In the midst of great fun diving back into Les Mis fandom, I’ve encountered one frustration: the problem of slashing Enjolras. Really this applies to sexually pairing him with anyone, but since the vast majority of the interest is male/male, I'm going to use "slashing" as shorthand. One need only glance at the Les Mis relationships stats on Ao3 to ascertain that this is a popular activity. But I have yet to see it done in a way that does not seem to me to push him at least a little out of character. I want to explore that tension between character plausibility and fan desire and to contemplate possible solutions with the aim of facilitating writers' endeavors to produce fantastic fic. I'll use the novel as canon. It is not my intention to prescribe any absolute reading of the character as "correct" or "incorrect." It is my contention that certain textual evidence points to certain characteristics that may likely be interpreted in certain ways and that a fic is likely to be stronger for taking these readings into account in its background, character development, narrative apparatus, etc. Now, there may be brilliant, stunningly well-characterized fic that rejects all the readings I will make. That would be beautiful; I have no investment in disallowing its legitimacy.
It is perhaps a conceptual error in this essay that I chose to use the terminology of 21st-century sexual orientation. But it is a choice I made, and rather than rewrite the whole essay, I will attempt to make it functional. To use, for example, a term like "asexual-aromantic" to describe someone from the 1830s is anachronistic, and cultural differences ensure that the term will be somewhat inaccurate and insufficient to describing the historical milieu. This is all the trickier given that our current terms, such as "sexual, romantic, platonic," etc. existed in the 19th-century but meant different things... and yet they meant things related to our current terms. Thus, to say "Enjolras was (not) romantic" is a highly ambiguous statement because "romantic" has many slipping and overlapping (and distinct) connotations then and now. All the labels I use I intend to be approximate and inexact and allow a great deal of latitude in application. They are an imperfect vocabulary, but they are, in some cases, the only one we have or, at any rate, the one I've ended up using.
Romantic: This is a horribly slippery word, but it has two relevant uses that can be somewhat differentiated though they slide into each other. I will distinguish these by "R" and "r." Capital "R" Romantic, I will use to refer to the Romantic movement and its attendant sensibilities, current in the 1830s. These sensibilities include sentimentality, love of nature, socially and sexually liberal values (for the 19th century), and "Romantic sympathy," which connotes a type of "soul mate" relationship that often blurs lines between friendship, sexual love, and sibling love, where the sexual and the sibling love (one or both) may be purely emotional or consummated/literal. By "romantic," in contrast, I mean the 21st-century concept opposed to the 21st-century "platonic": sexual love or feeling that suggests wanting or having "dating/boyfriend/girlfriend relationships" and is typified by feelings of infatuation or being in love. Thus, I personally would say that I have no difficulty seeing Enjolras and Combeferre in a Romantic friendship, but I find it hard to see them in a romantic relationship. Of course, there is massive slippage between these two concepts.
Asexuality: Wikipedia defines asexuality as "the lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex." Now, in the 19th or the 21st century, I find a definition like this almost useless unless we assume it allows some range on a continuum. If we limit "asexual" to people with absolute zero sex drive or zero interest in sex or sexual relationships ever, then the asexual population is pretty small, and a whole lot of people with a sex drive that might be 5 on a scale of 100 or who have wanted only one sexual relationship at only one point in their lives have no standard language for describing themselves. I mean "asexual" to indicate being significantly low on the continuum from low-high sex drive or low-high interest in having sex/sexual relationships. I have no wish to argue that Enjolras must have no sex drive or no interest in sex. If I thought that, I'd hardly be writing an essay on ways to slash him, would I? I will argue that he reads as "asexual" at least by the second criterion I've cited: no/low physical/emotional desire to pursue sexual relationships with people (as distinct from making a choice not to heed this desire because it conflicts with other aims). This may, of course, be because--to use an older, Freudian paradigm--he sublimates his sexuality into revolutionary passion. Or to use an even older, Hugo-esque language, he may have chosen to be married to the republic and devote his energies there. By calling him "asexual," I intend to encompass these readings. So when I call Enjolras--in highly modern, anachronistic terms--an "asexual-aromantic," this is what I mean: he is a person who does not (significantly) desire sexual relationships and or romantic relationships.
