Personality of Victor Hugo
1. Victor Hugo’s work
“Men like me are impossible until the day when they become necessary.”
Victor Hugo is one of the most renowned faces in the literary world. He had white hair and a dense beard along with a gray mustache and a keen look that exhibited an inner serenity and confidence. He was a – one of a kind – 19th-century French poet, novelist and playwright, whose work remains to testify to his skill and ingenuity and justify the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries. His works are so inseparably linked to the history of France, that he is considered a national symbol of the country. As the leading writer of French Romanticism and a forerunner of Surrealism, he introduced a new era in literature. His work is a hymn to life and freedom.
Hugo seemed ordinary on the outside, except that on the inside he possessed a genius mind. His dark eyes were very imposing, and his white beard, a signifier of wisdom. His clothes were simple and old-fashioned, always matched with a starched-collar white shirt. Hugo, although not very well-dressed, he was an elegant man and exuded a suave sophistication and charm. His rebellious but deeply kind character stood out grand and imposing. He was a passionate man who could outshine others with his fiery words, whilst maintaining his good manners and his soft voice.
During his lifetime, he wrote a plethora of literary and theatrical works which show impressive diversity; from dark novels to romantic poems and from patriotic odes to novels about the rotten society and human passions. He had his own unique writing style and his books reveal a strong autobiographical element, infused with passion, wrapped up in deep symbolisms. Through his works, he often expressed cynical, and ugly truths of the humankind and thereby awakened his readers’ minds. For this reason, he was often misunderstood and attacked by critics of the time. Yet he never stopped speaking his mind and he always objected to injustice of any kind. His pure romantic writing style has all the characteristics of the movement: artistic freedom, frenzied imagination and a refusal to follow the norms of the time. Poetic license was key element of his poetry. He saw words as living entities, that had every right to rebel against the writer’s will to describe common things and had the power to create a new reality instead.
He drew his inspiration from his own experiences and thus his heroes seem to represent many different aspects of himself. As he pointed: “the moi, that weed which always sprouts afresh under the pen of the writer given to familiar outpourings”. His stories seem to narrate events of his childhood that scared him, such as his parents’ divorce and the incongruity of their characters, their infidelities and the constant relocations. Yet, many experiences from his adult life also influenced his writing: the deaths of his children, his brother’s mental illness, his stormy erotic life and his insatiable sexual desire, his experiences from the wars in France, and his years in exile.
Hugo manages to evoke extreme emotions to the readers, who inevitably identify themselves with the characters in his stories, relating them to their own experiences. He addresses those who refuse to stay passive and rebel, those who seek change and don’t compromise.
2. Victor Hugo’s personality
“A beautiful soul and a fine poetic talent are almost always inseparable.”
Taking a closer look into Victor Hugo’s life and according to the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, a common test for finding out one’s personality type, he seems to belong to the “composer” type. Composers are energetic individuals whose warmth and excitement make others feel cozy around them and creativity is the core of their existence.
Hugo throughout his life was a very creative person. He started composing poems at the age of 13 and kept writing great poetry collections, novels, and plays up until his death. It is of no wonder that he started his writing career in his teens, an age of great uncertainty and turmoil both physical and spiritual. Writing was for him a means of expressing his feelings and concerns in a time when none of his parents were there for him. As an adult there were times when he wrote just to please his readers and earn himself some money, and others when he wanted to share with them bits of himself and some of his wisdom. His endless spiritual energy along with his love for creativity were those elements of his character that contributed to such a big number of exceptional works.
Just like every other composer, Hugo was a friendly and approachable person, yet he was in fact an introvert. He was a great host, kind and very attentive with his guests, whilst his passionate spirit and optimism made him even more beloved and admired. He liked meeting and socialize with people with different social backgrounds because he learned new things and drew from them valuable inspiration for his writings. Yet, now and then, he had the need to spend some time alone and have his personal space. He used to spend many hours each day locked in his office, consecrating and writing his thoughts down on paper. All the while he also took pleasure in solitary activities such as beach walks and painting.
He wanted to live his life at the fullest and seize every moment, as seen from his numerous love adventures and all the little things he enjoyed in life. He enjoyed spending time playing with his children and grandchildren as well. He used to seek out new knowledge and experiment with innovative ideas whilst he hated conservatism in art. Thus, he introduced many innovations in literature and theater, adopted a unique writing style that many later sought to imitate, and through his work dared to express truths that had been hitherto silenced. His liberal spirit and the difficulty he faced to follow the rules led him to self-exile. He preferred to live in isolation rather than fit into a mold.
As a genuine composer, he had a penchant for the arts, a fine aesthetic and a razor-sharp eye for detail. Playing with the words, he created powerful images that stimulated the senses and triggered a stream of emotions in people.
When taking decisions, he listened to his heart rather than his head, always based on his values. To those who didn’t know him, he gave the impression of a carefree, even frivolous person at first glance. However, he was probably taking life very seriously and trying to keep his actions in line with his values. This is not to say that he always succeeded though. It was with the help of his lover that he was able eventually to take his failures and mistakes in stride. Hugo didn’t mind changing his mind as long as he stayed true to his principles. He did not even hesitate to put himself in danger when he felt he was doing the right thing; thus, he threw himself unarmed into the midst of the enemy fighting in the French civil war. Being a true patriot, he returned from exile to offer his service to his country in the field during the critical days of the war with Prussia. Following his humanitarian ideals, he donated a significant portion of his fortune to the needy. All of these features usually appear in a composer’s personality.
3. Victor Hugo’s early years
“There is a sacred horror about everything grand. It is easy to admire mediocrity and hills; but whatever is too lofty, a genius as well as a mountain, an assembly as well as a masterpiece, seen too near, is appalling.”
Victor Hugo’s parents
According to Victor Hugo’s parents, he was conceived on one of the highest peaks of Vogues mountains were Major Hugo and his battalion went to fight off the robbers that terrorized the area. Hugo’s mother, Sophie Trebuchet, was from Brittany. Having lost her mother at the age of eight and with a father who was constantly traveling to the West Indies, involved in the sugar trade business, she grew up with her aunt in Nantes. At the time of the French Revolution in 1789 Sophie acted as a wild royalist Amazon, risking her life to rescue Catholic priests from the hands of the angry democrats. Hugo’s father Joseph-Leopold-Sigisbert Hugo was an atheist democrat from Nancy. His mother was a teacher and his father a carpenter. He loved adventure, which is why, although a great student, he chose to join the military rather than study further. He used to brag about the bullets that pierced his body during battle while he obediently performed his duties even if they involved slaughtering entire villages or clergy. At first glance, it seems that Hugo’s parents were two completely opposite characters. This may also explain the two opposite sides of Hugo, the royalist and the democratic one, an explosive combination.
Sophie and Leopold met while he was chasing some clergymen around her area and in order to distract him, Sophie invited him for tea. Her secretiveness and modesty made him a great impression for she reminded him of his mother telling him to never share his thoughts with no one and always keep them to himself alone. A few months later Hugo left for Paris, where he was assigned to report to the Council of War. Sophie went to find her loved one, but with great regret she found out that he had already cheated on her. In order not to admit the bitter truth to her parents, she decided to marry him nevertheless even without the blessings of a priest.
Victor Hugo’s birth
Little Victor was born on February 26, 1802. His parents were in the fifth year of their marriage and Victor was their third child. Having two sons already, his father wanted a daughter this time. He wanted to call her Victorine-Marie, but since the name Marie could also be given to a boy, they named the child “Victor-Marie Hugo”. The name “Victor” came from a friend of his father’s, Victor Lahorie, who was supposed to baptize him. However, his mother was probably not a so fanatic Catholic after all, since the child remained unbaptized.
Most likely, Victor was born prematurely, because He was a sickly baby. Also, during the first two years of his life he was having a hard time keeping his head upright, constantly tilting it towards his shoulders. He had such a big head for his age that a doctor once said he was probably suffering from hydrocephalus.
Although his appearance must have been repulsive, like that of Quasimodo’s, the combination of a slender body and a large genius head gave a romantic tone to his appearance. Besides, his fragile infant body made his mother take care of her weak child a little more than his siblings.
The absence of Victor Hugo’s mother
In November 1802, when Hugo was eight months old, he and his family were living in Marseille. It was then that, due to a setback in his father’s career, his mother left for Paris to persuade her husband’s benefactors, Lahorie and Joseph Bonaparte, to help him. In fact, Sophie had an extramarital affair with Lahorie and had just found the opportunity to be closer to him.
From the very beginning of their marriage, Sophie had been somewhat cold with her husband, as opposed to the passionate Leopold who worshiped her. Therefore, he was suffering greatly because of his wife’s absence and much more because she did not respond to the letters he sent her. Even little Victor seemed to be miserable and kept asking for his mom and thus his father was trying to ease his pain with macaroons. After a few months, Leopold moved to a new post on the island of Elba in southern Italy and took his sons with him. Unable to care for them on his own, he sought the help of a nurse. Victor, who was at the time teething, rarely cried, but he was constantly looking around as if he was looking for someone.
At last, in July 1803, Sophie, having tied up loose ends, reunited with her family in Elba and a few months later, she returned to Paris with her sons. And just like that, shortly after Hugo’s birth, his parents ceased to be a couple. According to her divorce petition in 1815, while she was away, Leopold was fooling around with a “concubine”. However, it seems that Leopold was missing his children and was trying to save his marriage. It was long after Sophie left him that he got involved with another woman. On the other hand, Sophie tried to portray herself as a victim of her husband, convincing even her sons about his guilt.
Although Hugo’s mother was not absent for a long time, namely eight months, — the first months in a child’s life are the most important and crucial for future cognitive and emotional development. According to psychiatrist John Bowlby, in the first two years of life, children develop an attachment — a positive emotional bond — with their primary caregivers, usually the mother. Due to the attachment the infant feels pleasure when the two are together and relieved by her presence in moments of discomfort. It is the first interpersonal relationship in a person’s life and the model by which all his/her subsequent relationships are shaped, as the infant learns what to expect from others, and those expectations also determine his/her own behavior. If the mother cannot meet the needs of the infant during this time, let alone if she is not there to tend them in the first place, then there can be negative effects on the mental health of the individual, especially on self-image and image of others, their self-esteem, their ability to manage their emotions and how comfortable they feel in their social relationships.
4. Victor Hugo’s childhood
“Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.”
Back in Paris, Hugo was sent to a nursery in the Rue du Mont-Blanc. One of his first childhood memories was the attraction he felt toward the female body. In the mornings he was taken to the bedroom of the manager’s daughter, who was still sleeping. When she came out of the sheets to wear her tights, Hugo used to admire her bare feet. With this erotic childhood memory, Hugo debunks a great myth of the time — that of childhood innocence and proves that the sexual instinct exists from birth.
In December 1807, his mother decided to take the kids and pay Leopold in Italy a surprise visit. Leopold had been appointed governor of a province and Sophie wanted to fix the monthly allowance. She was under the impression that he had immense wealth, wasting it on women and other frivolous whims. It was a pointless treasure hunt. That and his mother’s tendency to save money and then waste it all away, turned Hugo into a miser. They stayed in Italy for a year. His father agreed to take care of his sons’ education and promised that they wouldn’t be deprived of anything despite his and Sophia’s divorce.
