Sunday, February 26, 2017

Born Today February 26: Victor Hugo


French Romantic writer Victor Marie Hugo was born on this day in Besançon, Doubs, France.  His parents held opposite belief patterns; his father was a "freethinking republican" whose hero was Napoleon and served in his army; his mother, on the other hand, was a devout Catholic who was a staunch royalist.  His godfather, who was a Napoleonic general with secret royalist allegiance (and possible lover of his mother), was executed by Napoleon in 1812 when Hugo was 10.  His early life saw him and his siblings living through some of the most politically turbulent times in Europe (actually the world), with Napoleon being declared emperor when Hugo was just two years of age; and with the Bourbon Monarchy being restored to power by the time he was 13.  Hugo displayed a fascination with poetry at a very early age. By 1822, he had published his first volume of poetry; this gained him a royal pension from King Louis XVIII.  This was followed by several more volumes in the years to come.  His first work of fiction came 1823 with a novel; by 1829 he had come out with The Last Day of a Condemned Man; a large work of fiction that would go on to be hugely influential on a whole host of writers.  By 1827 he had published successful plays; in the case of that year it was  Cromwell.  In 1830, he became abnormally famous for his time with his play Hernani staged to huge success across the European continent.  In 1831 one of the works that he is best known was published; the novel (translated) The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was an instant success and was immediately translated into several language; it also had the effect of shaming the city of Paris into restoring that great cathedral, as the book began to attract thousands of tourists every year.  1832 saw him venture into the world writing librettos for opera, in the this case, for no less a composer than Verdi!  In 1834, he published a short story based on true events--that of a condemned murderer who had been executed by the state; Hugo later made the observation, that the story had been the smallest seed from which his great Les Misérables would grow.  That great novel did not appear until 1862.  In 1843, Hugo suffered the worst lose of his life when his favored eldest daughter drowned after a boating accident at the age of 19 (she was also newly married, her husband perished trying to save her); those who knew him said that he never quite recovered from lose.  Laments of this lose were immortalized in poetry by him.  Also in the 1840's, he got involved with French politics.  He was a staunch Republican who wished to stand for a complete democratic form of government.  He fled the country for Belgium after Louis Napoleon sized power in France in 1851.  His exile would last until 1870. When back in France, he resumed his political activities; he would basically remain politically engaged for the remainder of his life. Given the enormity of his literary influence, it is hardly surprising that his works were used early on in the formation of narrative film. The first of these came in 1905 with the now famous Esmeralda, which was co-directed by Alice Guy, who is believed to be the very first female director. It would be 4 more years (as far as anyone knows) that the next film (one of many for the year !), based on his work would be released.  That film was Rigoletto, and was an Italian production.  The year 1909 would also see the first filming of Les Misérables, it would be broken into 3 separate releases and was probably the first trilogy in film (links for the films can be found herehere and here).  It is also no surprise that there was a proliferation of films made from his work during the silent era, given the well known nature of his work.  The two most well known, considered horror classics to this day, came in the 1920's.  The first of these was The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, which was directed by Wallace Worsely and starred Lon Chaney Sr., released in 1923.  The second was The Man Who Laughs, which came out in 1928, and was directed by the great Paul Leni and starred Conrad Veidt of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) fame.  The first sound film to be made using his work was a short from 1929, The Bishop's Candlesticks, a Paramount production.  The last silent films to be made using his work, were produced in Japan in 1929 and 1931.  The first full length sound film to be produced was a whopping 4 hours and 41 minute version of Les Misérables in 1934.  The most recent released film of his work dates from last year, with the comedy French Movie.  Two additional films have been announced:  a television adaptation of Les Misérables, with no release date information; and The Hunchback, slated for release later this year.  Hugo died in Paris on the 22nd of May of pneumonia.  He was given a lavish state funeral and it is estimated that close to 1 million people (some estimates put it at 2 million!) turned out on the streets the day of his funeral.  In addition to being one literature's greatest and most prolific writers, he was also an avid artist, producing more than 4,000 drawings during his lifetime.  He is interred in a tomb in The Pantheon in Paris.

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