Asexuality vs. Celibacy
These terms, as many have observed in comments on this essay, are entirely distinct. "Asexuality" describes feelings or predispositions. (I shy from saying that any sexual orientation defines an "identity" as I think it is useful to remind ourselves that sexual desire is only one piece of a human being's total "identity.") "Celibacy" defines a life choice. Asexuality is interior (a matter of feeling); celibacy is exterior (a matter of behavior).
1) A person has low/no desire for sex and/or sexual relationships (asexual) and does not have sex (celibate).
2) A person has low/no desire for sex and/or sexual relationships (asexual) but has sex (ex. for emotional closeness) (not celibate).
3) A person has some desire for sex and/or sexual relationships (sexual) but chooses not to have sex (ex. for religious reasons) (celibate).
4) A person has some desire for sex/and or sexual relationships (sexual) and has sex (not celibate).
Canon Enjolras is explicitly celibate. He is not only an explicit canonical virgin, he is a canonical never-even-kissed-anyone-except-for-the-dead-martyred-old-dude-(chastely) (975). There is some question as to whether there is sufficient textual information to describe him as "asexual" or whether he could as easily be "sexual." In terms of the examples above, is he 1 or 3?
I agree with those who say the book does not give definitive information on this because Enjolras does not discuss his inner feelings about sex. So is 3 possible? Yes. Would it violate canon? No. But it is much less evidenced by canon than 1.
Some Evidence of Asexuality
Canon Enjolras is one of the most sexually/romantically inaccessible characters I have ever read. Even Sherlock Holmes has "the Woman" (not to mention epic bromance). Enjolras has the republic. Indeed, Hugo fairly hits us over the head with the inaccessibility of Enjolras (all from his introductory paragraph (506)):
He was severe in his pleasures. Before everything but the republic, he chastely dropped his eyes. He was the marble lover of liberty.
These first two sentences could read as sexual/celibate: being "severe" and "dropping one's eyes" is the language of choice, not necessarily predisposition. However, "marble" is more difficult to read this way: it suggests cold and hard as innate qualities, not behaviors. Marble "is" these things; it does not "do" them.
He hardly saw the roses, he ignored spring, he did not hear the birds sing; Evadne's bare bosom would have moved him no more than Aristogeiton; to him, as to Harmodius, flowers were good only to hide the sword.
It will be observed that Aristogeiton and Harmodius, in some narratives, are considered lovers and, thus, that this passage has a homoerotic overtone. The "Evadne" line, thus, could be read as homosexual/celibate rather than asexual/celibate. This is valid and interesting.
But let's look at the rest of the passage: the roses, the spring, the birdsong, the flowers--these are symbols for a sentimental engagement with worldly beauty and Romantic emotion. To be almost completely unaware of these things--not merely ignoring them or rejecting them or considering them suspect but "hardly seeing" and "not hearing" suggests not feeling very strongly in this dimension. This is powerful evidence that Enjolras is, at least, aromantic. It does not imply that he has a low/no physical sex drive, but it does suggest that--if he has, say, an average sex drive--it would be outside the dominant Romantic love paradigm, and thus either autoerotic (one possible dimension of "asexual") or quite emotionally cold, which suggests, perhaps "using" people for sex in a way that seems out of keeping with Enjolras's general social values. The evidence here points toward little/no desire for sexual relationships, which can plausibly be described as asexual/celibate. (Is it possible that he could have an externally oriented sex drive he might wish to act on that is just very aromantic? Sure. It could make an interesting fic. But this is reading against the most obvious implication of these lines.)
... he did not seem to know that there was on earth a being called woman.
I want to unpack this line. It will perhaps be argued that this is merely evidence that he's not heterosexual. But I find that reading anachronistic. By this metaphor, Hugo means, most basically, that Enjolras is not at all interested in sexual liaisons with women (he doesn't mention men).