When he was with his father, little Hugo seemed to be a rather timid and studious child. But in the garden of his house he was playful and full of energy. He enjoyed playing with lead soldiers, torturing insects from the fields and swinging with his friend, Adèle. When not enjoying the garden, he went with his brothers to a nearby study room, where they mainly read French romance novels given to them by a nice librarian. Victor, after all, was taught how to read before he even started school, and his mother gave him the freedom to choose whatever book he wanted. What, however, seemed to confuse, perhaps even annoy, the child was not so much the “age-inappropriate” books, but the presence of strange men in his life, especially Lahorie’s.
In the Feuillantines, Hugo went to a small school owned by a former clergyman, La Riviere, who, when the revolution broke out, acted smart, left the clergy and married his maid. Hugo venerated the old man. It is worth mentioning that all the men who had played a positive role in his life were somehow related to books and studying, such as La Riviere, the librarian, and Lahorie, who occasionally helped him with his homework. On the other hand, his father was educated as well but, in Hugo’s mind, he was a man of swords and battles not words and literature, and, although Hugo loved him, his mother sometimes destroyed his image.
Parental separation is undoubtedly one of the most painful events that can happen to a family in modern times, let alone the early 19th century. However, what matters to the children’s emotional well-being is not so much the separation itself. It is both the quality of the relationship between the children and the parents and the parental conflict after the divorce. It is essential that children spend as much time as possible with both parents after a separation or divorce. Failing that or constantly experiencing parental conflicts involving the children, either over them or through them or other issues such as finances, can have a devastating impact on children’s mental and psychological health and even make them feel responsible for their parent’s divorce. Another problem that can arise, especially when one parent blames and accuses the other, is that the children form the perception that one parent is “good” and the other one is “bad”, which confuses children even more because they love, and they need both their parents. As a consequence, when those children do something wrong in their later life or behave inappropriately, they think it is because they took after the “bad” parent and then try to do everything perfectly or eradicate all the elements that remind them of that parent. It seems that Hugo up until the third decade of his life tended to avoid behaviors and ideas that reminded him of his father, perhaps because his mother often accused him of their problems.
5. The voyage to Spain
“Sorrow is a fruit. God does not make it grow on limbs too weak to bear it.”
In March 1811, when Hugo was nine years old, his mother took her family and went to Spain, where his father was appointed governor of Guadalajara, a city in Castilla–La Mancha. This journey had a decisive influence on the formation of his identity. The travel was almost entirely by carriage. Hugo and his brother were seated in the two seats in the front covered and protected only by a leather hood. Their mother was always tough with them. She wanted her children to gain physical strength and toughen up. Midway, one of the horses slid downhill and the carriage almost fell in a cliff. In these frightening moments, Hugo’s mother ordered her sons to remain still and not to act like little girls. Both she and her husband didn’t want their children growing up too soft. In fact, once little Hugo had been forced to go out dressed in girlish clothing as a punishment, because he was crying.
The trip to Madrid lasted about three months. Upon their arrival, Leopold informed his wife that he had filed for divorce. As soon as he confirmed that his ex-wife had left him for his old friend, Lahorie, who had been arrested for conspiracy against the government, Leopold flew off the handle and in order to avenge her, he accused her for treason. In the meantime, Victor wanted to get away from all that family drama. He made a new friend, Pepita, a small dark-haired Hispanic girl with a plump face and lots of self-control. Throughout his adult life her image followed him around like a shadow, he saw her in his fiancée’s eyes, and she even became his muse, the source of his inspiration for Esmeralda, a gypsy girl in his book “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. Her playful disposition and courage seemed to fascinate him. Τhe two used to play and get into any mischief together.
Hugo’s mother, after her ex-husband’s accusations, left Spain and the children stayed with their father for eight months, who for their education, sent them to a boarding school for aristocratic children, part of the San Antonio Abad Monastery. The monks who administered it treated them with great respect because of their father’s rank, and put them in advanced classes, as their educational level was higher than that of their peers. Every time their father visited them, they all went for walks along with his lover, but as a matter of fact their contact was not frequent, and they only knew him through the stories and memories of him shared with them by others. In the evenings they slept in the cold dormitories taken cared of a tiny hunchbacked monk. The “nightmare” the boys lived in Spain ended in 1812, with the overthrow of Napoleon and the expulsion of the French from the region. Their mother rushed to their rescue and return them to Paris.
However, in September 1814, Leopold, having moved back to Paris, invaded his ex-wife’s house and took all of her linens and silverware. He also regained custody of the children and send them once again in a boarding school nearby.
6. Hugo’s first steps into poetry
“Rhyme, that enslaved queen, that supreme charm of our poetry, that creator of our meter.”
During those three and a half years that Hugo spent with his brother Eugene at the Pension Cordier boarding school, their relationship with their father was very distant and the money he provided them was insufficient to meet their needs. Leopold was out of duty at the time and was living in a small house by the river Loire. He even avoided buying new clothes for them when their old ones were torn. Instead, he gave them to his sister in Paris to patch them up. The two boys could not turn a blind eye to that injustice and wrote letters to their father complaining that their aunt deprived them of the money needed for their school supplies and the boarding school tuition fees. He used to say that his salary had been reduced, and sometimes he did not even reply to their letters claiming that he had not received them in the first place. Apart from the rift between them, the teenager Hugo lost all respect for his father, when he learned that he belonged to a group of Frenchmen who had murdered their king.
Hugo took out his sadness and his resentment on his father. He was feeling oppressed and frustrated, so he found his own unique way to make his revolution through poetry. He claimed that he was a self-taught poet and that his writing was a rare gift that came from within. Inspiration came to him at odd times, even at night in his sleep whilst he wrote verses everywhere even in his everyday correspondence. He used to describe his tendency to constantly create lyrics as a problem, as an impulse that he could not control. In fact, there was a particular name for this tendency at the time, which was regarded as a mental illness, “metromania”. Through his lyrics, Hugo expressed his feelings in a disciplined and accepted by French society way.
During those difficult years living away from his parents, another father figure emerged in his life, in the form of a smiling young man who was involved with school affairs and had the pupils under his supervision, Felix Biscarrat. Biscarrat, who was in charge of the students’ walks, had once led them with the help of his girlfriend up inside the Sorbonne dome, where they enjoyed the most spectacular view of Paris and the world behind its walls. There, Hugo suffered his first vertigo attack, and he was overwhelmed by the fear that he would fall down from that great height. And it was there that, while climbing the staircase to reach the dome, he discovered another miraculous world beneath the skirt of Biscarrat’s girlfriend, another part of the female body that he loved.
Biscarrat was one of the first to recognize Hugo’s talent in poetry and helped him become famous. In 1817, the French Academy announced its annual competition with topic: “The Happiness to be Derived from Study in All Circumstances of Life,” where Hugo participated with a great poem. The young man made sure to pass on Hugo’s work to the Academy’s offices, where they could not believe that such a profound creation belonged to a fifteen-year-old child. The poem won the competition and the Academy recognized Hugo as a child prodigy.
7. Hugo reunites with his mother
“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
At the age of 16, Hugo and his brother left the boarding school and returned to their mother, who lived in an apartment in Paris. Although she was not old, she was constantly getting sick. So, Hugo spent those years as if he were living the childhood he never had, taking care of his mother and their home. He was a big, charming but timid kid accompanying his mother when she was shopping. The only features that made him look more masculine were his thick, dark hair and his big forehead. As he progressed into adolescence, he read classical writers, ancient Greek and Latin texts, such as Virgil’s works, memorizing a few verses every night in order to learn from their wisdom and use them to the challenges presented to him.
By that point, poetry was everything to him. His mother recognized his talent and supported him. In 1819, she encouraged him to take part in a competition organized by the Academy of Toulouse, where his ode on the restoration of Henri IV’s statue, gained their grand prize, the Golden Lily. The following year he won once again with another poem. His works were published in anthologies, but they were also criticized. One of the negative comments made to him was that there was an ambiguity in his expression. Yet, Hugo, confident about his works, he rightly replied, “Lyric poets enjoy the privilege of leaving unfinished the thought which first struck them in order to develop the thought which occurred to them next.”
Eugene’s mental illness
Hugo’s brother Eugene also wrote poems, and in 1818 he won one of the same Academy’s awards. However, his career as a writer did not prosper as he soon developed symptoms of schizophrenia. Since the doctors of the time had poor knowledge around mental health problems, the nature of his illness remained obscure. One of his most paranoid beliefs was that his mother loved Victor more than she loved him and his jealousy made him suffer. In the following years, as his condition deteriorated, he went into a mental asylum. Then, many horrible stories and rumors were formed around Hugo. That he became so successful by sucking someone else’s blood, someone’s smarter than him, and then got rid of his corpse. Other rumors suggested that Eugene was secretly in love with Victor’s girlfriend, and shortly after their marriage he lost his senses.
Hugo may have felt he had a share of responsibility for his brother’s issues, having once supported the notion that those irrational rumors had something prophetic in them. His guilt seems to have been manifested through his art as well. In the script of his unfinished play “Les Jumeaux” (The Twins – 1889), he was referring to a king who was speaking to himself in his coffin, while his twin brother was stealing his throne. Perhaps Hugo blamed himself for taking his brother’s place in the world of poetry and in the heart of the girl he loved.
Victor Hugo’s first love
At the age of 17, Hugo confessed his love to Adèle Foucher, the girl they were playing in his garden together when they were children. Adèle, then 15 years old, pure and modest like an angel, precisely the kind of woman that the poets of the era glorified, also had feelings for the young man. Their love came right on time, as his mother’s health deteriorated, and Hugo had the need to create his own family. His passion for her was evident, not only in his poetry, where he wrote erotic lyrics, but also in the letters he gave her, where he wrote that he could no longer live without her love.
One thing that every love story faces, however, is the obstacles. His mother did not want such a simple girl next to her bright son, and Mr Foucher did not want a frivolous poet with no stable income to marry his daughter. However, Hugo believed they were destined to be together and get married. He was determined to make her his wife, even if it was the last thing he would ever do. The fact that he could not have her made him want her even more and his jealousy increased. The two emotions fanned each other’s flames.
8. Victor Hugo and Adele
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
The death of Victor Hugo’s mother
In June 1821, Hugo’s weak and sickly mother, passed away. After her funeral, Hugo begged his father to continue paying the alimony for a few more years. He dug up a bunch of excuses to save money but eventually he agreed to allow his son to marry the girl he loved on two terms. One: Hugo had to be able to provide for his family on his own. Two: Leopold could marry his lover undisturbed as well. So, for the next two years, Hugo lived in a small dark attic, ate little, and his wardrobe included only three shirts and a blue suit that was too short in the sleeves and legs. He had no money to get a new one tailored. However, he did not complain about his poverty, considering it to be a test of his spirit.
Victor Hugo’s marriage
While Hugo was mourning the death of his mother, Adèle’s parents had sent her to a relative near Normandy to keep her away from him. The incurably romantic Hugo, however, did not hesitate to walk 50 kilometers under the hot July sun to meet her, a move that eventually melted her parents’ hearts. Having managed to get their approval, Hugo only lacked the money to marry her, but luckily, he received an annual pension from the Ministry of the Interior in 1822 and again in 1823. According to him, the King, who loved books, rewarded him with this money for his talent in poetry. Rumors, however, had it that he was visiting the Government’s offices for days begging for help. Anyhow, what’s important is that he achieved his goal, and finally in October 1822 Adèle became his wife. His father did not attend the wedding, as he was very busy taking care of his vineyard.
