a professor of mine thinks victor hugo would have disliked his novels being turned into musicals because he'd said his poetry shouldn't be set to music; do you think she's right? for some reason i always figured he'd be at least amused (if annoyed les mis is still so relevant to society today)
I think he’d have more Opinions about the most famous adaptation of his novel being in English than anything else, really :P
Honestly I’d look at how Hugo talked about Ernani, the opera adaptation of Hernani, on this, but I can’t FIND him talking about it; beyond that he mentions it several times as having been playing on the night of NIII’s coup. Which is frustrating.:/ But anyway yeah, there were definitely examples of people adapting Hugo’s work in his lifetime, and I’d be inclined to look at his reactions there.
And also there’s the whole thing where prose and poetry were not the same! Like, to him, and to that branch of Romantics in general. So that might have made a difference!
For lack of being able to find anything more specific about his reaction to musicals, I’d look to his speech to Congress of Literary, Industrial and Artistic Property in Paris in 1878. Where he says
Create a system of literary property, but at the same time, create the public domain! Let us go further. Let us expand the idea. The law could give to all publishers the right to publish any book after the death of the author, the only requirement would be to pay the direct heirs a very low fee, which in no case would exceed five or ten percent of the net profit. This simple system, which combines the unquestionable property of the writer with the equally incontestable right of the public domain was suggested by the 1836 commission [on the rights of authors]; and you can find this solution, with all its details, in the minutes of the board, then published by the Ministry of the Interior.
The principle is twofold, do not forget. The book, as a book, belongs to the author, but as a thought, it belongs – the word is not too extreme – to the human race. All intelligences, all minds, are eligible, all own it. If one of these two rights, the right of the writer and the right of the human mind, were to be sacrificed, it would certainly be the right of the writer, because the public interest is our only concern, and that must take precedence in anything that comes before us. [Numerous sounds of approval.]But, as I just said, this sacrifice is not necessary.
It seems Hugo, while an advocate of author’s writes, was also an early advocate of Public Domain as a concept based on people being able to access ideas, especially after the (literal) death of the author , so that’s probably relevant to adaptations of his work.
Would he have actively enjoyed the current musical? Friend, I cannot say; art styles and emphasis have changed so much in the intervening century-and-a-half. Possibly he’d hate it for not being anti-Napoleon III enough. Maybe he’d really love Tiny Cosette. I do not know! But Hugo had SO many opinions from so many directions over the course of his life that I’d be really hesitant to just say “he’d hate it” OR “he’d love this particular thing” –the answer HE gave might well have depended on When You Asked. But there’s some things to look into about it!