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The Thénardiers (commonly referred to as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier) are two of the primary villains in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables and the stage musical of the same name. It can be argued that they are the only "villains" of the tale, as the more heavily featured Javert is commonly considered a misguided antagonist, rather than a true "evil villain". They are ordinary working class people who blame society for their sufferings. They care nothing for the lives of others and only care about themselves and acquiring money, whether by cheating customers at their inn or robbing people.

Background

They have two daughters named Éponine and Azelma, whom they spoil and pamper as children, and three sons, a middle child called Gavroche whom they have left to the streets, and the two youngest sons of whom they send away to a woman named Magnon and abandon. When they first appear in the book (and musical) they run an inn in the town of Montfermeil. It is here where a working class girl called Fantine asks them to look after her daughter Cosette (whose real name was Euphrasie), providing that she pays them regularly. However, they treat Cosette like a skivvy and spend all the money Fantine sends them on their daughters. However Jean Valjean buys Cosette off them at the dying Fantine's request and they leave to Parismarker. Within the next eight years the Thénardiers lose their inn and they too move to Paris, where they live in poverty. They re-encounter Valjean and Cosette and with the help of Patron-Minette try to rob Valjean.

In the musical, at Marius Pontmercy and Cosette's wedding the Thénardiers try to blackmail Marius by telling him that Cosette's father is a murderer and Thénardier reveals a ring he robbed from the corpse that Valjean was carrying. Marius recognises the ring as his and realises that Valjean rescued him from the barricades that night. In the book, only Monsieur Thénardier is present, as Madame Thénardier previously disappears from the text. In addition, instead of showing Marius a ring, Thénardier shows him a piece of his jacket that he tore off the unconscious Marius in the sewers that night.

The Thénardiers in the novel

The Thénardiers are both described as being very ugly people. Mme. Thénardier is described as "tall, blond, ruddy, barrel-like, brawny, boxy, huge, and agile". M. Thénardier is described as being "a skinny little runt, pale, engular, bony, rickety, who looked sick but was as fit as a fiddle..."

Beginning

The Thénardiers are first seen when Fantine, a struggling single mother, arranges for her daughter Cosette to stay with them, if she pays a regular fee. Cosette stays with the Thénardiers in their inn at Montfermeil along with their two daughters Éponine and Azelma, and their infant son Gavroche. Although Éponine and Azelma are spoiled by M. and Mme. Thénardier, Cosette is abused and treated as a slave, and Gavroche is ignored. Since the inn (called "The Sergeant at Waterloo") makes very little money, the fee sent by Fantine becomes the Thénardier's main source of income. M. Thénardier extorts more money from Fantine by claiming that Cosette is iII from time to time.

After Fantine's death, a mysterious stranger (later revealed to be the presumed dead convict Jean Valjean) who seems to be very rich claims that Fantine is dead, and offers to pay off her outstanding debts to the Thénardiers and take Cosette from them. M. Thénardier keeps demanding more money for Cosette, whom his family calls "The creature", but is forced to settle for some 1500 Francs. M. Thénardier pursues the stranger to get more money, but forgets his gun, and so is frightened off.

The inn, which is forced to close down after Cosette is taken, is called "The Sergeant at Waterloo", because of a peculiar adventure that M. Thénardier had following the famous battlemarker. While looting the corpses shortly after the fighting has ceased, M. Thénardier accidentally saves the life of a Colonel, The Baron Pontmercy. Not wanting to be revealed as a looter, Thénardier claimed to be a sergeant of Napoleon's army. The tale as told by Thénardier eventually transformed into one of him rescuing a general during the heat of battle under a hail of grapeshot, as it grew more elaborate with each telling. In a bizarre coincidence, the Thénardier family ends up living next to the disgraced son of the baron, Marius Pontmercy, at an apartment building named Gorbeau House nine years after the closing of the inn.

Nine years later

In the nine years following the inn's closing, the Thénardier family had assumed the name Jondrette. In addition, they had born two more sons, who they essentially sold to Magnon so that she could pass them off as the children supported by Marius' grandfather M. Gillenormand for the sake of procuring child support. Magnon had accused M. Gillenormand of fathering the two children, which he denied, although he agreed to support them as long as Magnon did not bring him any more children to support. The Thénardiers' eldest son, Gavroche, was left to the streets, where he became a gamin.

Jean Valjean, the same man who rescued Cosette, unknowingly comes to the Jondrette's house as a philanthropist, as the Jondrette's support themselves by sending letters begging for money to well-known philanthropists. M. Jondrette arranges to meet Valjean again, but plots to rob him upon his arrival with the aid of the street gang Patron-Minette.

Marius learns of Jondrette's plan to rob Valjean, and goes to the police. At the police station, an inspector named Javert instructs Marius to stand lookout with two pistols, and to fire as soon as the crime is committed to signal the police to come. However, while watching Jondrette's attack on Valjean through a crack in the wall, Marius learns that Jondrette is actually Thénardier, whom his father had mentioned in his will as a hero who was due any service that Marius could grant him. Marius, torn between his desire to aid Valjean and his sense of duty to the man who had once saved his father, does not signal the police. Javert arrives anyway and captures all of Patron-Minette along with all of the Thénardiers except Gavroche, who is not present and Montparnasse, who escapes.