In the summer of 1823, Adèle gave birth to a delicate baby boy with poor health and named him Leopold-Victor after his grandfather, perhaps in an attempt to bridge the gap between General Hugo and his sons. The infant lived only for three months. In August of the following year, the couple had another baby, a buxom and lively daughter, Leopoldine, to whom her father devoted many poems that showed his love and affection for her.
Victor Hugo’s first books
Seeing that Hugo did not dare to publish his creations himself, his brother Abel took the initiative to secretly print and publish his poems. The first copies of the book “Odes et Poésies Diverses” (1822) were given to a Parisian bookstore, whose seller reluctantly placed them on the shelves, unable to predict that over 1500 copies would be sold within just four months, and thereby bringing Hugo huge profits. The collection included the odes he had written up to that point, as well as his thoughts on monarchy and religion. He seemed to have formed a poetry genre of his own, describing historical events as if he had experienced them himself.
The next book that was released was “Hans d’Islande” (Hans of Iceland or The Demon Dwarf) in 1823, a Gothic novel, narrating the cobblestones of a red-haired dwarf from Iceland whose mother was a witch. It was a story of violence and bloodshed, described by literary writers of the time as “barbarous fantasies of a sick mind.”
9. Victor Hugo’s spirit of Romanticism
“Reason is intelligence taking exercise. Imagination is intelligence with an erection.”
By 1824, Hugo had established his presence in the field of French literature. After the death of Lord Byron, that same year, Hugo wrote and published an obituary in his honor in “La Muse Française,” one of the first magazines that introduced the Romantic movement in the French literature. The Romantic writers had been criticized from the very start for their revolutionary way of expression. The very definition of the word “Romanticism” has been a field of debate. According to Hugo, romantic writers were those who refused to imitate others. Like he said: “Anyone who imitates a Romantic poet necessarily becomes a Classical poet.” Thus, Hugo got himself involved in quarrels between Romantic and Classical writers. His art acquired many characteristic attitudes of Romanticism and therefore, it was constantly targeted by critics of the time. That same year, Hugo released another collection of 28 poems, the “Nouvelles Odes”, a poetic collection about politics, history and religion.
During the next few years Hugo wrote another three major works: “Bug-Jargal” (or else “The slave-king” in English) in 1826, “Odes et Ballades” (Odes and Ballads) in 1826 and “Cromwell” in 1827. “Bug-Jargal” is a short novel about slaves in San Domingo trying to break free. It follows the friendship between the enslaved African prince Pierrot, or else Bug-Jargal and a French military officer named Leopold D’Auverney amidst the Haitian slave revolution. Bug-Jargal fights not only for his freedom but for the woman he loves as well, Marie a white aristocrat but the obvious racial and cultural barriers of the time stand between them. “Cromwell” on the other hand is a play with countless verses, that was not considered to be a success and thus remained unperformed for many decades. It tells the story of Oliver Cromwell and is considered to be the manifesto of the Romantic movement.
Charles Nodier’s Influence on Victor Hugo
During that time Hugo was associating with a man who had a major impact on his personality and his literary style, Charles Nodier. 22 years older than Hugo and an anarchist in his youth, Nodier was addicted to opium and gamble and expressed romantic ideas, even before the Romantic movement emerged. The two became good friends in the spring of 1825, traveling together to Rheims to attend the coronation of King Charles X. During this week with him, Hugo learned important lessons from this Romanticist teacher and integrated them so effectively into his writing that he was able to eventually overcome him. Hugo’s disapproval of the classical writing style, his love for the Shakespearean works, the enrichment of his works with folklore and supernatural elements, were all influences by Nodier.
At this point it is evident that Hugo needed to find a male model to identify with on ideological level. It seems that he admired his much older friend, Nodier and made him his mentor. His need may have stemmed from the lack of a male role model in his life due to the distant relationship he had with his father.
Victor Hugo’s reconciliation with his father
After his mother’s death, Victor Hugo and his father reconciliated and Victor came to terms with the fact that his father married another woman. In fact, in February 1827 he wrote a poem published in “Journal des Débats”, in which he defended his father’s honor and for the very first time he boasted that he was the son of a brilliant Napoleonic officer, deviating for a while from his royalist views that his mother passed on to him, expressing a more liberal attitude.
In January 1828, a heart attack led General Hugo to his death. After the death of his father, Hugo kept praising him, but his words didn’t respond to the reality: “The man who loved me more than any other, a kind and noble being… a father whose eye never left me,” he wrote. Perhaps Hugo had the need to speak highly of his father after his death, out of regret for the bad relationship they had for most of his life.
10. Victor Hugo’s controversial plays
“The theatre is a type of church; humanity is a type of religion.”
Hugo liked to experiment with different types of art. He soon got interested in theater and in particular in “The Comédie-Française.” The plays he wrote contained strong political messages. Hugo, as a Romanticist who believed in artistic freedom, became a spokesman for French youth, who had strong democratic views.
He wanted to present an innovative play to his audience. Although his first play “Marion de Lorme” (1830), was accepted by the theater reading committee it got unfortunately rejected by the censor for portraying a cowardly and authoritarian king. Supposedly, it would provoke dangerous reactions from the viewers as he resembled the actual King of France at that time. However, Hugo couldn’t give up so easily, and thus he turned to the King himself, who was a big admirer of his works, but “Marion de Lorme” was once again turned down. In order to make amends with him, the King offered him an increase of 4,000 francs in his royal pension, a generous amount of money that would ensure him a comfortable, rich life. Yet the young artist for the shake of his noble ancestry and most of all for his own dignity, declined the King’s offer and unequivocally stated that all he wanted was to see his play performed and nothing more. His statement was soon published in every Parisian newspaper, making him a hero in the eyes of the younger generations: “The youth of France is not as corruptible as Ministers would hope,” they said. Clearly, next time another play of Hugo’s were to be rejected due to censorship, there would be serious consequences.
Whilst Hugo could rewrite the controversial parts of “Marion de Lorme”, he chose to write an altogether new play instead. His next play “Hermani” (1830), is the love story of a Spanish former noble who became a bandit and a beautiful girl Donna Sol de Silva. The two lovers can’t live their love freely and fate keeps them apart as Donna has two other suitors, namely her elderly uncle and Don Carlos, the king of Spain. The plot ends with the suicide of the young lovers, an act that eternally preserves their love. Despite the love story described, there was a plethora of political hints and messages hidden in the play. The corrupt nobles who harassed the heroine were linked to the minds of spectators with the rotten ruling class of France, whilst the young liberals identified themselves with the passionate couple that refused to accept any compromise. Soon, two rival sides were formed: On the one hand the outdated Classics, demanding Hugo’s exemplary punishment for his disrespectful creation, on the other the young “Hugolatres”, who were determined to defend his subversive play. It was evident that Hugo’s original purpose, which was nothing more than the awakening of the spirit, had been achieved.
The night of the premiere was crowned with success. There was an atmosphere of triumph. The Romantics cheered and kicked their legs so loud during the play that the theater was almost being torn down. This is another of the effects of Hugo’s art on people, it aroused extreme emotions in the public. As it turned out later, Hermani with its revolutionary notion was a prophetic work, as it foretold what was to come in the months that followed on the streets of France: the French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution. Hugo, once a supporter of the King, had now become an idol of the liberals.
11. Notre-Dame de Paris
“When you get an idea into your head you find it in everything.”
In March 1831, the novel “Notre-Dame de Paris” (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) was released, a masterpiece that was described by critics as “the most abominable book ever written”. Throughout this book Hugo expresses his love for architecture as a cultural element. However, most likely, the medieval Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is used as a metaphor for the corrupted Catholic religion, in which Hugo no longer believed. The story centers on Quasimodo, a deformed, hunchback and deaf bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and his unrequited love for the beautiful French Roma dancer Esmeralda. The story causes strong emotions to anyone who reads it, a mix of terror and pleasure. Its intense scenes, such as the beautiful gypsy girl who trembles with fear and the man, who tormented by his thoughts, tries to uproot his own head, grip the reader. Those extreme states of the human soul made it one of the most widely read books of all time.
In November of that same year, another book with the title “Les Feuilles d’Automne” (Autumn Leaves) followed, which included poems about his family life that were inextricably linked to historic events of the time.
12. Adèle’s affair with Sainte-Beuve
“How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.”
During that same time, Hugo’s wife had an illicit relationship with his good friend and poet Sainte-Beuve. At first, the two were meeting outside, either at church or in hotels, but after a while, according to the concierge, he was visiting her at home disguised as a nun when his friend Hugo was absent. Adèle complained that Victor, who at the beginning of their marriage was madly in love and passionate with her, apparently no longer wanted her sexually. So, after started seeing Sainte-Beuve, Adèle avoided Hugo altogether. She didn’t even want to sleep in the same bed with him. Rumors had it that the biggest problem in their marriage was her husband’s stinginess, as well as the fact that she appeared to be out of place among the intellectuals who so often visited the couple at their home. Hugo disparaged her every time she interrupted with a silly comment the deep intellectual discussions he had with his friends.
After a while Sainte-Beuve, who couldn’t live with his guilt, confessed his love for Adèle to Hugo, concealing however their relationship. Hugo, who did not want to lose such a precious friend from his life, forgave him and asked him to preserve their friendship. However, in the course of time, they grew apart and their relationship was limited to sporadic, casual encounters. On the other hand, Hugo expressed his bitterness regarding his wife’s coldness and wrote her tearful letters, in which he recalled the most precious and affectionate moments spent together. Most likely, he knew all about her affair, and wanted to win back his wife and children who in fact he adored, especially their oldest daughter Leopoldine, who was the light of his life.
The play “Le Roi S’Amuse” (1832; literally, “The King Has Fun”), written during that same time period, is clearly influenced by the events of his personal life, as it narrates the efforts of a lustful and womanizer king to seduce his jester’s wife, Blanche. Blanche however was in fact the poor man’s daughter who he conceald from the world, wanting to protect her from seduction.
13. Victor Hugo’s affair with Juliette Drouet
“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul.”
Hugo’s next play was “Lucrèce Borgia” (1833), portraying the Renaissance-era Italian aristocrat Lucrezia Borgia. It is the story of a woman mistakenly poisoning her loved one Gennaro along with other anti-Borgia conspirators. To avenge the murder of his friends, Gennaro stabs her to death. However, in her last breath Lucrezia reveals that she was after all his mother. During rehearsals Hugo met Juliette Drouet, who played the secondary role of Princesse Negroni and fell in love with her at first sight. Ηer ethereal beauty made him lose his mind. It was a comical picture altogether. Hugo, who was strict and demanding with the rest of the cast, was treating the young girl with unusual courtesy and respect. Juliette had a dazzling beauty: she was tall and light-skinned, she had dark eyes and hair, she was always well-dressed and exuded a radiant self-confidence. Juliette had many lovers at the same time, including some billionaires of the time, which made her known in the circles of Paris as a common courtesan. The beautiful woman had grown up in the Breton countryside, what perhaps reminded Hugo of his beloved mother. On the night they made love for the first time Hugo felt like he was being reborn. In her arms he found love again and the meaning of life. Their relationship quickly became known in the artistic circles and many made fun of the “happily married guy” who had been caught in the nets of a failed actor and spent his fortune on her.
