Victor Hugo: Les Misérables and Beyond

Ana Tunberg, SNHU Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you hear the people sing? Les Miserables is one of the most well known musicals to
date, and one of the most long-standing musicals on Broadway. Additionally, it was converted into the award-winning motion picture of the same name in 2012. With gripping characters, a complex storyline, arguably some of the best acting roles for both stage and screen, and beautiful and cathartic music pieces, Les Misérables has captured audiences far and wide for decades. However, the lesser known fact of the musical is that it is not only based on true events, but it is based on famous French author Victor Hugo’s timeless novel Les Misérables. The musical closely follows important plot points and characters of the novel, although many parts had to be left out due to the fact that the book is one of the longest written novels in all of history. The book Les Misérables is an important literary and historical artifact of French culture, as it highlights important events and defining values of French culture through their history. Victor Hugo himself was a very interesting and important figure in French history, and he put French literature on the map of timeless literature classics that is still recognized globally.

To summarize (spoilers ahead!) Les Misérables follows an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who seeks redemption and living a better, more fulfilling life after his time in prison.  Valjean has a religious awakening as an ex-convict, and attempts to escape his identity in order to lead a better life than being a convict would allow him. Along the way, he becomes Mayor, and adopts Fantine’s child after she passes away. Fantine led a life of hardship, loss, and illness, and her one wish to Valjean was to have her child cared for. In order to give her justice and peace, he loves this child, Cosette, as his own. He spends most of his life running from a police officer named Javert, as he knows Valjean’s identity the best. Javert believes he is doing the right thing by pursuing the convict. Valjean lives a life full of giving, kindness, and love, and escapes from the system that condemned him. Valjean also meets a group of poor schoolboys leading a rebellion against the government due to an unjust system that causes their suffering. This important aspect of the novel, as it centers around an unjust system that condemns the poor and forces them into a life of pain (this is also the reason Valjean became a criminal- his family was poor and starving and he had to steal), is based on the true events of the June Rebellion, which was a republican uprising against the monarchy, in Paris in 1832. Eventually, Valjean confesses his true identity to his daughter, saves her lover in the tragic rebellion and allows her to marry him, and he dies at peace. The end of the novel centers around the famous quote “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise,” which signifies hope after suffering. There are many more characters and subplots within the large novel, but these are the most important plot points
and values that the novel is known for.

 

Victor Hugo was not only a phenomenal author- he also led a very tumultuous, artistic, and interesting life, making him a fascinating person in French History. He was a poet and novelist and was an important figure during the Romanticism movement. To put it simply, Romanticism in literature covered much of the 19th century and focused widely on human connection, intrinsic turmoil and morals, cathartic writing, and deep-rooted emotions. For reference, Gothic literature is a subcategory of the Romantic movement. Romanticism showed opposition and pushed back to the previous period of Enlightenment, and was criticized by many academics due to the emotionally- driven focus of the Romantics. However, ultimately the movement spread globally and became a defining era for all arts, such as visual art, literature, and music.

 

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” -Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s life was fast-paced from the start. He was born Victor-Marie Hugo in 1802. He moved around a lot due to the fact that his father was in Napoleon’s army. His mother was a devoted Catholic woman. Due to the constant moving, Hugo’s mother separated from his father and lived in France with her children. Both parents had other relationships while separated, but eventually Hugo, his mother, and his siblings rejoined Hugo’s father in Spain in 1811. An important fact in Hugo’s life is that his mother and siblings lived in a convent while his father fought in the Peninsular War (before they rejoined him). A conspirator named Victor Fanneau de La Horie, who also hid in the convent, became a mentor for Hugo. When Hugo was only fifteen, he won an honorable mention award for writing a poem for a contest sponsored by the L’Académie Française.

 

On top of Hugo being a profound artist and writer, who was elected to the L’Académie Française in 1841 (although he had to fight to get in as a Romantic artist), he also led a profound political life that influenced his works. He became a member of the Upper Chamber of Parliament in 1845, and fought against the death penalty, social injustice, and fought for freedom of press and self- government for Poland at the time. He was well known for fighting for third class people, and his speeches were famous for fighting against poverty and the death penalty. When Napoleon III rose to power in 1851, Hugo called him a traitor to France, moved to England, but was then banished from England due to his written criticisms of Queen Victoria. He then lived in exile on the island of Guernsey from 1855 until 1870. It was during his exile that he continued to voice his strong opinions against Napoleon III and fighting for those less fortunate, including speaking of support towards ending the slave trade.

 

It was also during his exile that Hugo wrote Les Misérables, which speaks volumes about the themes of hope, suffering, and fighting for what you believe in. Hugo was exiled for voicing his opinion, and his strong support for those in poverty and despair shined through in the cathartic third class characters that starred in his novel. He wrote his novel during the time of the June Rebellion, which was a tragic rebellion that ultimately failed and resulted in lots of bloodshed. However, Hugo could capture the courage and meaning of the rebellion, which is fighting and dying for justice and love, resulting in a hopeful future. This event otherwise might have been forgotten in history, but Hugo’s novel and its meaning aids in remembrance of an important aspect of French history, literature, and culture.

