (expanding on a minor character through an original voice, rather than a pastiche of the original author’s) and faithfulness (a gentle respect for the tones and contexts of the original), Love follows Eponine from birth to her death on the barricade. Intricately connected to Les Misérables, this novel still manages to live apart from it.
Though a short novel, Love is rich with sensory detail—All observed, absorbed, and reported by Eponine, who—poor, lonely, and generally disregarded by others—watches others intently, searching for affection and attention. We also see detailed portraits of her family: her selfish parents, the younger sister drawn to glory in crime, the younger brother only she cares for, and of course, the family’s adopted and abused servant, Cosette (later rescued by Valjean and brought up in wealth and love). The story is woven, too, against an exploration of varied relationships between women: mother and daughter (abusive and loving), sisters, friends, and rivals (whether for survival or for affection). At times, it almost seemed Cosette was too good, her character and Eponine’s falling into the conventional split: As, for example, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Mary/Laura, Wilkie Collins’s Laura/Marian, Louisa May Alcott’s Meg/Jo, or CS Lewis’s Lucy/Susan, a good/blonde/boring/feminine-ideal character is set against a bad/brunette/interesting/masculine one. (Obviously, these descriptors are stereotypes!) With Fletcher’s emphasis on personal redemption, though, she pulls away from these conventions.
Reading Love, I was particularly drawn to Fletcher’s choices in adaptation, or rather, the options she refuses: Eponine does not more than briefly cross paths with the students at the Musain, a future with the young lawyer she loves remains impossible, and she does not survive the barricade. While it is (more than) tempting in an adaptation to expand on all we could wish for—Eponine dazzles Les Amis and becomes a revolutionary! Eponine, Cosette, and Marius are embroiled in a scandalous love triangle!—it is far more compelling to see a young girl who loves to read but hasn’t seen a book in years, who knows Lamarque’s name but not his politics, and who is barred from the Musain on the grounds of her gender. This is a book that does not forget that “[p]eople must make hard choices, just to survive” (loc. 2291) and if Eponine’s world is small, it is because her poverty has made it so, not Fletcher’s vision: Eponine’s natural inquisitiveness, her keen and self-led exploration of Paris, and her insistence on making amends for her past misdeeds are gripping. With only the merest crumbs of guidance, she builds her own moral code, no mean feat when everyone around her derides her ideals and aspirations.
In her own way, then, Fletcher capture the original novel’s commitment to redemption. When Eponine and Cosette reconcile, Cosette relays a message from her adoptive father, the convict Valjean: “He told me to tell you that all things can be forgiven. He said he knows who you are and what you have done, but he wishes you well, Eponine” (loc. 2703). All told, a wonderful adaptation whether read as a gateway into Hugo or as a celebration of his masterwork.
If you liked this, check out:
- Les Misérables (Victor Hugo): You can read Les Misérables (in the 1887 translation by Isabel Hapgood) via Project Gutenberg (online or in various ebook formats). I first read the Hapgood translation, but you may like to investigate others as well, including Julie Rose’s 2008 edition and Christine Donougher’s 2013 edition.
- Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys) (discussed here)