Victor Hugo

A Great French Writer

A printable sign

Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 in Besançon, France.  He was a poet, playwright and novelist and his work belonged to the Romantic style of writing. 

His writing often portrayed the lives of poor people and the unjust society in which they lived.

In the portrait below he is eighteen years old.

Nowadays, his most famous novels are probably Les Misérables because of the musical stage version and Notre-Dame de Paris because of the Disney film 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'

Below is a very famous drawing by Émile Bayard.  It portrays a character from Les Misérables:- a girl called Cosette.  This drawing was used for the book-cover of the original edition of
Les Misérables  in 1862. 

 

Notre-Dame de Paris tells the story of a hunchback called Quasimodo who is a bell-ringer in the cathedral of Paris.  The hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl called Esmeralda

At the time of writing this story, the cathedral was actually in a terrible state and needed to be repaired.  So, when the book was published and people became interested in the cathedral, everyone insisted on renovating the building.  In other words, it was Victor Hugo's book that saved the Cathedral of Notre Dame from becoming derelict!

It is so sad about the fire that devastated the beautiful cathedral on 15 April 2019.

A quote of optimism from Victor Hugo's work Les Misérables:

"Même la nuit la plus sombre prendra fin et le soleil se lèvera."

Victor Hugo is considered to be a great writer because he wrote in so many styles - poetry, novels, plays, essays.  His writing talent was recognised when he was very young and at the age of twenty-two his first collection of poems was published.  This collection is called Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses. 

One of Hugo's plays (Le Roi S'Amuse) was turned into an Italian opera by the composer
Verdi.  That opera is called Rigoletto.
 

In 1822, Victor married Adèle Foucher who had been his friend since childhood.  One of the witnesses at their wedding was another great French poet, Alfred de Vigny

Below is a portrait of Adèle.

There was a terrible tragedy in Victor Hugo's family.   His daughter, called Léopoldine, died shortly after her marriage.  She was only nineteen years old and was killed together with her husband when their boat capsized on the River Seine. 

Following this tragic event, Victor Hugo wrote some poems in his daughter's memory - the most famous one is called Demain dès l'aube (Tomorrow at dawn.....)  

Below is a portrait of Léopoldine.

Below is the famous and beautiful poem written for Léopoldine-

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.


Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.


Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.


 

For political reasons, Victor Hugo was obliged to live in exile.  This period lasted for twenty years!  He lived in Belgium in 1851, Jersey from 1852 till 1855 and Guernsey from 1855 till 1870.

Although he was married, Victor Hugo fell in love with an actress called Juliette Drouet (below) who acted in some of his plays.  She was madly in love with him and she even moved to Guernsey to be near him during his long period of exile.

Victor Hugo died in 1885.  Even though he had requested a simple funeral in the style of a poor person, it was attended by around two million people!  Contrary to his request, it was decided that it should be a state funeral, meaning that people did not go to work on that day.  His body lay in state beneath the Arc de Triomphe where people came to pay their respects.  He had become extremely popular because of his beliefs about people's rights and society. 

Victor Hugo was laid to rest in a building in Paris called Le Panthéon.  Inside this building are the tombs of many famous French people.  Below, there is a photo of Le Panthéon.  Above the entrance to the building are carved the words:

Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante.
To the great men, the country is grateful.

An interesting fact:  Victor Hugo believed that Europe should be united and become a European Union!  For that reason, he planted a symbolic oak tree on Bastille Day (the French National Holiday - 14 July) in the year 1870.   He declared that in the future, by the time the tree is mature, there would be a 'United States of Europe.' 

He gave a name to the tree: le chêne des États-Unis d'Europe - the oak of the United States of Europe.  It is still growing and can be found in the garden of the house where he lived in Guernsey: Hauteville House.

Image: the oak tree planted by Victor Hugo in the garden of Hauteville House. 

http://www.maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr 

Merci Victor Hugo!
Thank you, Victor Hugo, for writing so many great works,
some of which we can enjoy today in the theatre and cinema.

Merci mille fois!




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