But this was the 19th-century, a century in which the homoerotic in literature was either relegated to the "licentious" or "decadent," such (earlier) Sade or (later) Huysmans or couched in usually classical, plausibly-deniable, allusive terms, as it's fair to posit Hugo intended in mentioning Orestes and Pylades, etc. The dominant discourse assumed that sexual love referred to heterosexual love. So when Hugo says, metaphorically, "He wasn't at all interested in sexual liaisons with women," the reading he could assume most every reader to share would be "he wasn't at all interested in sexual liaisons" full stop. (As for Orestes and Pylades, Hugo states explicitly that Enjolras did not accept Grantaire in this role: the homoerotic overtones are on Grantaire's side.) The implication here is strongly asexual/celibate.
It has been noted that many of the figures Enjolras is likened to are associated with homosexual liaisons: for example, Antinuous, Aristogeiton, Harmodius. This is true, and it could certainly be profitably used in fic to indicate or introduce discussion of homoeroticism. However, it is not particularly strong evidence that Enjolras himself is coded homosexual. Enjolras is explicitly boyish and even girlish in appearance: "college boy's face," "form of a page," a look "as fresh as a young girls," etc. These fresh looks are also part of the narrative of the figures Hugo cites, who are often coded as pretty boys. Now, pretty boys--certainly in ancient Greece and Rome--were coded as homoerotic objects: these things are certainly related. And Enjolras is coded as a homoerotic object (of Grantaire's). But this is fairly slim evidence of his having homoerotic desire himself. It seems more likely that Hugo invokes these figures to drive home that Enjolras is boyish and pretty and people are attracted to him. Other readings can certainly be played with--by all means. But a reading of Enjolras himself as homosexually inclined--as opposed to asexually inclined--on the basis of these allusions does not seem strongly evidenced.
Certainly, absence of proof is not proof of absence, and it is a fair point that Enjolras is associated with homoerotically textured historical figures. (I myself enjoy reading him as "gay-A," to use another anachronism.) But the bulk of the textual evidence argues for predominant asexuality (as I've defined it in this essay).
So how do you pair this guy with someone?
Solution 1: Who cares if it's in character? Fair enough: whatever floats your boat. But I care, and I'm not alone. We love the characters we love because of who they are (i.e. in character), and one of the great joys of fic is to see those characters put in new situations but responding as the people we know.
Solution 2: Modern AUs: This is an important area of the fandom, and I'm not actually going to address it. Speaking purely personally, I don't like modern AUs, so I can't discuss them without an unfairly negative tone seeping in. If they work for you as a solution to this fan fictional difficulty, great. I wish you happiness with them. For this essay, however, I'm going address fiction negotiating the social setting of the novel, though possibly AU in terms of reimagining some plot events.
So how do you pair this guy with someone while staying in character within the context of 1830s France? Not easily...
But let’s start with the character as he comes to us.
Who is Enjolras?
He is quite social. He has a core group of seven good friends (Combeferre, Feuilly, Jean Prouvaire, Courfeyrac, Bahorel, Bossuet, and Joly... and Grantaire, whom I'll stop short of calling a "friend"). He is the "chief" of these men and well loved by them--though not necessarily the guy they choose to shoot the breeze with. It is implied that Combeferre is his "best friend." He is the one, Hugo tells us, who "completes and corrects" Enjolras. And we get some hints of particular closeness, as when Enjolras is deploying people to talk republicanism: at the time when he assigns destinations to everyone else, he has already pre-assigned one to Combeferre. This is his core group, but his social relations extend far beyond this: he deals with people a lot.
At the same time, he is reserved when not actively declaiming revolutionarily. One of the early establishing scenes of the Les Amis de l'A B C at the Café Musain has everybody involved in spirited discussion except Enjolras, who is there doing something or other quietly (personally, I think he's listening to Combeferre and Courfeyrac fight about the Charter of Louis XVIII (523-24)).
(I find Enjolras a little hard to peg as either an introvert or extrovert. In MBTI terms, I would tend to put him as an INTJ or ENTJ: plausible driven-revolutionary types.)
