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The BBC's James Coomarasamy
French literary row reaches the courts
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Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Hugo's family seek 'Les Mis II' ban
The Scarlet Pimpernel scene
Hugo's novel is set amid turbulent times
Descendants of the writer Victor Hugo are attempting to have a sequel to Hugo's classic novel, Les Miserables, banned by a French court.

Cosette, or the Time of Illusions, dubbed 'Les Mis II' by the Hugo family, is written by the award-winning novelist, Francois Ceresa and was published last month.

"Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?

Hugo descendants
Hugo's great-great-grandson Pierre Hugo is also seeking 425,000 in damages, saying alledging that Ceresa is taking advantage of the book that inspired the world-famous musical.

"My feeling is that they've stolen the name of Victor Hugo, the novel title and characters in order to build a new book," Pierre Hugo told the BBC's James Coomarasamy.

"It's a money maker, that's all."

What has most angered Hugo's descendants is the change to the book's original ending, where Javert, who has furiously pursued Jean Valjean for violating his parole, jumps in the Seine.


They maintain that Hugo was particularly attached to his ending, and wrote: "If this ending is not moving, I will never write again."

Francois Ceresa
Ceresa plans a further instalment in the autumn
The complaint alleges that the novel "represents a pure commercial order based on the violation of the respect for Victor Hugo's work".

Lauretta Hugo, the wife of Hugo's great-grandson, Jean, and her five children have sent letters of protest to French President Jacques Chirac and to the ministers of culture and education.

"Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?" they asked in an open letter to French newspaper Liberation.

The French Writers Society is supporting the Hugo descendants in their cause.

Legal conflict

Ceresa argues that the controversy unfair, given that Les Miserables has also been retold and adapted many times before - such as in the long-running musical on Broadway and in London.

Hugo's descendants are still locked in legal conflict with Disney over their failure to acknowledge Hugo in their animated film.

Ceresa's publisher Eric Laurent sees the case as a test for the literary world.

The imitation of books is the most natural legal literary business

French writer Jacques Darras
"If by some aberration we lose, the whole genre of sequels will be condemned and several works of world literature will find themselves in forbidden territory," he said.

Liberation carried a defence by writer Antoine Audouard under the headline "Long live the pillage of Les Miserables".

And French writer Jacques Darras too has joined the fray in support of Ceresa's right to pen a sequel.

"Literature is imitation, isn't it," he told the BBC.

"Basically you want to imitate your famous heroes, you want their stories to happen to you and therefore the imitation of books is the most natural legal literary business."

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