Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Court saves Les Mis sequel novels

Les Miserables
Hugo's book was made into a hugely successful stage production

Two modern-day sequels to Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables have been allowed by a French appeals court.

In 2001, novelist Francois Ceresa published the follow-ups to the acclaimed 19th-Century classic.

But Hugo's family objected to the books - Cosette and the Time of Illusions and Marius or The Fugitive - arguing they were an insult to the original work.

The Paris High Court ruled they did not constitute a threat to the integrity of the original novel.

Hugo's heirs - including his great, great grandson Pierre Hugo - filed a suit in 2001 demanding 685,000 euros (636,181) in damages from Ceresa, who wrote the novels using the characters and style of Les Miserables.

They also sought to ban the two books.

Public domain

The family had since reduced its claim to a symbolic one euro in damages and dropped the idea of outlawing the books.

But the court ruled on Friday that Hugo's novel was in the public domain, meaning Ceresa was therefore free to invent a sequel.

"Francois Ceresa, who does not pretend to have Victor Hugo's talent, is free to pursue his own personal expression, which does not necessarily act on all the levels that Victor Hugo was able to access," the judges ruled.

"We can't criticise the author of this sequel... not to have respected the learned construction of the primary work, which functions on many levels through philosophical and historical asides," they added.

"He is also free to develop the characters that he brings back to life in new situations."

Hugo's family were particularly annoyed that Ceresa had resurrected the policeman Inspector Javert, who drowned in the Seine in the course of Les Miserables for the modern sequels.

But the judges decided it was not sufficient reason to ban the sequels. They said: "The general spirit of Les Miserables can not be reduced to Javert's fate, but embraces a much wider social and philosophical project."

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