Enjolras is sociable, but it's an atypical kind of sociability. He is a rigid republican, and this gives him an interesting mix of tolerance and intolerance. He is a profound believer in freedom of speech, thought, and conscience. This is well expressed by his quietly listening while Marius holds forth at enormous length on the glory of Napoleon, which offends everyone in the room. But he lets Marius have his say and counters him with reasoned discourse in good post-Enlightenment fashion (524-27).
On the other hand, Hugo also likens him explicitly to Saint Just (506) and Robespierre (507), both figures associated with ruthlessness, and his judgments favor abstract principles over individual human contexts. He is, for example, harsh to Grantaire, who is bombastically cynical and usually drunk, characteristics that push Enjolras’s buttons. His telling Grantaire at the Barricade that he is incapable of life and of death is an example (861).
In sum, Enjolras lives by his beliefs exactly and inveterately, but his perception of what is "right" is rather narrow and unforgiving. He has difficulty thinking outside of his particular box and little desire to try. This narrowness is, however, somewhat mitigated by the fact that his chosen set of values is inherently broad: extolling liberty and free discourse. While his focus is politics, these views certainly inform his opinions on personal relations.
Enjolras's views on sex.
The only explicit reference I can recall is general sympathy for women driven into prostitution by poverty (930). In the main, he is silent about sex, but his silence is significant. Enjolras is no prude. He hangs out with a group of guys most of whom regularly sleep with women outside of marriage and chat about their exploits openly. And the fact that he has nothing to say about this indicates that he has no particular objection. When Enjolras objects, you know it.
Enjolras is not traditionally religious. His utopia includes, “For religion the heavens; God priest direct, human conscience become the altar” (928). So it is unlikely he would feel constrained by traditional Christian views of sex and sin. On the contrary, part of his social milieu includes free love movements. It should be noted, however, that this is all within a heteronormative context.
I am not an expert on the status of homoerotic activity in France c. 1830. The novel doesn't really go into it (though it goes into everything else). But I will venture some very general statements with corrections and augmentations welcome. The sexual mores of France have generally been more liberal than in England, and this goes for homoerotic activity too. Likewise, movements that extol free love, albeit as a primarily male/female notion, will, nonetheless, be likely to advance some of that liberalism onto views of homoeroticism. See, for example, the exploits of Byron. It also goes without saying that all these classically educated college students would have a wealth of examples of homoeroticism in socially accepted ancient contexts.
It was still a pretty darn homophobic world.
Attempting to situate Enjolras within all this, my guess is that he would disdain homoerotic love as the purview of libertines but would consider it a fairly venial sin (metaphorically). In personal terms, I think if it came to his attention that one of his friends was involved in a sexual relationship with another man, he would look the other way and try, without complete success, not to think less of him for it. In all this, I think his attitudes would be similar to those about male/female liaisons, though, of course, with slightly different resonances.
So how do you pair this guy with someone (especially if it's a man)?
Possible solutions and considerations
* Make him gay-A. This is a simple and logical expedient. It fits with Hugo's protestations that Enjolras has no interest in women. It is a reasonable adjunct to his very homosocial environment. It adds another motivation to his celibate behavior: in this, he would be in a position analogous to many homosexually inclined men who have entered the priesthood as a path that spares them an unsuitable heterosexual marriage, allows them to live near men, and places this all in the context of living a virtuous life of service.
While all this fits reasonably with Enjolras’s character, however, it can only be a minor theme in his overall personality. His dedication of revolution and his mistress, Patria, is clearly not an escape but a calling. Placing him on the homosexual spectrum will not, by itself, put him in bed with anyone, but it could facilitate other narrative moves. Pyrexia by Greekhoop uses this approach to initiate an attraction for Montparnasse.
(If an author may, of course, choose to read against the "asexual" evidence and characterize Enjolras as strongly-homosexual/celibate. But if she wishes to do this and stay in-character, this "reading against the grain" should be explained in terms consistent with the canonical evidence. She must, in essence, explain how the homosexuality jibes with the considerable text on lack of romantic interests if she wishes to "sell" the characterization to a reader concerned with canonically based characterization. And I wish her success in this endeavor.)