Mme. Thénardier dies in prison and Éponine and Azelma are released. Gavroche, not involved with his family's crimes, encounters purely by chance his two younger brothers, who are unaware of their identities. He briefly takes care of them, but they soon leave him in search of their missing foster mother. It is unknown what has happened to the two after that.

Éponine is sent by Babet to investigate Valjean's house, but since she knows that Cosette, who now lives with Valjean, is the beloved of her former neighbor Marius (for whom she harbors some affection), sends back a biscuit to Babet (which is code for "not worth the trouble"). She leads Marius to Valjean's house so that he may be with his beloved. M. Thénardier and Patron-Minette, with the aid of Gavroche, manages to escape from jail and persists in robbing Valjean's house. However, Éponine wards them off by threatening to scream. The next day, Éponine, being a very jealous woman, tries to tear Cosette and Marius apart by sending Valjean a warning to "move out," and later telling Marius that his friends invited him to fight with them at the barricade at the Rue de la Chanvrerie, intending for both her and Marius to perish in the émeute of 1832 so that she will not have to share him with Cosette.

Both Éponine and Gavroche are killed at Rue de la Chanvrerie, despite Marius' efforts to protect the Thénardier family. Marius himself is wounded in the battle, and Valjean attempts to save him by taking him through the sewers into safety. In the sewers, Valjean encounters M. Thénardier, who is hiding from Javert. Thénardier offers Valjean his key to the sewer grating in exchange for the contents of Marius' pockets. Moreover, believing Valjean to be an assassin and Marius to be a corpse, he tears off part of Marius' coat in order to blackmail Valjean with it later.

Final chapter

M. Thénardier and his only living child Azelma are next seen as 'masks' in the Mardi Gras parade. When he sees Marius and Cosette's wedding party pass by, he recognizes Valjean as both the man who had ruined him and the man he had met in the sewer, and bids Azelma to follow him and find out where he lives.

Near the end of the book, M. Thénardier, dressed in a rented statesman's suit and referring to himself as "Thénard", threatens to expose Marius' father-in-law for a murderer, producing the piece of Marius' jacket as proof. Marius realizes that it is a piece of his own jacket, and that that must mean that Valjean saved him from the battle and carried him through the sewers to save him. Nonetheless, Marius pays "Monsieur Thénard" a great deal of money. M. Thénardier and Azelma use the money to move to America, where M. Thénardier becomes a slave trader.

The Thénardiers in the musical

The Thénardiers own an inn in the town of Montfermeil, where they have been entrusted with the care of Cosette, Fantine's daughter. However, the Thénardiers treat Cosette as a skivvy whilst pampering their own daughter Éponine. They welcome all customers to their inn, but whilst they appear to look friendly and welcoming, they secretly con their customers with watered-down wine, sausages made with horse kidney or cat liver and rooms where one is charged extra for simply keeping their windows shut at night ("Master of the House"). One night after sending Cosette out to draw water from the well, she returns to them in the company of Valjean. Valjean tells them of Fantine's passing and initially requests to take Cosette with him, but the Thénardiers attempt to con Valjean, deceivingly claiming they love Cosette as if she was their own daughter, have had to purchase expensive medicine to treat her for frequent illness and are worried about the treacherous people she may encounter in the outside world ("The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery"). In the end, Valjean offers 1500 francs to take Cosette, and delighted with the money, the Thénardiers hand her over without question.

Ten years later, they are living in the slums of Paris, having lost their inn. One day, they hatch a plan to rob Valjean, whom they have learned in now also living in Paris ("The Robbery"). They disguise themselves as beggars and beg the passing Valjean and Cosette to give them money. With the help of robbers Brujon, Babet, Montparnasse, and Claquesous, they surround Valjean and rip open his shirt, revealing the brand on his chest. However Éponine notices the police arriving and warns them, but they are captured by Javert and his constables. Thénardier tells Javert about Valjean and the brand on his chest and that he is the one who Javert should really arrest, and Javert releases them.

The Thénardiers then try to rob Valjean again ("The Attack on Rue Plumet"). Thénardier and his gang of robbers reach the gates of Valjean's house on Rue Plumet, when Éponine intercepts them and tries to force them to leave in order to protect Marius. Thénardier refuses to listen and orders Éponine to leave. Éponine is forced to scream in order to get them to leave. Thénardier and his gang escape via the sewers. Afterwards, whilst the students plan to build the barricades, the Thénardiers plan to wait underground, in the hope that they will pick up lots of wealth and riches from the dead students after the battle is over ("One Day More").