 

Another important novel by Victor Hugo is The Hunchback of Notre Dame which also has notable values like love and was also converted into a successful musical and a well known animated Disney motion picture musical. Besides his well-known novels he wrote various poems that also represent his values, empathy, character, and artistic voice. Hugo’s connection to values, love, and empathy along with caring and fighting for those less fortunate as represented through his life and art makes him and his works important in French history. He and his pieces also serve as a signifier for the values French culture became known for during this tumultuous time in history and he helped keep these important French cultural values alive through his timeless pieces, allowing them to be celebrated on a global scale.

Le Tour de France

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

The Tour de France is a prestigious cycling race for the world’s elite bicyclists. It is a 21 stage route. These stages take place in a variety of landscapes, from the streets of Paris to steep roads through the Alps. The course is traditionally contained to France but sometimes dips into neighboring countries. There are nine riders on each of the 22 teams from across the globe who will compete in this 23-day event. The race will begin on June 26 in Brittany and will be an astounding 3,383 kilometers. 

 

2021, the 108th race, will be a bit different. Teams will have to be bubbled, and individuals will be frequently tested for COVID. Anyone who has a positive test must be isolated. Fortunately, this year’s race won’t need to be as strict as last year’s. And many aspects of the race, such as the four jerseys and the intensity of the competition, will remain the same as they’ve always been. 

 

 

The four famous prize jerseys will still be awarded after each stage of the race to be worn in the following stage. The polka dot jersey is awarded to the best biker through the mountains, the white jersey is awarded to the best young rider under 25, the green jersey is awarded to the highest point scorer, and the famous yellow jersey is awarded to the overall best cyclist or the race favorite.

 

There are also some things about the Tour de France that  many think it’s time to change. Women weren’t allowed to compete in the first race, and they still aren’t allowed to compete today. Other alternative bike races have been created for women in the past, but none were as long or as grueling as the men’s Tour de France, and many didn’t last long. As with many women’s sporting events, sexist beliefs and a lack of press coverage lead to a lack of funding, which means the events cannot continue. 

 

La Course by Le Tour de France

 

Some argue an event equal to the Tour de France needs to be created for women; others think it would be best to allow women to compete in the main Tour de France. It could be organized like a marathon run, where one group starts ahead of the other. So although they are competing on the same track, their times may be kept separate and they aren’t in direct competition with each other. Tradition is important to this competition, but it is also important that traditions evolve.

 

These traditions stretch way back. A journalist named Géo Lefèvre created the idea for such competition in 1903 as a publicity stunt to boost sales of his sports newspaper, L’Auto. Lefèvre’s editor/director was a bike enthusiast himself and loved the idea. A 15-hundred mile 6-stage loop around France was developed and on July 1, 60 men began the first stage. Most were French, but a handful of Belgians, Germans, and bicyclists from other nations joined the competition too. 23 riders abandoned the race during the first stage, and only 21 riders completed the race. There was a 64-hour gap between the race champion and the last completer. 

 

 

Although the race was even more of a challenge than many expected, it was still a resounding success. Sales of L’Auto boomed, and people loved the race so much, it happened again the next summer, and the summer after that. Today, 108 years later, the Tour de France still takes place every summer in Europe.

 

The BEST Act

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest goals of the Franco-American Centre is to promote the global spread of French and the heritage of Franco people worldwide, especially in New Hampshire. Part of this is promoting bilingual education and biliteracy, including school children at all levels. The BEST Act aims to increase biliteracy across the country and interests the FAC. We would like to thank Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire for their time and diligence in answering our questions about the Act and its progress in the Senate.

 

What is the BEST Act?

On March 10th, 2021, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii introduced the Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act in the United States Senate. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was an original co-sponsor of the bill. This bill proposes the introduction of state grants which can be renewed every two years; the grants are to be used in the updating, expansion, and implementation of Seal of Biliteracy Programs. Seal of Biliteracy Programs (Seals) is used to assess literacy in two languages, one of which must be English. 

According to the official website for the Seal of Biliteracy, forty-two (42) states and the District of Columbia currently have an approved Seal of Biliteracy at the state level. New Hampshire implemented the Seal in September and administered its first test in Spring of 2021. Manchester, New Hampshire independently began a Seal Program in 2016 and has already awarded 150 seals to graduating high school seniors. 

An additional six (6) states have bills to establish Seals under consideration. Only Wyoming and South Dakota do not have official bills in circulation, but the Seal’s establishment is a work in progress in both states. The BEST Act’s goal is to create a federal program to fund these state Seals. Jeanne Shaheen says the BEST Act, “if signed into law, would create a federal program to support states’ Seal of Biliteracy program.” These programs would help boost language learning across the nation, which has significant impacts on many aspects of society as a whole. 