As for other narrative moves, I want to cite a couple of fics that have developed fantastic background structures for slashing Enjolras:
* Wounded in the name of the revolution: A Passion for the Absolute by AMarguerite. This story pairs Enjolras with Courfeyrac and opens with Courfeyrac being shot in the leg in the course of subversive revolutionary activity. For a good twenty-four hours, his friends are not sure if he’ll survive or develop blood poisoning and die. In the first couple of chapters of this fic, AMarguerite uses this premise to generate a very plausibly tender and even emotionally intimate Enjolras.
Consider: your friend may be dead in a few days; he may descend into a final delirium by tomorrow: of course, you’re going to be kind to him. You’ll treasure every moment with him. Imagine, moreover, that your favorite thing in the universe is revolution, and your friend is possibly going to his death for promoting your favorite thing. Naturally, you’ll be proud of him, admire him, feel personally grateful to him. AMarguerite uses these perfectly reasonable responses to maximum effect.
* Suviving the Barricade: The Giants of ’32 by Musamihi. This story—tantalizingly unfinished—may have found a way to pull it off. Depending on how/if Musamihi develops it, it may be the great plausible Enjolras slash fic. It’s an AU future fic that posits an eleventh hour rescue at the Barricade and a successful revolution. Enjolras, Jean Prouvaire, and Grantaire survive (and I guess Marius, though he’s not mentioned). All the other Amis die. The fic opens a few years later with Enjolras and Jean Prouvaire already involved in an established, fully sexualized relationship.
The setup is fantastic. These three men have been welded together in a horrific crucible. They all watched each other walk the full distance in their willingness to die for the republic. They all watched five of their dearest friends die. The kinship this would give them, the trust, the admiration, the shared grief is more than I pretend to grasp. Musamihi implies—though the story to date (first two chapters) does not flesh this out—that Enjolras and Jean Prouvaire moved into an emotionally (and finally physically) intimate relationship out of grief and mutual clinging in those early days. It makes sense. Grantaire is still the odd man out. Though Enjolras is much kinder to him, Grantaire’s still a cynic and a drunk, and thus not someone Enjolras is about to fall in love with.
The story as it stands jars me in thrusting Enjolras and Jean Prouvaire into such a highly sexual relationship so fast because this plays against Enjolras’s native asexuality. However, if Musamihi were to fill in the intervening relationship stages in later chapters, the end result could track plausibly.
I want to give blanket praise to Musamihi for her writing of Enjolras and Jean Prouvaire, both in The Giants of ’32 and the short, gen story, “Schicksal des Menschen, wie gleichst du dem Wind!” Jarred though I may be by the hot sex in the former, every other aspect of each character is canonically spot on. She makes Prouvaire sensitive and erudite and Enjolras sharp and obsessed with the republic. Indeed, one of the signal strengths of The Giants of ’32 is that the romantic relationship, though loving, is not happy: Enjolras’s typical workaholism and emotional cluelessness believably bruise Prouvaire’s vulnerable emotions, fantastic sex notwithstanding: a great setup for a fascinating sociopolitical and relationship story, which I hope Musamihi will complete.
* Age mellows people: An additional advantage of future fic, in general, is simply making Enjolras older. As people age, they tend to move toward greater balance: the shy learn to speak; the loud learn to listen, and so on. It is probable that Enjolras, had he lived, would have become more attuned to interpersonal intimacy as he aged—perhaps never greatly attuned, but more so than the “marble” young man Hugo gives us. Indeed, Hugo himself notes that Enjolras’s views become broader over the years: “for some time, he had been leaving little by little the narrow form of dogma, and allowing himself to tread the broad paths of progress...” (928).
