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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 19:00 GMT
France celebrates Hugo's birthday
Les Miserables has become a fixture on world stages
Les Miserables has become a fixture on world stages
The French take great pride in Victor Hugo as one of the nation's greatest cultural institutions - a revered author and poet whose stories have passed into fable and been exported around the world.

When he died in 1885, he was given a state funeral that was attended by two million people, and every town in France now has a Rue Victor Hugo.

This year is the 200th anniversary of his birth - and his countrymen are marking it with months of events to reinforce his standing as a legend.

Dannii Minogue recently starred in a London adaptation
Dannii Minogue recently starred Notre Dame on stage
The celebrations began earlier this week, when education minister Jack Lang urged teachers to read excerpts from Hugo's works to children.

Mr Lang recited a passage from Hugo's political satire Chatiments to students at the D'Alembert school in Paris, telling them "there is nothing more wonderful than to read to each other".

The bicentenary will also be marked with a conference at Paris's famous Sorbonne university, stage performances of his work, art exhibitions and seminars about his poetry.

On launching the bicentennial year, culture and communication minister Catherine Tasca said the events were intended to stimulate interest in Hugo's work among "young people in our country and around the whole world".

Hugo is best-known for his novels Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris, which have been turned into hugely successful stage musicals and films.

Demi Moore lent her voice to Esmerelda in 1996
Demi Moore lent her voice to Esmerelda in 1996
Notre Dame de Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was published in 1831 and has become an enduring tale of good against evil and love overcoming the odds.

The story of a deformed bell ringer's devotion to a gypsy girl was turned into an animated Disney film in 1996, with voices provided by Hollywood stars Demi Moore and Kevin Kline.

It has also been a favourite on the stage, with three adaptations of the book playing in London at the same time at one point last year.

The stage version of Les Miserables has been running on London's West End for 16 years and Broadway for 12 years.

It was recently voted BBC News Online readers' favourite musical.

Hugo wrote the story of justice and sacrifice while in political exile in Belgium after being forced to flee when Napoleon III took power in 1851.

Hugo argued for a single European currency in 1855
Hugo argued for a single European currency in 1855
Hugo was also very politically active, even being credited as being one of the first people to put forward the idea of a single European currency.

In 1855, he made an impassioned call for a "United States of Europe" and a "continental currency, resting on all Europe as its capital and driven by the activity of 200 million men".

"This currency alone would replace and bring down all the absurd varieties of money that exist today, with their effigies of princes, those symbols of misery," he said.

The bicentenary celebrations will reach a peak on 26 February, Hugo's birthday, just after the French franc is finally removed from circulation.

French education minister Jack Lang reminded the Parisian pupils of Hugo's strong political views.

'A bit heavy'

"Hugo fought against the death penalty, which is still being applied in the United States and China," he told them.

But there was a mixed response to Hugo's writings and his political stance.

Sabrina Hernandez, 18, started reading a biography of Hugo on learning that Lang was going to speak at her school, but admitted to finding Les Miserables "a bit too heavy".

Another student, Afaf Regragui, said Hugo was "rather removed" as an author, but said she admired his struggle against the death penalty.

See also:

13 Sep 01 | Arts
Bid to stop 'Les Mis II' fails
28 Aug 01 | Showbiz
Les Mis tops musical poll
22 Apr 01 | Arts
A hunchback for all seasons
26 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Musical limbers up in Cannes
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