His next work was the drama, “Marie Tudor” (1833), which deals with Queen Mary’s dilemma between love and power. The pseudo-historical work portrays an Italian gentleman named Fabiano Fabiani, a fictional favorite of Mary I. of England who is caught cheating on her with a commoner. The Queen plans her revenge and has Fabiani thrown in the tower until his death penalty and although she thinks twice later, she is unable to save him from the executioner. Through this project, Hugo tried to support Juliette’s acting career. She was given the role of the humble woman seduced by the Queen’s lover. Unfortunately, her performance was so poor that Hugo was forced to give the role to another actress.
In 1834, Hugo published two more books “Claude Gueux” and “Litterature et Philosophie Mêlées”. “Claude Gueux” is the true story of the title character who is forced to steal food in order to survive. He is eventually caught and ends up in prison, where a series of unfortunate events lead him to commit a terrible murder and get sentenced to death. Hugo shares his thoughts on societal injustice and death penalty in 19th-century France and expresses his staunch opposition to it, suggesting education as a method of dealing with crime. “Litterature et Philosophie Mêlées” (Medley of Philosophy and Literature) contains several small texts of literary criticism and philosophy, that convey the author’s sentiments and his most personal reflections, without any censorship whatsoever.
In the meantime, Juliette became Hugo’s muse, and he did not hesitate to express his feelings for her in his poetic collection “Les Chantes du Crépuscule” (1835; “Songs of the Half Light”). He made some more attempts to get her a role in one of his two new plays, but he failed. “Angelo, Tyran de Padoue” (1835; “Angelo, Tyrant of Padua”) is a historical play about a tyrant’s wife and his mistress who is an actress.“Ruy Blas” (1838) is the story of a servant who falls in love with the Queen and makes her love him back, but in the end, he kills his master, who tries to destroy their happiness, and commits suicide in front of his beloved one. Hugo wanted to give Juliette the role of the Queen, but Adèle who spoke spitefully about her to the director, destroyed any chance of Juliette playing the role.
Juliette sometimes used to tease Hugo and joke about his female admirers that bombard him with their letters. Her love for him was so great, that boosted his self-esteem. She taught him how to be more forgiving of other people’s sins and, consequently, how to be more forgiving of himself as well. Through her love and affection, he felt his emotional wounds from his past start heal, and over time he developed as a person and began to think of himself as a Messiah who could help humanity evolve and prosper.
14. Eugène’s death
“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
Unfortunately, those happy days didn’t last long. Hugo’s happiness got disrupted by his older brother Eugene’s death from chronic enteritis. Eugene had been in asylum for all these years. Victor was mourning for weeks. In “Les Voix Intérieures” (1837; “Inner Voices”) a collection of poems, Victor wrote two poems for his brother, recalling moments of their childhood together. It seems that the loss of his brother afflicted Hugo sorely. Over the next time period Hugo had no ambition, he was neglecting his appearance and even his once insatiable sexual desire for Juliette had waned.
During these years he also wrote the libretto “La Esmeralda” (1836) for the opera of the same name, based on the book “Notre-Dame de Paris”. Although the novel was adored by the public, the opera ended in failure.
15. Victor Hugo elected to the Académie Française
“My tastes are aristocratic, my actions democratic.”
In 1839, Hugo’s dream was to become a member of the Académie Française, and for this purpose he had some meetings with its members, the so-called “Immortals”. By becoming a member of the Academy, he would finally be able to climb up the social ladder and receive the coveted title of nobility. The 19th-century intellectuals already appreciated him for the excellent writing and poetic techniques as well as for his immense vocabulary. He was becoming a recognized national figure and the French public was praising him for his peculiar imagination and for having introduced Romanticism into French literature and thought. Even the Duke and Duchess of Orleans honored him with gifts and gave him the privilege of staging his works at the majestic Renaissance Theater.
In addition to his virtues as an artist, he was extremely accessible and friendly to his audience. He often organized social gatherings at his home with many guests, and his living room hosted the intellectual elite of his time. “I am nothing but a door that is always open and a heart that is never closed,” he once told a fan. He was a great host, kind, charming and unmatched in spirit. Others wanted his companionship, letting his unethical side slide. No one really cared that he had abandoned his wife for another woman.
“Hugomania” spread beyond Paris making its appearance in the provinces, where audiences could enjoy performances by wandering troupes of actors who staged his plays, whilst his younger admirers secretly read his books. In fact, it was said that a young man in a provincial town had lost his life supporting the “Hermani” and the ideology behind it. Hugo even influenced fashion as many men started shaving part of their forehead to resemble him. And while men saw him as a role model, women saw in him the perfect mate, a passionate lover. Hugo on the other hand, was especially vulnerable to those sexual temptations, to which, according to rumors, he often gave in.
Therefore, a person of such a great influence was only logical to eventually become a member of the Académie Française. So, in January 1841 Hugo gave his maiden speech as a member of the French Academy. The majority of the audience was female, and many of them minors, who waited for hours to see and hear him talk. His charm over women was so powerful and evident even there.
However, just two years after his election into the French Academy his carrier took a bad turn. The book “Le Rhin, Lettres à un Ami” (1842; “The Rhine”) and the play “Les Burgraves” (1843; “The Burgraves”), that he wrote in the following years, were not very successful. “Le Rhin” consists of two volumes and is Hugo’s dedication to the Rhine river. It is a travelogue, written in a series of essays, poems and letters to a friend. Most likely, these are letters he sent to Adèle during his journeys with Juliette around France and Germany. Hugo takes the readers with him in a journey from Aix-la-Chapelle to Cologne, and from Mainz to Frankfurt. “Les Burgraves” is a historical play set in 13th‐c. Germany and takes place along the Rhine as well. It speaks of the fratricidal struggle for power between the late medieval Rhine baroness and the emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. Produced on March 7, 1843 the play was marked with failure. It was the last of Hugo’s plays to be produced in his lifetime and marked the end of his career as a dramatist, as well as the end of Romanticism in France.
His book “Les Rayons et les Ombres” (1840; “Sunlight and Shadows”), contained forty-four hard to read and strange poems about misty, muddy landscapes and devastated monuments. “La Tristesse d’Olympio” (The Sadness of Olympio) and “Oceano Nox” (Night on the Ocean) are the most famous poems of the collection.
16.Victor Hugo daughter’s death
“At the end of life death is a departure; but at life’s beginning a departure is death.”
A cloud of depression fell over Hugo when he learned about his daughter Leopoldine’s wish to get married. What is supposed to be a happy moment for every parent, was a nightmare to Hugo. Perhaps that’s why Hugo’s works of the time are marked by melancholia and sadness. Leopoldine was in a romantic relationship with Charles Vacquerie, the brother of Hugo’s head disciple, with whom she had been secretly exchanging letters for a long time. But soon the time came when Hugo was asked for his consent to the marriage. Hugo avoided giving an answer for months suffering at the thought that his little angel would leave his side. What perhaps made him deny the fact that his daughter was of age to marry, was that he couldn’t admit that she was of the same age with many of the actors and admirers with whom he was sexually involved. Eventually, he agreed to this marriage, which took place in February 1843, and then Leopoldine moved away from Paris to her husband’s home. Hugo’s emotions were mixed. He was terribly missing his daughter, but he was also glad that she had a kind and loving husband on her side.
In order to take his mind off Hugo left for a long trip with Juliette. In September of that same year, while he was sitting in a café in the town of Rochefort, reading the paper, his gaze fell upon an article that shocked him. He turned white like a ghost, started sweating and clutched his chest, as if he had a heart attack. According to the article his beloved daughter and her husband had been killed by drowning in a terrible boat accident, during a boating excursion on the Seine, when the boat overturned in the rough waters. Leopoldine was just 19 years old and pregnant and her husband died trying to save her.
17.Victor Hugo’s affair with Léonie Biard
“A woman who has one lover is an angel, a woman who has two lovers is a monster, and a woman who has three lovers is a woman.”
Hugo believed that his daughter’s death was a punishment sent from God for all his sins, his lustful thoughts and his affairs, as well as for neglecting his family and wasting his money on women. According to his friends he looked old and wornout, but he did not let his grief show. Surprisingly, even the poems that he wrote a few months after Leopoldine’s death, were a hymn to life instead of talking about death and grieving. Yet, he was afraid that something bad would happen to his other children and his wife. In an attempt to get over his helplessness against death, he was desperately looking for something to make him feel alive.
It was then when he met Léonie Biard a beautiful, educated woman who captivated Hugo with her wit. Hugo’s sexual attraction for her was strong. Biard was a married woman yet Hugo didn’t seem to care much and made every possible effort to seduce her. His interest in Juliette seemed to have faded away, and she was complaining that he no longer spent time with her nor gave her money. At the time Hugo wrote many poems about Biard describing mainly her naked body and big eyes. These poems were made public only after his death.
It is evident that Hugo didn’t let himself get plunged into grief over the heartbreaking loss of his daughter. Trying to get away from pain and misery he turned his attention to the physical pleasures of life. The same thing happened, in a way, when his father was giving him macaroons, when he was missing his mother in his early childhood. Perhaps this is how Hugo learned to deal with unbearable emotions in general.
Victor Hugo arrested for adultery
In July 1845, Hugo and Biard were caught naked, committing adultery in a house they had rented for their secret encounters by a policeman and a private detective hired by the Biard ‘s husband. Biard was taken to the Saint-Lazare jail, where the women accused of adultery were held, whilst Hugo left the station a free man as soon as he revealed his identity because he held the prestigious title of Peer of France (Pair de France) and was thus immune to prosecution. Biard was released a few months later and the two continued to meet. The event was reported in the local newspapers the following days, and everyone in Paris learned what happened. As a result of the scandal the popular writer’s reputation was damaged and his character questioned.
Besides his parallel relationships with the two women, Juliette and Biard, according to his personal diary, Hugo at the time had numerous other sexual encounters mainly with actors and prostitutes, but also with everyday, working class women. Hugo was sensitive to visual cues rather than touch and thus he enjoyed paying women for striptease dances. It is likely that through his encounters with those women Hugo drew inspiration for the class of misérables presented in the homonym book. Perhaps he was even trying to shake off the hypocrisy of the aristocratic class of which he too was a member and present the world out of the aristocratic circle.
18.Hugo’s involvement in politics
“The literary work and the political struggle will henceforth be undertaken simultaneously. It is possible to do one’s job and one’s duty at the same time.”
French Revolution of 1848
Three years after the loss of his daughter, Hugo had begun to move away from a life immersed in lust and turned his attention to new ideas for reshaping society, ideas which resembled socialist ideology. Thus, during the February Revolution of 1848, Hugo, being one of the prominent personalities of Paris, found himself in a position of great influence. According to the ideology of socialism the leaders of a country should be wise, poets and men with strong spiritual foundations. And the image that Hugo had created all these years, that is, of the popular, romantic genius with humanitarian beliefs, such as the abolition of the death penalty, fit exactly that leader model. His tendency to present himself as a savior was the key to his success as a politician, he created however expectations for radical changes that he could not meet. Another strong contradiction was that he was called upon to represent the working class, while he himself belonged to the French aristocracy and had previously supported various political regimes.
Soon after the overthrow of King Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the Second Republic, a provisional republican government, Hugo served as acting mayor of his arrondissement and immediately put his efforts into cleaning up the revolution’s chaos, removing the barricades, repairing all damages, and maintaining safety in the streets, actions that made him particularly popular in the working class. In June 1848 he was elected to the National Assembly. However, a few months later the new government steered a more conservative course than the July Monarchy.
