TOP 10: Most Miserable Characters in “Les Miserables”

February 26, 2024

BY Bob Erlenback

The story Les Miserables has been a total bummer since Victor Hugo first penned the text in the mid 19th century. The story follows the lives of many depressed and down-on-their-luck characters set against the backdrop of an unsettled time in French history. Considered one of the greatest novels of its time, this story became popularized again in the late 20th century with the debut of the stage production in London’s West End, which was eventually brought across the Atlantic to Broadway, and beyond. In a recent episode of our podcast, we discussed the best songs from this mega-musical, and our conversation there led us to ponder who the most miserable characters in this story might be. Here is a Top 10 ranking of the most despairing for your consideration.  


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10.  The Wives, Girlfriends, and Daughters of the Barricade

This might be an unexpected pick for the list, but it was important to first choose a group that demonstrates how no one is untouched by misery in this tale. In the song “Turning,” set during the second act of the show, we are confronted with the fallout and the grief left behind during war. We are so focused on the revolutionaries, that we completely miss the suffering of their loved ones until this moment.

9. Jean Valjean

Why is Jean Valjean ranked so low? I’ll tell you. He starts out penniless and rejected, but things turn around rather quickly. The bishop gifts him the silver and he becomes the honest man he promises to be. Sure, he is dogged by an obsessed stalker who keeps him constantly looking over his shoulder, but he’s pretty much set for life as a rich man who served in public office. I hear you, he has an existential crisis. But don’t we all?

8. The Thenardiers

The Thenardiers are opportunists. Beg, borrow, and steal — they do it all. These two may not present themselves as outwardly miserable, but they are trampled on by a society that is hellbent on keeping them down. They’re goal is to gain respect and status, but are unable to find their way in. Here’s an idea: stop bilking everyone.

7. The Prostitutes

Oh, who am I kidding? They’re having a blast in this story.

6. Marius

The ultimate in white male misery. Torn between his obligations to his friends at the barricade and, well, pussy. Marius struggles with the epitome of “Bros before Hos” dilemmas. Truly a grief that can’t be spoken.

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5. Cosette

Cosette starts her life poor and given up by Fantine. She is used and abused by the Thenardiers, barely clothed and forced to perform dangerous manual labor. After her mother’s death, her luck does change when she is collected and adopted by Jean Valjean.  Although her quality of life is improved, she is forever haunted by a past she can’t remember, and an adoptive father so paranoid he is unable to let her be free. Sounds like rich people nonsense.

4. Gavroche

Little is known of Gavroche in the stage production, but he is the plucky, scrappy, comic relief. Until he’s not. He’s a mere child with no discernable family who is thrust into the thick of battle at the barricade. A CHILD! Not only that, this child is sent to the battlefield to collect ammunition from corpses. Luckily, he survives. Wait, I’m sorry, did I say survive? No, no, he dies. They shoot a child. A CHILD!

3. Javert

Transfixed by his own idea of justice and refusing to let someone get the better of him, Javert’s entire existence is challenged by a bread thief. He cannot accept that redemption is possible for Jean Valjean. If this is true, Javert’s faith in God and the unchanging stars must be false. God, why are you so obsessed with him? This is self-inflicted suffering by someone who has nothing else in his life, a truly miserable thought. Also, he’s a dick.

2. Fantine

Chewed up and spit out, here comes unlucky Fantine. Ghosted by the man who got her pregnant, Fantine devotes her entire life to giving up every penny she earns to support her child. What does she get in return? Bullied and dragged by her female coworkers, sexually harassed by her boss. Kicked out of her job, she desperately turns to selling her teeth, hair, and body to make ends meet. She dreamed a dream and got shit on. Oh yeah!  Consumption! She was stricken by consumption, too.

1. Eponine

Eponine is and always will be the “Queen of Misery,” and she tops our list. What starts as a fairly charmed life, benefiting off the child-support checks intended for Cosette, quickly becomes karmic punishment for the unethical deeds of her parents. Let’s review her misery score card. Poor? Check. Unnoticed by the man she loves? Check. Ignored by the parents who brought her life? Check. Shot and killed at the barricade trying to deliver a love message from another woman to the man SHE, herself, loves? CHECK!

Do you disagree with our picks? Let us know in the comments!

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