* Cave fic: One final plus to Musamihi’s scenario: it functions a bit like cave fic in limiting the competition and thrusting its pairing together. With nine Amis (ten with Marius), it’s a little hard to imagine a strong, impersonal thinker like Enjolras falling differentially hard for any one of them. When it comes down to Prouvaire or Grantaire, however, the choice is pretty obvious (sorry, Grantaire shippers).
* Vive la révolution: Any relationship in Enjolras’s life that requires emotional investment means time and energy stolen from his political life, and this he would greatly resent and, I think, feel guilty about. Any story that focuses on such an investment, therefore, must attend carefully to this fact. Enjolras will either be neglectful of his partner, as in The Giants of ’32, or he will be, on some level, miserable himself. This is not to say that no happiness is possible, but it would almost certainly require significant compromise and sacrifice by all involved. (This factor need not be so significant in a one-time fic.)
* Patria: Related to the above but more qualitative. We are told repeatedly that Enjolras’s “mistress” is “Patria,” his homeland. Enjolras himself states this explicitly in response to Bossuet pondering how Enjolras can be brave without a woman to perform for (947). Indeed, the imagery is insistent. Revisit the standard “asexuality” quotes above: “He was the marble lover of liberty.” “Before everything but the republic, he chastely dropped his eyes.” In a real sense, Enjolras’s heart is already taken. He himself owns that his emotional commitment to his country is something like a commitment to a romantic partner. And this means that to bond with someone else in that way is, emotionally speaking, infidelity. And Enjolras, being a rigidly moral man, would not easily accept such a thing in himself.
This is a reality that a fic writer must contend with. The most obvious solutions would seem to be: 1) a far enough future fic that Enjolras’s views have changed significantly; 2) face the angst head on--heck, it could be the center of the story; 3) Enjolras might place himself in a sexualized relationship that he would not view as a “romantic relationship” but as something perhaps more akin to “friends with benefits.” I haven’t seen this last attempted, but it would be fascinating.
* Being an asexual virgin makes sex awkward (homosexual sex in homophobic society all the more so). Any fic that is going to walk through the stages of building a sexual relationship--and ones that don’t with an asexual character run the risk of being jarring--must contend with the likelihood that the sex would start out very awkward (or have a strong and clear explanation for why it wouldn't). Sexual intimacy would require Enjolras to lean on all his least developed personality traits: emotional intimacy, focused awareness of others' personal feelings, physical passion--added to the inherent awkwardness of being inexperienced and the social complications sexual relationships in the 19th century: for homosexual relationships, the social taboo and potential scandal; for heterosexual relationships, the unequal power relations, financial implications, and risk of pregnancy; for both, venereal disease (he’s a careful thinker; he would think about all this). All in all, sex asks Enjolras to step fantastically out of his comfort zone to do something potentially rather dangerous. To sell it, a fic needs to be fair to that.
* Be prepared to write long. See above. I don’t know how to accomplish all this without a lot of background development. Future-ficcing is probably the most viable short cut, but even that needs back-fill to flow smoothly.
* A trope I would respectfully discourage: asexuality through sexual trauma. Yes, people do sometimes respond to sexual trauma by becoming/presenting as asexual. But I see two objections to deploying this with Enjolras. 1) Sociopolitical: this trope has long been used to pathologize asexuality in general. Thus, it seems disadvantageous to the asexual community to ascribe it to a character who has to be one of their most unambiguous and positively coded representatives in literature. And when ficcing a novel expressly written to be sociopolitical commentary, it seems appropriate to consider sociopolitical ramifications. 2) Character: I don’t see any evidence of this kind of trauma in Enjolras. He has no knee-jerk reaction against sex, no particular response to it at all; he simply doesn’t seem to be focused on it.
Putting it together
It seems, then, that a plausible Enjolras slash fic is likely to have some or all of the following elements:
* an emotional crisis that breaks down barriers,
* a circumstance that at least somewhat isolates the primary pairing from their other close friendships,
* perhaps a dash of time gone by,
* a dash of gay to provide specifically sexual (vs. emotional) motivation
* but an awareness that the sex will at least initially be awkward,
* and a deep regard for the primacy of Patria in Enjolras’s affections.