The June Days uprising
When a second revolution broke out in June 1848 in response to the government’s new measures, Hugo was faced with a terrible moral dilemma: to support the hard-line Government and National Assembly of which he was a member, or the revolutionary working class, which voted for him in the first place? Due to his confusion, Hugo reacted once again self-destructively, putting his life at risk. He took the Government’s place and threw himself unarmed in battle. For three days, he was in the streets of Paris, giving orders to soldiers, breaking barricades and sending rebels to prison. He survived by miracle, but hundreds of people died, and many others got imprisoned because of him. He spent the next few months trying to erase from his memory the horrific scenes of that civil war, the bloodbath and the human cries. “I offered myself, but God didn’t want me… What a mournful victory!”, he later wrote of these horrible three days in hell.
After the violent events of the revolution, and due to an invasion in Hugo’s home at the time, the family moved to a spacious apartment on Montmartre Hill, overlooking the whole city. Biard was already living in the area, and after two months Juliette moved into a nearby home as well. Both his mistresses were now living in close distance. The home change might have been an attempt to leave the June Days behind, but having experienced such a traumatic event, Hugo might have developed post-traumatic stress disorder; some respiratory problem, made it difficult for him to speak.
The newspaper “L’Événement”
In August 1848 a newspaper called “L’Événement” (The Event) was launched by Hugo’s two sons and a couple of his admirers that supported Hugo’s political and social opinions, however Hugo himself had no official involvement in it. Hugo’s daughter, his wife and Leonie Biard were among its contributors. The newspaper regularly printed letters and speeches by Hugo and strongly supported the candidacy of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the great Napoleon, for President of the French Republic. Its motto was a quotation from Hugo’s pre-election address “Haine vigoureuse de l’anarchie, tendre et profond amour du people” meaning “Vigorous hatred for anarchy, tender and deep love for people.”
In May 1849, Hugo was re-elected member of the National Assembly, and his views were now clearly shifting towards the socialist left, drawing votes mainly from the proletariat. What made him particularly popular were his views universal suffrage, free education, and his touching speeches calling for the end of poverty In October of that same year, he criticized Louis-Napoléon’s authoritative governance calling himself “an obscure but devoted soldier of order and civilization.” A few days later L’Événement turned against Louis-Napoléon as well, despite its previous support for him.
The dictatorial measures of Louis-Napoléon (1850-1851)
During the next two years 1850-1851, Louis-Napoléon implemented a number of dictatorial measures, such as the restoration of universal male suffrage, the banning of suspicious meetings and the censorship of newspapers. Hugo publicly denounced those measures and condemned Louis-Napoléon. What’s more, his speeches had such a great influence on the public that because of him the president failed to retain parliamentary majority and continue his term.
Louis-Napoléon could not punish Hugo due to his immunity as peer of France, so he turned his rage on his family and their newspaper. His son, Charles Hugo, was accused of disrespecting the court in one of his newspaper articles. He went on trial and his father defended him with great passion, but he was eventually sentenced to six months in prison. Shortly afterwards, his other son was sentenced to nine months in prison for an article on political asylum. L’Événement got banned by the government but got immediately replaced by another paper called “L’Avénement du Peuple”. The new paper got instantly banned as well and its editor Auguste Vacquerie, schoolmate and friend of Charles Hugo, got imprisoned for six months at Conciergerie with the rest of the Hugos.
Biard vs Juliette
In the meantime, Biard who could no longer stand the competition, tried to force Hugo to choose between her and Juliette. In June 1851, Biard sent Juliette, who knew nothing about Hugo’s second lover, all the letters that Hugo had sent to her as proof of their relationship. Hugo was a free spirit man and did not give into blackmail, he asked Juliette to forgive him and decided to stay with her, leaving Biard out of his life once and for all.
19.Victor Hugo’s self-imposed exile
“An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.”
At the early morning of December 2nd, 1851, Hugo got informed that many opposition leaders were arrested and imprisoned and that National Assembly was dissolved and occupied by troops. Louis Bonaparte had staged a coup in Paris. Without wasting any time, Hugo got on the streets and spoke to the people, condemning the betrayal of Louis-Napoléon, calling him a traitor to France and calling the people to revolt. People, even though frightened, responded positively to his call and cheered him on, yelling “Vive Victor Hugo!” His revolutionary proclamations were distributed throughout the city, thousands of which were posted on the walls, but the army wiped them all out.
Two days later, the army were looking for him, and a reward of 25,000 francs was offered to anyone who delivered him dead or alive. Obviously, his influence had scared Louis-Napoléon. On the same day, soldiers manned the streets of Paris, intimidating and shooting people. On arriving at the spot Hugo found Juliette. Amidst corpses and injured people, they saw a seven-year-old boy with two bullets on his head. The writer hugged and kissed the little angel, whose image haunted his dreams ever since. Members of the National Assembly had begun to leave the city in disguise. Victor was hiding in several houses for days until Juliette found him a ticket to Brussels and, disguised in a dark cloak and a cap that was covering his distinctive forehead, took the evening train to his self-exile.
Victor Hugo in Brussels
During the eight months that Hugo spent in Brussels, he enjoyed the protection and care of the Mayor and the admiration of the thousands of French Democrats who had taken refuge in the city and viewed him as their hero. Many of them were visiting him daily at his home, and he gathered their testimonies, which he later incorporated into his book, “Histoire d’un Crime” (1877; “The history of a crime : Deposition of a witness”), a novel based on the true story surrounding the assumption of power of Louis-Napoléon following the 1848 revolution.
Feeling liberated from the restrictions in France, his creativity during his stay in Brussels took off. It took him only a month to write the book “Napoléon le Petit” (1852; “Napoleon the Little”), a political pamphlet that reveals the truth behind Louis-Napoléon’s democratic mask and important events surrounding the coup, in an attempt to waken the French citizens to the danger they faced.
Shortly after his arrival in Brussels, his eternally devoted lover, Juliette and his son, Charles, who had been released from prison, went to find him. Hugo was trying to persuade his son to write a book about his prison experiences. Charles was trying to, but he was procrastinating, sitting for hours in his office smoking, without writing a single word on paper. Victor bombarded him with writing tips, on how to let loose and unfold the events. In fact, Charles had all the ideas and the talent, but he was ashamed to present his writings to his father because he thought they were insignificant in comparison to his father’s masterpieces.
Victor Hugo in Jersey
Once the “Napoléon le Petit” was released, the Belgian Government, in fear of complications with the French Government requested Hugo to leave the country. Both Hugo and the rest of his family in France were in danger. Therefore, in August 1852, Hugo and his son left for the island of Jersey and asked his wife and other children to meet there. Within a few months, the whole family had gathered on the island. The last to arrive was his little son, François-Victor, who had a difficult time separating from the actress he had fallen in love with.
Contrary to the previous years, Hugo was now trying to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. His involvement in politics all these years did not allow him to devote himself in writing. But the time had come for his rebirth as an artist. In the nineteen years of his stay in England, he refused to speak a language other than French, maybe because he considered them superior to English, or because he simply liked to be different. His public appearances were rare. He spent most of his time strolling along the beach in front of his house, planting his garden and, mainly, writing.
He lived in Jersey for three years, during which he got involved in smuggling, an activity that had been a part of the island for a long time and Jersey’s strategic position between England and France made it well-placed to exploit. Hugo found the perfect opportunity to circulate his books. In just a few days, thousands of copies of “Napoléon le Petit” had been sent and sold in Brussels. The banned books arrived in France from surrounding countries hidden in bales of hay, fishing boats, along with other illegal products. Even small balloons fashioned from sheets of printed paper were used to scatter Hugo’s texts in various parts of France. The book got translated into many languages, including English and Spanish, and traveled around the world. In London, it immediately became a bestseller, totaling over one million sales.
His next book “Oeuvres Oratoires” (1853; lit. “Oratorical works”) was a two-volume edition and included several of his public speeches, starting with his first speech as a member of the Académie Française. Ηis poetic collection “Les Châtiments” (1853; “Castigations”), which contained 97 poems attacking the reign of Louis-Napoléon, impressed the readers with its violent imagery and its politically biting content that was unprecedented in poetry. It is considered to be Hugo’s most scathing work and a strong advocate against all forms of violence. Hugo himself defined it as “God’s vomit”. Émile Zola once said, “We felt that simply by reading his works, we were contributing to some silent victory over tyranny.” It seems that nothing could silence Victor Hugo. Even though in exile, he found a way to make his presence felt.
Around that time, a friend of his, Delphine de Girardin initiated Hugo in table-turning, a type of séance in which the participants who wanted to communicate with the spirits, sat around a table and placed their hands or fingertips on it waiting for rotations. The table served as a means of communicating with the spirits. By relating the tilts of the table to the alphabet the participants received messages from beyond. Table-turning gave Hugo some great inspiration for his following books. The first spirit that appeared to him was that of his dead daughter and surprised him with information that Hugo had not revealed to anyone until then. He came in contact with other spirits as well, not only of people he knew, but also of religious and historical figures, such as Plato, Galileo, and Jesus. The spirits also commented on his books and gave him ideas for his future one’s. In 1855, Hugo quit his new hobby. Hanging out with ghosts proved dangerous, as some of his friends displayed some strange behaviors and some ghosts had been seen walking around his house at night. Victor Hugo’s writings on his table-tapping sessions got published posthumously in the book “Conversations with eternity” (1998).
20. Victor Hugo on the Island of Guernsey
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
During his stay in Jersey, Hugo tried to be very careful not to get involved in British politics. Yet, after the Franco-British victory in the Crimea, the trouble began. Louis-Napoléon visited Queen Victoria in London and soon Queen Victoria returned the visit. Hugo’s fellow exiles published some satirical articles in a Jersey newspaper about that new “friendship”, what led to their expulsion. Hugo protested violently and declared his solidarity with them. His actions were enough to give him the reputation of an agitator, and in October 1855 the Jersey authorities announced him his expulsion as well. Hugo felt humiliated that he was once again forced to leave, yet all the while he felt proud that his actions could rock the boat.
And so, Hugo and his family moved to the neighboring island of Guernsey. Hugo was in his mid-50s when he arrived in Guernsey. Juliette followed him there as well and he installed her in a neighboring house. Everyone was into different things. Adèle spent her time writing her husband’s biography. Charles had not inherited his father’s productivity and passion for writing. Instead, he visited mainland England as often as he could for vacation. François-Victor was into translating English literature and was also managing the English correspondence of his father. For Hugo that was a melancholic time in his life; many of his friends passed away, as did his brother Abel, but at the same time on that hospitable island he found an inner peace and happiness that boosted his creativity.
“Les Contemplations” and “La Legénde des Siècles”
The first book he wrote and published on Guernsey island was “Les Contemplations” (1856; “The Contemplations”), a collection of 158 poems which he had written in the previous years, between 1841 and 1855. The poems were dominated by a pure, romantic style which the audience had missed. The Realist movement that began in France in the 1850s and emotions in poetry and literature were dying off. The collection was an immense success, selling out its first edition within just a few days of publication. What was striking about this collection was that it gave the reader a glimpse of Hugo’s life. In writing those poems Hugo experimented with autobiography in verse. Memory played an important role in the poems, as he described moments of his family life such as memories of his children in the blooming garden. There are many poems in memory of his daughter Léopoldine as well.
His next poetic collection was “La Legénde des Siècles” (1859; “The Legend of the Ages”), which included small epics referring to various eras of humanity. Initially the poems were published in three series in 1859, 1877, and 1883. The journey goes from the start of humanity right through to the 20th century, emphasizing along the way the human weaknesses through violent and bloody imagery. According to The Saturday Review “these poems contain many a passage which the husband will not read to his wife, nor the son to his mother.”