Senator Shaheen, a former public school teacher, says language learning will “enrich our students’ education and cultural competency and strengthen our security and competitiveness in the globalized economy.” The Senator strongly believes this bill will expand education opportunities for children and allow them to prosper in the global economy. She also noted that this bill “signals to students across the country that language skills are important and marketable skills, and it encourages students to take {language courses}.”

 

 

The Bill & Its Journey

During its introduction in March, the BEST Act was read twice on the Senate Floor. Then it was referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Neither Shaheen nor Schatz are on this committee and thus have no role in its momentum. As of writing, the Bill has not been acted on since its introduction. Maggeie Hassan of New Hampshire spoke of her support for the Bill: “I will continue to work to ensure that our students are equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in the 21st century. In the global economy, speaking multiple languages can be one of those critical skills.” Hassan noted that she will look for opportunities to work “across the aisle” in order to pass this bill.
Although the bill is no longer in her hands directly, Senator Shaheen says she will continue to support it as well: “As a cosponsor of the BEST Act, I will continue to voice my support for this legislation.” If the bill passes the Senate, it will move on to the House of Representatives, where it will be debated and voted on. Any amendments can be proposed and added to the bill. Once the same bill has been approved by both chambers of Congress, it will be sent to the President for signing. If the President approves of the bill, he will sign it into law. President Joe Biden made no official statements on his stance regarding the BEST Act. 

 

Bringing it Home: How the BEST Act Will Impact New Hampshire

Coming from New Hampshire, Senator Shaheen says she has witnessed plenty of bilingualism around her. She expressed the unity of the Franco-American community in New Hampshire: “New Hampshire has a strong Franco-American identity, which I experienced early on… When I ran for Governor, we even ran ads in French to reach French-speaking communities.” When she was in high school, Senator Shaheen said she studied French as well. This exposure to bilingualism and biliteracy has influenced her decision to support this bill. 

New Hampshire has already implemented a Seal of Biliteracy, as of Spring 2021, after being approved by the Commissioner of Education in September 2020. Senator Shaheen says she hopes “to use the success of this award in New Hampshire to advocate for the BEST Act and work with Congress and the Biden administration to expand education opportunities for language proficiency in New Hampshire and across the country.” Senator Shaheen also noted other states have had successful implementations of the Seal as well, including Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Hawaii. 

 

How to Support the Bill

If this bill is important to you, please reach out to your local senators and/or representatives. 

“Teachers and {language} advocates can support the BEST Act by publicly voicing their support for this bill, as well as by sharing new data and information regarding the benefit of {biliteracy} for students and schools.” – Jeanne Shaheen

 

As always, celebrate diversity.

World of French: French Guiana

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Guiana is not its own nation, but an overseas territory in France. Although this little South American territory has a small population and limited natural resources, it has a space center used internationally, and is the birthplace of a key historical figure. It is also home to incredible cuisine that reflects the many influences of the region.

As in many South American countries, food staples include rice, yucca, and sweet potatoes. French influences are evident in the food, particularly in pastry. Their ‘national’ dish is bouillon d’awara (bouillon aoura), a tasty stew of smoked fish, crab, prawns, chicken, vegetables, and aoura fruit, which comes from savanna trees. Other yummy dishes include: blaff, a spicy fish chowder that can be eaten for breakfast; Doku, a creamy mashed corn dessert with cinnamon and brown sugar; and Kalou, spicy smoked fish with vegetables including swiss chard, collard greens, and onions. 

 

 

The many cultures that gave rise to these dishes include indigenous peoples, as well as Europeans and Africans. A mixed Crèole (or Guianese Mulatto) culture is common in the cities, where most of the population is concentrated. French is the official language in the territory, but Guianese Crèole French and indigenous languages are spoken too. Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith, and during Carnaval (called Mardi Gras in Louisiana) many people create bright costumes or host parties and celebrate this vibrant holiday. Other religions and beliefs are observed here as well. 

 

Out of this mixture of cultural influences came Léon-Gontran Damas in 1912. He became a leading figure in the Negritude movement, a worldwide literary movement in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s that protested colonialism and celebrated African cultures. Damas was also a prominent writer and diplomat, and he served in the French military and government. He was the first black writer to call attention to the psychological impact of colonization on the colonized. In 1937, he published a book of poems called Pigments. It was quickly translated into many African languages and distributed to colonies in Africa and the Caribbean

Another marvel of French Guiana is the Guiana Space Center, near the city of Kourou. There, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French Government use the site to launch satellites into orbit and beyond. The French started using this site as a launch area in 1964 and shared it with the ESA when it was created in 1975. This location is ideal for a launch site because of its proximity to the equator. This site also isn’t prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The first mission launched from this site took place in 1968. 

The territory of French Guiana is home to many cultures, which produced many delicious foods. This place has also made many historical contributions to the entire world, such as launching famous space exploration missions and being the birthplace of Léon-Gontran Damas.

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