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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 16:51 GMT
France celebrates Hugo's birthday
Les Miserables has become a fixture on world stages
Les Miserables has become a fixture on world stages
France is beginning its year of celebrations in honour of author Victor Hugo, who was born 200 years ago on 26 February, 1802.

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.


The message of peace and unity that Victor Hugo left us should continue to inspire the European project

Lionel Jospin
Hugo is famous worldwide for his works, Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris, which is also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Hugo has been hailed as a figure of profound contemporary significance and he is credited, more than anyone, with rescuing liberty, equality and fraternity from the bloody ruins of the revolutionary wars.

French prime minister Lionel Jospin, who is running for the presidency, has hailed Hugo's ideals.

He said: "The message of peace and unity that Victor Hugo left us should continue to inspire the European project."

Hugo was keen on a European single currency
Hugo was keen on a European single currency
Hugo was also 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.

Hugo was born on 26 February, 1802, in the eastern town of Besancon.

His parents separated soon afterwards and Hugo was raised by his mother in Paris where he developed a talent for writing.

Dannii Minogue recently starred in a London adaptation
Dannii Minogue recently starred in Notre Dame on stage
In 1817 he was honoured by the French Academy for his poetry.

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.

Notre Dame de Paris 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.

Tragedy

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.

Australian singer Dannii Minogue appeared in London's West End musical version, which was recently voted BBC News Online viewers' favourite musical.

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

Hugo's life was also marked by tragedy. His son died aged just three months in 1823 and 20 years later his daughter drowned in the river Seine in Normandy.

Exile

Her sudden death took away his will to write for several years.

A republican, he was also forced into exile for almost 20 years after a failed revolt against President Louis Napoleon.

He spent his time, firstly in Brussels, before moving to the Channel Islands.

He settled in Jersey and then to Guernsey - where from his home, Hauteville House, he could see the French mainland.

Triumph

It was not until the political upheaval which led to the proclamation of the Third Republic that he was to return home, witnessing the siege of Paris in 1870, although by the time of the Paris Commune he was once again comfortably installed in Brussels.

However he was expelled for harbouring defeated revolutionaries and after a brief stay in Luxembourg, came home in triumph and was elected to the French Senate.

Hugo died at the age of 83 in May 1885 and his body lies in state in the Pantheon in Paris.

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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