“La Fin de Satan” (1886; The End of Satan), is a long religious epic written around the same time as “La Legénde des Siècles” and narrates the creation of the world from Satan’s point of view. Dieu (1891; “God”) is another religious epic that forms a companion work along with “La Fin de Satan.” Both poems remained unfinished and have many gaps, yet they got published after his death and are considered to be two of the most genius creations in world literature with wonderful descriptions and incredible symbolisms.
Adele Hugo’s depression
Guernsey might have been a “rock of hospitality and freedom” for Hugo, where he found inspiration again and wrote his masterpieces, but the rest of his family didn’t share the same feelings for the island with him. His daughter Adele lived solely within the walls of their house as the island had no interest to her. The exile that her father had imposed to them was torturing her. All she did was embroider and play sad songs on the piano. Adele was engaged to her brother’s best friend Auguste Vacquerie, who was so frustrated by her apathy that he once kicked her in order to make her perk up. Yet she was sad and sickly most of the time, suffering from fever and indigestion.
Her behavior soon alarmed her mother who decided to take her on a small vacation to Paris in an attempt to take her mind off her misery. Hugo was deeply hurt by his family’s behavior. Even his smallest son was calling him “gentle tyrant”. He believed that his loved ones could not endure the exile because they did not love him enough.
In April 1862, “Les Misérables” (The Miserables) was published, a book that Hugo had been preparing for over ten years and characterized it as “the social and historical drama of the nineteenth century.” He succeeded in inspiring the masses to read his book and gave the lower social class the feeling that there was a kind of literature that expressed them. On the first day of its release in Paris, people were queuing outside the bookstores with their carts waiting for the novel and thousands of copies were sold within just a few hours.
50 years later the English critic Lytton Strachey characterized the novel as “the most magnificent failure- the most wild enormity ever produced by a man of genius,” meaning that it was a magnificent book but it could be dangerous as well. The literal meaning of the title “Les Miserables” is “the miserable ones” but it can also be translated as “The Wretched,” “The Poor,” “The Dispossessed.”
“Certainly they appeared utterly depraved, corrupt, vile and odious; but it is rare for those who have sunk so low not to be degraded in the process, and there comes a point, moreover, where the unfortunate and the infamous are grouped together, merged in a single, fateful word. They are les miserable – the outcasts, the underdogs. And who is to blame? Is it not the most fallen who have most need of charity?”
Hugo in the aforementioned passage of the book, explains the title himself and informs the readers that the book is about all those who slip through the cracks of modern society and asks for our sympathy towards them. Set in nineteenth-century France, the story revolves around the character of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who is being pursued by a police inspector, Javert, a man who lacks empathy for criminals of all forms. The book was heavily criticized for its dirty vocabulary, but it also shocked the French state to its core revealing its brutal penal practices.
What’s also fascinating about this book is that there are many hidden autobiographical details in it. Many of the dates mentioned, represent some major events of Hugo’s life. For instance, one of the most important dates of the novel is February 16, 1833, when one of one story’s couples gets married. Yet this is also the date when Hugo slept with Juliette for the very first time. On October 16, 1823, Jean Valjean is presumed dead. On the same date in 1843 Hugo learned about Leopoldine’s death.
Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s House in Guernsey
Hauteville House was the residence of Victor Hugo in Guernsey during his exile and the only home he ever owned. It was a beautiful house overlooking the old town of Saint Peter Port and Havelet Bay. However, it was not just a house, but a work of art entirely furnished and decorated by Victor Hugo himself. When Hugo was away, his house was open to visitors who wanted to take a tour. The Gothic-style entrance bared the inscription “VICTOR HUGO – NOSTRE-DAME DE PARIS.” Moving inwards visitors encountered a billiard room. A hallway full of mirrors that made the walls disappear led to a garden full of animals, such as ducks, dogs and goldfish. Through the hallway and up the stairs there were two large lounges, a red and a blue one. In the dining room, over an armchair hung the inscription “ABSENTES ABSUNT” (“The absent are present”) and on the wall above the door, EXILIUM VITA EST (either “Life is an Exile” or “Exile is life”). Hugo’s favorite phrases were engraved all over the house as he loved sharing his mind with those around him.
On the top floor, there was a huge library with over 3.000 books of all genre, even strange ones about animal rights and pneumatology. Through the library, the visitors were led into Hugo’s office, where they could see the fold down wooden self he used to write upon and the sunny window with an incredible view that he loved to gaze while writing. There were ink bottles and pebbles all around that served as paperweights. Every object in this room, no matter how small, seemed to have its own distinct value. Today Hauteville House has been restored and opened to the public.
Victor Hugo’s talent in painting
What most of Victor Hugo’s admirers don’t know, is that besides a great writer he was an excellent painter. He used to decorate his manuscripts with small drawings for his eyes only. Only a few of his drawings were published while he was alive, whilst after his death a large exhibition was held that impressed even Van Gogh. He drew inspiration from things around him such as a raindrop or a spirit’s idea. In addition to the usual materials used by most painters, he liked to improvise and use unusual one’s such as fruit juices, coffee beans or lace soaked in colors to create some special effects. Just as in poetry, so too in painting there were no limitations for him in the way he expressed himself and, in his mind, inspiration was more important than the application of a particular technique. According to his grandson, Hugo did not hesitate to use even his saliva, as well as other body fluids as materials, giving his creations a part of his body and soul.
21.Victor Hugo’s family leaves his side
“Abandonment is the destiny of the old man.”
Adèle Hugo’s signs of mental illness
In June 1863, Hugo’s daughter Adèle, pretending to go to Paris to find her mother, sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, in order to meet and marry a British military officer, Albert Pinson, whom she had met in Jersey and had fallen in love with. A few months later, however, it was revealed that the marriage was a lie. Hugo in order to force Pinson to marry his daughter, who was 32 at the time, announced the news of his daughter’s marriage in the papers, but Pinson’s family soon published a denial. When a letter arrived from Adele’s landlord in Halifax saying that the girl ate almost nothing, that her clothes were too thin for the cold weather and that the officer who was supposed to marry her visited her only once or twice, her family got really worried. The only letter from Adele herself was even more alarming. She demanded an outrageous amount of money to hypnotize Pinson in order to marry her. Due to Adele’s preposterous behavior it is believed that she suffered from schizophrenia, which she might have inherited from her father’s brother. Ultimately Adele was committed to an insane asylum at the age of 41 and stayed there for the rest of her life.
What is even more odd and ironic about this story, is that Hugo despite his romantic and liberal nature tried to silence his daughters’ issues in order to avoid gossip and damage to her reputation. Perhaps his attitude had its roots in his childhood and his mother’s secrecy or was just afraid of public criticism.
“William Shakespeare” and other works of loneliness
In the spring of 1864, Hugo published the book “William Shakespeare,” a novel that begins with Shakespeare’s biography and goes on with the lives of the greatest geniuses of all time who according to Hugo belong to the “region of Equals.” The title is considered to be misleading. He talks of Homer, Job, Aeschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Tacitus, St. John, St. Paul, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes and many other prominent figures, clearly implying that he himself was one of them.
In the meantime, exile was becoming unbearable for Hugo’s family and one by one started leaving Guernsey. The first one to leave was Charles who had it enough with his father’s competitiveness when it came to women. A few months after his departure he got married to a sweet orphan girl. In 1965 François-Victor’s wife died of tuberculosis. Despite being a good and loyal son, François-Victor decided to leave the island and his father’s side in order to take his mind off his wife’s death and move permanently to Brussels. His mother followed him and lived with him for two years.
Hugo’s next work was an enjoyable collection of playful poems “Les Chansons des Rues et des Bois” (1865; “Songs of Street and Wood”), a collection with strong sexual references. Perhaps Hugo used sex as a means to dull negative feelings and heal his emotional pain and loneliness. From what he said, it seems like he was addicted to sex. He admitted he had sexual relations with different girls from the island, with whom he had no further commitment. “I cancel out one affair by having another,” he used to say.
In 1866, Hugo published the novel “Les Travailleurs de la Mer” (1866; “Toilers of the Sea”), a novel dedicated to the island of Guernsey. It tells the story of a fisherman named Gilliatt and his love for a local shipowner’s niece, Deruchette. His love gives him the strength to take on the impossible and Gilliatt risks his life in a battle with the elements and giant sea creatures trying to win Deruchette’s hand. The isolation of island-life, the power of the sea, and the connection between man and nature, inspired Hugo to write this novel. His next book was “L’Homme Qui Rit” (1869; “The Man Who Laughs,” also published under the title “By Order of the King”). “L’Homme Qui Rit” places its narrative in England in the late 17th century. It is a dark tale about Gwynplaine, a man with a mutilated mouth into a perpetual grin. Despite an initially negative reception upon publication, it is one of the most famous novels by Victor Hugo, that has inspired many artists to this date.
During his last years of exile in Guernsey, Hugo wrote a few dramatic works that got published posthumously in 1886 in the book “Le Théâtre en Liberté” (“Free Theather”). Hugo, as usual had incorporated elements of himself into his characters, such as arrogance and lust. Another important play written by Hugo at the time is “Torquemada” written in 1869 and published in 1882. It criticizes religious fanaticism and discusses how it affects people making them commit horrible acts.
In 1863, Adèle’s biography of her husband, entitled “Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie,” (“Victor Hugo: A Life Related to One Who Has Witnessed It,”) was published. It excluded of course any mention of her husband’s sexual adventures. However, their relationship had taken a turn for the worse. She spent most of her time in Brussels and rarely visited him in Guernsey. In the summer of 1864, he went to find her, and they spent a few pleasant days together. On 27 August 1868, at the age of 64 and after 45 years of marriage, Adèle died of a cerebral congestion, leaving her husband behind. A few days later, with a kiss on her forehead Hugo said his last goodbye.
22. Victor Hugo’s return to Paris
“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”
In August 1970, during the French war with Prussia and after the overwhelming defeat of the French army in the battle of Sedan, Hugo decided to return to Paris to support his country in these difficult days. His son Charles, his wife Alice and their two children Jeanne and Georges, as well as Juliette and a nephew of hers went along. When he arrived at the train station, he was greeted by a huge thrilled crowd. From the balcony of a café he announced, “I have come to do my duty. What is my duty? It is your duty and everyone’s duty: to defend Paris.” The crowd was cheering for their favorite writer, who had returned after many years in exile, and rumors raged that he planned to challenge the King of Prussia to a duel, in defense of his beloved city. Two days later, on 19 September 1870, the siege of Paris by the Prussian Army began.
On January a truce was signed and in the elections for the National Assembly Hugo received the majority of votes. At one of their meetings in Bordeaux, he made a speech that marked the end of his political career. His proposal was to keep fighting, despite having lost everything, until France regained not only its lost territories but also the German Rhine region and demand from Prussia to abolish the borders between them. In order to achieve this the French people had to be willing to die in battle and even completely destroy Paris if necessary, so that the Prussians would never be able to conquer it. His proposal left everybody speechless. Hugo clearly could not handle the power bestowed on him by the people and let his megalomania consume him. He was an extraordinary man who spoke to the hearts of millions through his books, but nobody took his political speeches seriously anymore. Disappointed by the disapproval of his proposal, he submitted his resignation to the National Assembly. A few days later life hit him harder, when his son Charles died of a heart attack at the age of 44.