So maybe this guy is pairable, but who are you going to pair him with?
The likely suspects
So far I’ve been discussing Enjolras’s motivations without much reference to who we might imagine him with. Let’s talk about the other partner.
Grantaire is canonically extremely in love with Enjolras, and though this love is not necessarily sexual, SF in her comment on this essay notes that the classical allusions used to characterize their relationship (particularly Orestes and Pylades) carry homoerotic overtones, so it’s not a stretch to imagine sexual attraction; moreover, Enjolras is gorgeous and Grantaire is a libertine. Grantaire’s feelings are clear. However, it is difficult to imagine them reciprocated. Grantaire is pretty much the sum of everything Enjolras despises: cynical, drunken, unself-controlled, unreliable, etc. His signal virtue—vast emotional loyalty (to Enjolras!)—is one Enjolras cannot appreciate because his own moral system is so strongly geared toward abstract principles rather than personal connections. SF observes, however, that the very vituperation that Enjolras shows--combined with Grantaire's adoration--is a sign of potential passion of some kind. In terms of their developing a romantic/sexual relationship, however, the best I could imagine would be a future fic, like Musamihi’s, going forward after the death scene reconciliation. As Marie notes in her comment on this essay, such forward movement in their relationship would depend on Grantaire's doing "something to live up to [his] idol's expectations." Figuring out how to achieve this move in terms that are in-character for Grantaire is an intriguing challenge.
Courfeyrac is someone Enjolras likes and respects, and the feelings are certainly mutual. One draw of this pairing is the contrast in their characters (actually quite well expressed in the Enjolras and Grantaire interplay in the musical’s “Red and Black”). Considerations to address in developing this pairing include 1) awareness of great divergence in their personalities (and thus, likely, in their behaviors, desires, and comfort zones in romantic relationships); the canon fact that Courfeyrac is attracted to women (which would introduce the question of what--if any--role women would continue to play in his love life); the considerably evidenced reading that Enjolras is fairly asexual; and the fact that they are not romantically pointed at each other in canon (as Grantaire is pointed at Enjolras).
It seems clear that Enjolras and Combeferre are dear friends and there is great love between them, which may well be described as Romantic. They know each other very well, and Combeferre, in particular, who has an insight into human beings that Enjolras lacks, knows Enjolras inside and out. He knows, among other things, that Enjolras lives for the republic and is outside his comfort zone, his strengths, and his calling if asked to muck around with interpersonal emotions. Combeferre himself is a reserved man, though in a manner that’s tender where Enjolras is often cold. I see no reason to believe that Combeferre would push Enjolras toward a messy, emotional relationship that would—at least on some level and at least initially—hurt him. And I see no reason why Enjolras would initiate such a relationship with Combeferre when he already has such unflagging support from him without the uncomfortable entanglements. Or to put it impressionistically, their dynamic seems fraternal. This is not to say they couldn’t be paired, but I wouldn’t know where to begin with it.
Bias warning: my personal favorite. The pros: Jean Prouvaire, as an interpersonally emotional man, is a good counter to Enjolras’s coldness and could draw him out (in a way Combeferre probably wouldn’t try to). Courfeyrac could do this too, but unlike Courfeyrac, Prouvaire is somewhat subdued and reserved, and two rather reserved people together feel like a more comfortable fit, with less push-and-pull perhaps than with Courfeyrac. I could more easily imagine Prouvaire as someone Enjolras might emotionally trust, specifically because--like Combeferre--he is not pushy. Prouvaire is explicitly a thinker about “liberty of love” (509), and we can pretend that means homosexual love as well. The cons: Enjolras and Jean Prouvaire seem to walk in different micro-circles. They are sufficiently different in practical revolutionary vs. poetical focus that they seem to mentally shoot past each other a little. Some trigger, therefore, would be needed to unite them. And one way or another, I can’t imagine an in-character fic in which poor Jehan does not get hurt.
