People Writers

Victor Hugo

victor hugo

Victor-Marie Hugo was a romantic writer.  He was born on February 26, 1802 in Besançon, France.  Papa Joseph Hugo was a general in the Napoleonic Army.  Victor’s mother Sophie Trébuchet was a painter.  He had two older brothers.  The army family moved often.  In 1808 Joseph was deployed to Spain to fight in the Peninsular War.  The rest of the household followed in 1811.

The boys were taught in Madrid for some time.  Victor and his brother Eugene transitioned to a private boarding school in Paris in 1815.  Hugo submitted a poem into a competition ran by the Académie Française and received an honorable mention.  The judges could not believe he was fifteen.  The year was 1817.  Sophie passed away four years later. 

Victor Hugo married his childhood friend Adèle Foucher.  His first novel was published soon after. Bug-Jargal (1826) was his second.  The content was reworked from a short story printed earlier by the same name.  Five volumes of poetry were finished over the next decade.  Their success turned Hugo into one of the most celebrated poets of the age.  His previous collections put him into public view.  His first collection earned him a royal pension from Louis XVIII at the age of twenty.

victor hugo sculpture
Victor Hugo Sculpture – Photo Credit: dalbera


François-René de Chateaubriand was the primary influence on Victor’s writing and style.  Chateaubriand was the loudest voice in the Romanticism movement.   Hugo’s words had a comparable effect.  His first established novella was The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829).  It was a critique on the death penalty and the symbolism of the guillotine.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens and Albert Camus all expressed its importance on their own work years later.  The Last Day of a Condemned Man was the precursor to his magnum opus on injustice, Les Misérables.

Numerous plays were written and performed between the novels.  Hernani (1830) became the cornerstone of the French romanticism movement.  The incendiary performance at the Comédie-Française led to several nights of rioting between the traditionalists and romantics.  The play was acted with a comprehensive disregard of tradition and classical rules.  The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published and translated into several languages in 1831.  The purpose of the story was to shame Paris officials into restoring the neglected Cathedral of Notre Dame.  It worked.  Other pre-Renaissance buildings were also attended to and their historical beauty is still cherished today.

Prison notes were logged in 1839.  A potential protagonist was called out in capital letters: JEAN TRÉJEAN.   The true writing did not begin until 1845.  Seventeen years later the masterpiece was released.  Jean Valjean was born.  The triumph of Les Misérables (1862) was not unexpected.  Victor Hugo was well aware of its quality.  The publishing house marketed it six months before the launch.  The advertisement was unheard of at the time.  It sold out after a few short hours on its release day.  The aftermath was eternal.

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Victor Hugo Drawing – Photo Credit: Alphonse Legros

After Les Misérables

Toilers of the Sea was completed in 1866 and ignored political issues.  It was well received and follows a man who is trying to save the ship of the father of the woman he loves.  The social critique resumed in his next novel The Man Who Laughs.  It focused on the aristocracy and was published in 1869.  It was unpopular.  His final novel was titled Ninety-Three (1874) and explored the modern taboo of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.  The prose ranks among his best.

Victor Hugo had a mild stroke in 1876.  He was presented with a Sèvres vase in 1881.  The honor is a traditional gift for sovereigns.  A parade was held a few days later in his name.  It lasted for six hours.  Time passed.  He died from pneumonia on May 22, 1885 at the age of eighty-three.  The loss was felt throughout France and the world.  His request was to be buried like a pauper, but the President Jules Grévy awarded him a state funeral.  Over two million people joined the procession from the Arc de Triomphe to his final resting place at the Panthéon.

The writer elected to live in exile in 1851 after Napoleon III’s coup d’état.  He moved to Brussels and then the Channel Islands.  Hugo settled into Guernsey in 1855.  He returned to France after the establishment of the French Third Republic.  The year was 1870.  The Siege of Paris began and ended over the next year.  Hugo left for Guernsey again between 1872 and 1873.  He returned (’73) and lived in France for the remainder of his life.

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Hugo Street Painting – Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

Victor Hugo Bibliography

Bug-Jargal 1826
Hans of Iceland 1823
The Last Day of a Condemned Man 1829
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 1831
La Esmeralda 1836
Claude Gueux 1834
The Rhine 1842
The Poor People 1854
Les Misérables 1862
Toilers of the Sea 1866
The Man Who Laughs 1869
Ninety-Three 1874

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”

– Victor Hugo
victor hugo
The Author – Photo Credit:

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