Hugo once again fled to Belgium. Meanwhile, war broke out in Paris once again and the Belgian Parliament banned political refugees from entering the country. Hugo continued to provoke. He denounced the government’s refusal to grant political asylum, inviting all French refugees, who sought protection, to his home. Later that same night, a mob of men attempted to force their way into his house shouting “Death to Victor Hugo!” The poor poet thought they would kill him. Eventually, the police came, and the mob dispersed. And because of that event, Hugo got expelled from the country once again and headed to Luxemburg.
In that quiet environment, Hugo put his thoughts on paper and wrote “L’Année Terrible” (1872; “The Terrible Year”), a poetic collection covering the events from August 1870 to July 1871: the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune and the pain of his son’s sudden death.
23.Hugo’s never fading energy
“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
Back to Guernsey
In August 1872, Hugo went back to Guernsey along with the rest of his family. He was afraid that he too would die without having expressed on paper all his wisdom. However, with the exception of some problems with arthritis and some symptoms of nephritis, Hugo was seemingly ageless. His spirit remained vibrant and creative, his humor enjoyable, his body energetic and his libido high. He wrote one last novel “Quatrevingt-treize” (1874; “Ninety-Three”), a novel devoted to the French Revolution of 1793 and the Revolt in the Vendée and Chouannerie, the two counterrevolutions. He wanted to pass on a positive message to people, showing that bloody events were sometimes necessary to make progress.
In the meantime, Juliette got suspicions that her partner was not very loyal to her, as perfumed letters arrived at their home and Hugo was often absent having no excuse. Her jealousy peaked when a new maid, Blanche, arrived at their home, a young well-educated girl, who had fallen in love with Hugo through his poems and thus he had no difficulty in seducing her. He saw Blanche as an angel from heaven and the two shared a romance far more passionate than his occasional affairs of previous years. It didn’t take Juliette too long to find out about their relationship when she read Blanche’s diary, and she immediately sent the poor girl back to Paris.
Hugo said he was sorry, but in fact he was not at all willing to give up his love for the young girl. One day, news came that his son was very sick, like his late wife, he too was suffering from tuberculosis. Using François-Victor’s illness as an excuse, he went to Paris alone. There, he took the bus almost daily and visited the girl. The contrast between François-Victor who was slowly dying because of his illness and his lively seventy-year-old father was remarkable. In the Christmas of 1873, Hugo lost his only remaining son. Aged only 45, François-Victor gave in to his illness. Hugo said his goodbye with a kiss on his hand a few minutes after his death. According to his friend, Flaubert, Hugo was “devastated but stoical” during his son’s funeral.
After François-Victor’s death, Hugo decided to move on with his life not letting grief consume him. He had to go through a lot of pain and endured many trials and tribulations to get where he was in life. Afterall there were many things that were keeping him alive. Writing seemed to relieve his pain. “Quatrevingt-treize” was something that really took his mind off. Juliette was his anchor, and he too loved taking care of her, giving her oil massages. What he loved the most however was the upbringing of his grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne. In playing with them he found his lost childhood. He used to entertain them with tricks and surprise them with paintings he made for them.
In 1874, Hugo moved with Juliette, Alice, and his two grandchildren into two well-maintained apartments on the Rue de Clichy, back to Paris. His door was always open for visitors in the afternoons. He was greeting his guests seated in his green armchair, while Juliette dressed in her silk dresses, was coordinating the discussions. His closest friends were always staying for dinner. They recalled him devouring his favorite meals with an appetite like a young man’s: eggs, pork and lobster, accompanied by his favorite sweet wine.
In 1875, he was elected a member of the newly created Senate and thousands of people were cheering for him on the streets. His speeches, however, in which he supported amnesty for political exiles, were not all that successful. Hugo was a controversial figure. For the public he was an outstanding and honorable spokesman of liberalism, but most politicians were secretly mocking him for his unrealistic beliefs.
During those years he wrote the book “Mes Fils” (1874; “My Sons”), an autobiography where he summarizes his life in exile and describes how he experienced the death of his sons and his inner conflict at the time: his thoughts of giving an end to his life and his desire to continue living and creating. A few more collections of poems followed “Les Quatre Vents de l’Esprit” (1881; “The Four Winds of the Spirit”), “Toute la Lyre” (1888; “The Whole Lyre”) and “Océan. Tas de Pierres” (1942; “Ocean. Pile of Stones”) that were published posthumously, a second edition of “La Legénde des Siècles” (1877) as well as “L’Art d’Être Grand-Père” (1877; “The Art of Being a Grandfather”) a poetic collection dedicated to his grandchildren where he describes the feelings of a grandfather and expresses his happiness for being part of their life. “Actes et Paroles” translated in English as “Words and Deeds” is a collection of Hugo’s political speaches from 1841 to 1876. It is divided into three volumes: “Avant l’Exil” (1875; “Before the exile”), “Pendant l’Exil” (1875; “During the exile”) and “Après l’Exil” (1876; “After the exile”).
24.Victor Hugo’s final years
“It is good that everything should return to heaven, but sad that nothing comes back down again.”
In June 1878, Hugo suffered a mild stroke. His longing for life was endless, but his body was slowly letting him down. The biggest blow was that for several months he had to remain sexually inactive, what caused him a sense of hopelessness. A suffocating wave of panic overwhelmed him. Sensing the end was near he left complete instructions on how the rest of his literary works should be published after his death. With the help of his apprentices, Vacquerie and Meurice, he published some more of the poems he had completed in previous years: “La Pitié Suprême” (1879; “The Supreme Compassion”), “Religions et Religion” (1880; “Religions and Religion”) and “L’Âne” (1880).
On February 27, 1881, Paris celebrated Victor Hugo’s 79th birthday with a multitude of public events organized in his honor and a citywide parade, one of the largest in French history, with over half a million people marching, including members of the Senate, children’s choirs, and thousands of musicians playing the national anthem of the French Republic, while he watched them from his balcony with tears in his eyes. It was one of the most glorious moments of his life. It was one of the greatest tributes to a living writer and his worth was finally recognized.
In May 1883, Juliette at the age of 77 passed away. She had stomach cancer and she suffered from horrible pain, nausea and anorexia for months. Hugo was trying to get her to eat something in vain. She was trying to hide her pain, but he could see her suffering. Her loss shattered him. Hugo did not even have the strength to attend her funeral. In his diary he wrote: “I shall soon be with you, my beloved.”
Victor Hugo’s death
In May 1885, Hugo at the age of 83 was diagnosed with pneumonia, which had caused him congestion in the lungs and difficulty breathing. As he spent his days lying in bed, he saw his end approaching. On one of those nightmarish nights, he began to recite Latin and Spanish poems, as if he were in front of an invisible audience. His grandchildren were crying their hearts out everytime they saw him in delirium. Crowds of people had gathered outside his house for support despite the heavy rain. On May 22, at the age of 83, Hugo lost the battle with death.
Hugo’s funeral took place on 1 June 1885. He was buried at the Pantheon in Paris, in the wing dedicated to “Martyrs of the Revolution,” where he shares a crypt with other prominent figures of the past, such as Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola. Paris was flooded with people as more than two million fans arrived in the city for the funeral, including war veterans, politicians and artists of all kinds. His wish to donate 40,000 francs to the poor after his death made him even more dear to the people. Although he had requested a pauper’s funeral, he was awarded a state funeral with dozens of magnificent carriages full of flowers and wreaths. The whole nation was grieving. Yet Hugo was an atheist and a burial in the Pantheon might not have been something he would want. “I shall close my terrestrial eye, but the spiritual eye will remain open, wider than ever. I reject the prayers of all churches. I ask for a prayer from every soul,” he had once said.
Hugo died in 1885, but his glory still lives and is daily recalled among people worldwide. After his death, Vacquerie Victand Meurice brought to light his unpublished works. His home in Place des Vosges is today one of the most visited museums in Paris, whilst many statues in his honor have been erected throughout the city, such as the “Monument à Victor Hugo,” a sculpture where Hugo is shown listening to inspirations personified by figures like Muses. Hugo is considered to be the most important of the French Romantic writers and holds a special place in the hearts of the French. His novels, “Notre Dame de Paris” and “Les Misérables” have been loved by millions of readers all over the world. The powerful and rich vocabulary, the smart symbolisms and the intensity of his feelings in his works reveal his genius. He was a radical poet who turned his pain into art and rescued poetry and literature from the sterility of the 18th century, greatly influencing the future generations.
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Below you can find the whole collection of Victor Hugo’s mottos and quotes in text form.
If you want to see the greatest collection of Victor Hugo’s Mottos in pictures click here.
Victor Hugo Mottos:
- Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
- Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
- When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.
- A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.
- He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
- Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life.
- Life is the flower for which love is the honey.
- How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.
- When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.
- Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.
- When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.
- Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.
- Virtue has a veil, vice a mask.
- Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.
- Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.
- Intelligence is the wife, imagination is the mistress, memory is the servant.
- A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.
- Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.
- To think of shadows is a serious thing.
- The soul has illusions as the bird has wings: it is supported by them.
- There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.
- The mountains, the forest, and the sea, render men savage; they develop the fierce, but yet do not destroy the human.
- Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.
- Our life dreams the Utopia. Our death achieves the Ideal.
- Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.
- Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.
- What would be ugly in a garden constitutes beauty in a mountain.
- There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson.
- Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.
- The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.
- To contemplate is to look at shadows.
- There is a sacred horror about everything grand. It is easy to admire mediocrity and hills; but whatever is too lofty, a genius as well as a mountain, an assembly as well as a masterpiece, seen too near, is appalling.
- Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings.
- To love another person is to see the face of God.
- What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.
- Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.
- Nothing else in the world… not all the armies… is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
- Curiosity is one of the forms of feminine bravery.
- The first symptom of love in a young man is timidity; in a girl boldness.
- Amnesty is as good for those who give it as for those who receive it. It has the admirable quality of bestowing mercy on both sides.
- One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.
- Dear God! how beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.
- Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.
- The ox suffers, the cart complains.
- Love is jealous, and ingenious in self-torture in proportion as it is pure and intense.
- Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn’t every war fought between men, between brothers?
- The animal is ignorant of the fact that he knows. The man is aware of the fact that he is ignorant.
- Sorrow is a fruit. God does not make it grow on limbs too weak to bear it.
- To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.
- Stupidity talks, vanity acts.
- He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.
- Death has its revelations: the great sorrows which open the heart open the mind as well; light comes to us with our grief. As for me, I have faith; I believe in a future life. How could I do otherwise? My daughter was a soul; I saw this soul. I touched it, so to speak.
- As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.
- The most powerful symptom of love is a tenderness which becomes at times almost insupportable.
- Blessed be Providence which has given to each his toy: the doll to the child, the child to the woman, the woman to the man, the man to the devil!
- I put a Phrygian cap on the old dictionary.
- Toleration is the best religion.
- Puns are the droppings of soaring wits.
- Doing nothing is happiness for children and misery for old men.
- Society is a republic. When an individual tries to lift themselves above others, they are dragged down by the mass, either by ridicule or slander.
- A library implies an act of faith.
- Many great actions are committed in small struggles.
- Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education.
- I am a soul. I know well that what I shall render up to the grave is not myself. That which is myself will go elsewhere. Earth, thou art not my abyss!
- People do not lack strength; they lack will.
- Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization.
- Scepticism, that dry caries of the intelligence.
- The French language, there is a great gulf between prose and poetry; in English, there is hardly any difference. It is a splendid privilege of the great literary languages Greek, Latin, and French that they possess a prose. English has not this privilege. There is no prose in English.