If there is anybody Enjolras canonically has a little crush on (very little, I grant you), it is Feuilly. Enjolras just admires the socks off Feuilly, and well he should: Feuilly is as dedicated a revolutionary as he is; every bit as educated about politics, history, etc. (though with different subject emphases); and, unlike Enjolras, has achieved all this by educating himself whilst working full time for almost no money. If there is anyone who may well stay up later at night studying revolution and republicanism than Enjolras, it is Feuilly. Enjolras is dead serious when he says he venerates him (929).
In French, in the scene where Enjolras deploys Les Amis to stir up republican spirit about town, Feuilly is the only one he explicitly calls “vous.” Now, this might just indicate that they don’t know each other as well, not being college students together and so on. But it also seems to me a sign of respect, not to presume familiarity with the working man, with whom it is perhaps presumed quite a lot. Some time later, in the 20th-century speech, Enjolras uses “tu”: I don’t have this particular volume in French, but I infer this from my translation’s rather awkward “thee’s” and “thou’s” (929). Indeed, this stilted translation choice says to me--though I have not memorized the whole book--that this is the first time Enjolras makes that switch. This is someone he’s kept at a distance all the way up to the Barricade. And for one of his core group of friends, that suggests to me, indeed, a special veneration. (Now, I’m saying all this as a non-French speaker, so I may well be misinterpreting the nuances.)
Howsoever, Feuilly is perhaps the only person I can imagine Enjolras spontaneously falling for without being courted first. I have no idea why Feuilly would fall for him in return, aside from general revolutionary regard, but the dynamic could be a fascinating one--even unrequited. (It’s rare enough to see Enjolras in the unrequited lover role.)
I would never have guessed it if I hadn’t seen it in fic, but this pairing works surprisingly well. I think it works for a couple of reasons. 1) It is canonical, and accepted by most fic authors, that neither is a primary love interest of the other: Éponine has Marius; Enjolras has Patria. This tends to obviate heavy romance, which would be out of character, and allow the exploration of interpersonal resonance. 2) The interpersonal resonance is powerful because Éponine, for him, would be an exemplar of the oppressed masses Enjolras wants to liberate but doesn’t hang out with. Given some trigger to thrust them together, he has a valid reason to be interested in her: he may feel she instructs him in the people. She, too, has a reason to hang around him: he’s (sort of) friends with Marius.
Now, this by no means makes for an unambiguously "good relationship." In particular, in her comment on this essay, SF notes that expecting a person you are in a relationship with to function as your educator about their social group is exploitative. It is not Éponine's duty, in or out of a relationship, to educate Enjolras on "the people," nor is she, as an individual, representative of all poor people or even poor young girls with criminal parents. It is, however, difficult to imagine Enjolras spending time with her without using her for his own edification: the fact that she is one of "the miserable" whom he could "study" up close and personally could hardly escape him. This is certainly an exploitation of his privilege; it's also probably inevitable for them, at least in a relationship of any duration; and it could be a fascinating and socially important dynamic to unpack, very much, in keeping, with the novel's social aims.
I haven’t personally read a fic that takes this pairing beyond kissing, and I think going further than that would be difficult. See above: they have other primary love interests, and likewise, are sensitive to the general dangers of heterosexual relationships. Éponine certainly does not want to be a Fantine; she’s near enough to being one without a child to support, and Enjolras, who would, of course, support a child*, does not want a child to support or any of the attendant entanglements. And they’re both cautious enough to think about all this first. An example of a fic in this vein is "Years Built on Sand" by Unicornesque.
(*I will give him the benefit of the doubt that his admiration for Rousseau does not extend to actually wishing to emulate the disowning children thing.)
In the expanses of tl;dr above, I have done my best to enumerate the difficulties inherent in slashing (pairing) Enjolras while staying in character, some possible solutions, and some caveats. I’ve listed some of the likelier pairings and commented on opportunities and problems they may present. I would like to encourage comments on this essay to include fic recs. Slashing Enjolras truly well is a remarkable literary feat, and it deserves reccing, recognition, and readership.
Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables. Trans. Charles E. Wilbur. New York: Amsco, n.d. Print.