After the barricade falls, Thénardier is in the Parisian sewers robbing the corpses of the rebels ("Dog Eats Dog"). Here he crosses a man carrying what he believes to be an unknown corpse (actually the unconscious Marius, wounded from the barricades). When the man collapses, Thénardier steals a ring from the Marius' body, and then departs upon realizing that the collapsed man is Jean Valjean. The Thénardiers appear at the wedding of Marius and Cosette, posing as the Baron and Baroness de Thénard. Marius sees through their disguise and orders them to leave, but they refuse to do so until they have properly extorted him. They attempt to blackmail Marius with the information that Valjean is a murderer, offering the stolen ring as evidence. Their plan backfires when Marius recognizes the ring as his own, realizing that Valjean must have rescued him after the barricades fell. He hits Thénardier and throws him the rest of his money before leading Cosette away, leaving the Thénardiers to enjoy the feast and gloat over their survival, despite their children's deaths ("Beggars At The Feast"). They do not appear in the show's finale, presumably due to their villainous roles, as well as the fact that they are among the only characters to survive the entire play (much of the finale consists of those who died at the barricades).

Differences in the musical

  • Mme. Thénardier disdains her husband in the musical, but is willing to work with him to further their collective schemes; in the book, she is worshipful of him in the beginning, and their relationship cools as the plot progresses.
  • Although Gavroche is present in the musical, no reference is made about him being the Thénardiers' son.
  • The Thénardiers' other daughter Azelma and their two youngest sons are also cut from the musical. This could imply that Éponine is presented as the Thénardiers’ only child.
  • In the middle of the novel, Mme. Thénardier dies in prison, while at the end of the musical she is shown to be alive and well with her husband at Marius and Cosette's wedding.
  • Unlike their portrayal in the novel, the Thénardiers are given a more humorous and relatively light-hearted role in the musical version of Les Misérables (although the songs featuring Thénardier without his wife are darker in tone). Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg said "in the middle of a dramatic and very sad story we decided to turn the Thénardiers into a kind of comic characters...to relax the audience because it's a very heavy show." Though they remain the real villains of the story, the Thénardiers provide more or less all of the laughs in the show, and are therefore some of the show's most popular characters.


Songs

In the musical, the Thénardiers appear in the following songs:

  • At the End of the Day (mentioned only) - While they do not appear in this song, Fantine mentions them by saying that Cosette lives with an innkeeper and his wife (referring to the Thenardiers). The couple is also briefly mentioned by a woman reading a note from them to Fantine, telling that Cosette is very sick and needs money for a doctor (this being a lie to trick her into giving them more money.) Known as La Journée est finie in the French original version and as Quand un jour est passé in the 1991 revival.
  • Castle on a Cloud (Madame Thénardier only) — A song of Cosette's dreams of heaven, which is quickly interrupted by Madame Thénardier to make her fetch a bucket of water. Known as Une poupée dans la vitrine or Mon Prince au Chemin in the successive French versions.
  • Master of the House — A song sung by both of the Thénardiers, along with his drunken customers singing how well it is to have power in the pub. Known as La Devise du Cabaretier in the original French version, then as Maître Thénardier in the 1991 version.
  • The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery — Where the duo repeatedly try to swindle as much money as they can from Valjean in exchange for Cosette. Known as La Valse de la Fourberie then as "La Transaction in the various French version.
  • Look Down (non-sing) — Though not singing, in this scene they try to trick people into charitable donations for their "child" which is actually a loaf of bread in a blanket. Known as Donnez, Donnez in the original French version, or Bonjour, Paris in the 1991 version.
  • The Robbery/Javert's Intervention — Thénardier approaches Valjean, asking for donations for the fake child seen in Look Down. Thénardier recognizes Valjean and assaults him before Javert intervenes.
  • The Attack on Rue Plumet (Thénardier only) — Known simply as Rue Plumet in the original French version, and later as Le casse de la Rue Plumet. Thénardier rounds up his gang as they attempt to rob Valjean’s home as he blames his poverty on him. Éponine stops them from doing so and they are forced to retreat.
  • One Day More — Though small, the two appear every now and then telling how they'll simply hide in the shadows, wait things out, and pick the pockets of the corpses when they're the only ones left. Known as Demain in the original French version and as Le Grand Jour in the 1991 version.
  • The Sewers/Dog Eats Dog (Thénardier only) — Thénardier sings to himself in the sewers as he fingers through the bodies of the students. One of the show's darkest songs, it is known as Fureurs Cannibales in the 1991 French version.
  • Beggars at the Feast — In an ironic twist, the Thénardiers have sunk from masters of the house to being beggars at a feast, and they are not complaining. They have become rich off of their earnings of the stealing and other villainous acts they have committed. They sing how joyful it is to simply sneak into parties and chat with the upper crust of society, and gloat about their survival; once again, however, there is a certain irony, because they are the very last of the remaining Thénardiers, since their own children have been killed during the rebellion. Known as Mendiants à la Fête in the French revival.


Adaptations

M. Thénardier



Mme. Thénardier



References



External links




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