- It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.
- Almost all our desires, when examined, contain something too shameful to reveal.
- Men like me are impossible until the day when they become necessary.
- Thought is more than a right – it is the very breath of man. Whoever fetters thought attacks man himself. To speak, to write, to publish, are things, so far as the right is concerned, absolutely identical. They are the ever-enlarging circles of intelligence in action; they are the sonorous waves of thought.
- Strange to say, the luminous world is the invisible world; the luminous world is that which we do not see. Our eyes of flesh see only night.
- Prayer is an august avowal of ignorance.
- I met in the street a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, his cloak was out at the elbows, the water passed through his shoes, – and the stars through his soul.
- It is by suffering that human beings become angels.
- There is nothing like a dream to create the future.
- The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.
- Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.
- Reaction – a boat which is going against the current but which does not prevent the river from flowing on.
- To love is to act.
- We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present.
- Love is a portion of the soul itself, and it is of the same nature as the celestial breathing of the atmosphere of paradise.
- Try as you will, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love.
- To love beauty is to see light.
- An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
- Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.
- The ode lives upon the ideal, the epic upon the grandiose, the drama upon the real.
- Joy’s smile is much closer to tears than laughter.
- We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.
- To rise from error to truth is rare and beautiful.
- All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
- What a grand thing, to be loved! What a grander thing still, to love!
- An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.
- Love that is not jealous is neither true nor pure.
- There is no such thing as a little country. The greatness of a people is no more determined by their numbers than the greatness of a man is by his height.
- It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.
- Without vanity, without coquetry, without curiosity, in a word, without the fall, woman would not be woman. Much of her grace is in her frailty.
- To be perfectly happy it does not suffice to possess happiness, it is necessary to have deserved it.
- He who is not capable of enduring poverty is not capable of being free.
- Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.
- Rhyme, that enslaved queen, that supreme charm of our poetry, that creator of our meter.
- What Shakespeare was able to do in English he would certainly not have done in French.
- Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly.
- Whenever a man’s friends begin to compliment him about looking young, he may be sure that they think he is growing old.
- When God desires to destroy a thing, he entrusts its destruction to the thing itself. Every bad institution of this world ends by suicide.
- The ideal and the beautiful are identical; the ideal corresponds to the idea, and beauty to form; hence idea and substance are cognate.
- Fashions have done more harm than revolutions.
- A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.
- A poet who is a bad man is a degraded being, baser and more culpable than a bad man who is not a poet.
- Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.
- A great artist is a great man in a great child.
- To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
- Do not let it be your aim to be something, but to be someone.
- Mankind is not a circle with a single center but an ellipse with two focal points of which facts are one and ideas the other.
- My tastes are aristocratic, my actions democratic.
- It is often necessary to know how to obey a woman in order sometimes to have the right to command her.
- When a man is out of sight, it is not too long before he is out of mind.
- Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.
- Mistrust those who rejoice at it even more than those who do it.
- Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.
- The learned man knows that he is ignorant.
- Taste is the common sense of genius.
- Style is the substance of the subject called unceasingly to the surface.
- Nature has made a pebble and a female. The lapidary makes the diamond, and the lover makes the woman.
- It is most pleasant to commit a just action which is disagreeable to someone whom one does not like.
- The last resort of kings, the cannonball. The last resort of the people, the paving stone.
- The three great problems of this century; the degradation of man in the proletariat, the subjection of women through hunger, the atrophy of the child by darkness.
- Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive.
- Every diminution of the liberty of the press is followed by a diminution of civilization. Wherever we see the freedom of the press interfered with, there we see the nutrition of the human family interrupted.
- Habit is the nursery of errors.
- The little people must be sacred to the big ones, and it is from the rights of the weak that the duty of the strong is comprised.
- Liberation is not deliverance.
- Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book.
- The wise man does not grow old, but ripens.
- Religions do a useful thing: they narrow God to the limits of man. Philosophy replies by doing a necessary thing: it elevates man to the plane of God.
- Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.
- But when ill indeed, Even dismissing the doctor don’t always succeed.
- Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.
- Wisdom is a sacred communion.
- A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.
- I don’t mind what Congress does, as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.
- No one ever keeps a secret so well as a child.
- Peace is the virtue of civilization. War is its crime.
- The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
- I’m religiously opposed to religion.
- Those who live are those who fight.
- No one knows like a woman how to say things which are at once gentle and deep.
- A war between Europeans is a civil war.
- Never laugh at those who suffer; suffer sometimes those who laugh.
- It is the end. But of what? The end of France? No. The end of kings? Yes.
- Despotism is a long crime.
- By putting forward the hands of the clock you shall not advance the hour.
- Smallness in a great man seems smaller by its disproportion with all the rest.
- Genius: the superhuman in man.
- The man who does not know other languages, unless he is a man of genius, necessarily has deficiencies in his ideas.
- I love all men who think, even those who think otherwise than myself.
- Well, for us, in history where goodness is a rare pearl, he who was good almost takes precedence over he who was great.
- The word is the Verb, and the Verb is God.
- Conscience is God present in man.
- One sees qualities at a distance and defects at close range.
- Idleness is the heaviest of all oppressions.
- A creditor is worse than a slave-owner; for the master owns only your person, but a creditor owns your dignity, and can command it.
- The flesh is the surface of the unknown.
- The revolution was a guillotine in the twilight, the Empire a sabre in the night.
- A lot of a forehead in a face is like a lot of sky in the horizon.
- All great writers create two oeuvres, one deliberate, the other involuntary.
- I know from my father that it is never too late to say what our conscience directs us to say, when we stand to gain by it.
- A day of bliss is worth of a life of unhappiness.
- A beautiful soul and a fine poetic talent are almost always inseparable.
- Anyone who imitates a Romantic poet necessarily becomes a Classical
- A lion who copies a lion is an ape.
- As a person, one is sometimes a stranger to what one writes as a poet.
- Words know the secret of that sphinx, the human mind.
- An ardent enemy is always more passionate than an ardent friend.
- The smaller the heart, the more hate it contains.
- An elephant who is hated by an ant is in danger.
- The pedestal hates the statue because it can smell its feet but cannot see its beauty.
- All great men are cuckolds.
- The bourgeois is someone who has the time to sit down. An armchair is not a caste.
- The literary work and the political struggle will henceforth be undertaken simultaneously. It is possible to do one’s job and one’s duty at the same time.
- A woman who has one lover is an angel, a woman who has two lovers is a monster, and a woman who has three lovers is a woman.
- The crowd will be drawn to the drama as the bird is drawn to a mirror.
- The theatre is a type of church, humanity is a type of religion.
- Once, I was innocent; now I am indulgent. It is a great step forward, God knows…
- The “moi”, that weed which always sprouts afresh under the pen of the writer given to familiar outpourings.
- Vienna, Berlin, Saint Petersburg and London are only cities; Paris is a brain.
- The whole universe agrees that at the moment, the greatest political, literary, scientific and artistic minds are all French.
- French literature is not simply the best, but the only literature there is.
- Reason is intelligence taking exercise. Imagination is intelligence with an erection.
- Not to believe in the people is to be a political atheist.
- The good thing about pride is that it saves you from envy.
- To be comical on the outside and tragic within: nothing is more painfully humiliating or deeply infuriating.
- The Law must be a Mother.
- Man is the prisoner of his own heart. Hate sets you free.
- When England wishes to converse with me, it will learn to speak French.
- There have been two great affairs in my life: Paris and the Ocean.
- Everything is full of souls.
- At death, every villain gives birth to the monster of his life.
- Good deeds are the invisible hinges of Heaven’s door.
- When I talk to you about myself, I am talking to you about you. How can you fail to see that? Fool, who think that I am not you!
- Before God, all souls are white.
- Dante made a hell with poetry; I have made one with reality.
- Great artists have an element of chance in their talent, and there is also talent in their chance.
- Each new genius is an abyss. Yet there is such a thing as tradition. A tradition which passes from one chasm to the next.
- Abandonment is the destiny of the old man.
- That which escapes the sea does not escape woman.
- The French like a complete revolution; the English prefer a well-behaved earthquake.
- To read diatribes is to sniff latrines of one’s fame.
- Death is unclean.
- It is humiliating to expire. The final floating visions are abject.
- It is good that everything should return to heaven, but sad that nothing comes back down again.
- I shall close my terrestrial eye, but the spiritual eye will remain open, wider than ever. I reject the prayers of all churches. I ask for a prayer from every soul.
- The darker the night, the brighter the star.
|1822||Odes et Poésies Diverses||Poems|
|1826||Odes et Ballades||Poems|
|1829||Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné||Novel|
|1831||Notre-Dame de Paris||Novel|
|1831||Marion de Lorme||Play|
|1831||Les Feuilles d’Automne||Poems|
|1832||Le Roi S’Amuse||Play|
|1834||Littélature et Philosophie Mêlées||Little Texts|
|1834||Claude Gueux||Real Story|
|1835||Angelo, Tyran de Padoue||Play|
|1835||Les Chants du Crépuscule||Poems|
|1837||Les Voix Intérieures||Poems|
|1840||Les Rayons et les Ombres||Poems|
|1842||Le Rhin, Lettres à un Ami||Travel Guide (Letters)|
|1853||Oeuvres Oratoires||Public Speeches|
|1855||Discours de l’Exil, 1851-1854 (first ten speeches of Actes et Paroles)||Public Speeches|
|1859||La Légende des Siècles, Première Série||Poems|
|1864||William Shakespeare||Novel, Essay|
|1865||Les Chanson des Rues et des Bois||Poems|
|1866||Les Travailleurs de la Mer||Novel|
|1867||La Voix de Guerrnesey (Mentana)||Poem|
|1869||L’Homme Qui Rit||Novel|
|1872||Actes et Paroles, 1870-1871-1872||Public Speeches|
|1875||Actes et Paroles I. Avant L’Exile, 1841-1851||Public Speeches|
|1875||Actes et Paroles II. Pendant L’Exile, 1852-1870||Public Speeches|
|1876||Actes et Paroles III. Depuis L’Exile, 1870-1876||Public Speeches|
|1877||La Légende des Siècles, Nouvelle Série||Poems|
|1877||L’Art d’Être Grand-Père||Poems|
|1877||Histoire d’un Crime, I||Essay|
|1878||Histoire d’un Crime, II||Essay|
|1879||La Pitié Suprême||Poem|
|1880||Religions et Religion||Poem|
|1881||Les Quatre Vents de l’Esprit||Poem|
|1883||L’Archipel de la Manche||Fiction, Travel Guide|
|1883||La Légende des Siècles, Dernière Série||Poems|
|1886||La Fin de Satan||Poem|
|1886||Le Théâtre en Liberté||Plays|
|1887||Chose Vues||Notes, Memoirs|
|1888||Toute la Lyre||Poems|
|1889||Actes et Paroles III. Depuis L’Exile, 1876-1885||Public Speeches|
|1890||Alpes et Pyrénées||Travel Guide (Letters)|
|1892||France et Belgique||Travel Guide (Letters)|
|1893||Toute la Lyre, Dernière Série||Poems|
|1898||Les Années Funestes||Poems|
|1900||Chose Vues, Nouvelle Serie||Notes, Memoirs|
|1901||Post-Scriptum de ma Vie||Philosophical Texts|
|1934||Mille Francs de Récompense||Play|
|1942||Océan , Tas de Pierres||Poems|