Tuesday, 22/06/2021 - 09:00

Victor-Marie Hugo was a French poet, novelist and playwright…

10:22 | 18/04/2021

Victor-Marie Hugo (French: [viktɔʁ maʁi yɡo] , 7 Ventôse year X [26 February 1802] – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. During a literary career that spanned more than sixty years, he wrote abundantly in an exceptional variety of genres: lyrics, satires, epics, philosophical poems, epigrams, novels, history, critical essays, political speeches, funeral orations, diaries, letters public and private, as well as dramas in verse and prose.

Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. Outside France, his most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris), 1831. In France, Hugo is renowned for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations (The Contemplations) and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages). Hugo was at the forefront of the Romantic literary movement with his play Cromwell and drama Hernani. Many of his works have inspired music, both during his lifetime and after his death, including the musicals Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris. He produced more than 4,000 drawings in his lifetime, and campaigned for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment.

Though a committed royalist when he was young, Hugo’s views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of republicanism serving in politics as both deputy and senator. His work touched upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. His opposition to absolutism and his colossal literary achievement established him as a national hero. He was honoured by interment in the Panthéon.

Victor-Marie Hugo was born on 26 February 1802 in Besançon in Eastern France. The youngest son of Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo (1774–1828) a general in the Napoleonic army, and Sophie Trébuchet (1772–1821); the couple had two more sons: Abel Joseph (1798–1855) and Eugène (1800–1837). The Hugo family came from Nancy in Lorraine where Victor Hugo’s grandfather was a wood merchant. Léopold enlisted in the army of Revolutionary France at fourteen, he was an atheist and an ardent supporter of the republic created following the abolition of the monarchy in 1792. Victor’s mother Sophie was a devout Catholic who remained loyal to the deposed dynasty. They met in Châteaubriant, a few miles from Nantes in 1796 and married the following year.[1]

Since Hugo’s father was an officer in Napoleon’s army, the family moved frequently from posting to posting, Sophie had three children in four years. Léopold Hugo wrote to his son that he had been conceived on one of the highest peaks in the Vosges Mountains, on a journey from Lunéville to Besançon. “This elevated origin”, he went on, “seems to have had effects on you so that your muse is now continually sublime.”[2] Hugo believed himself to have been conceived on 24 June 1801, which is the origin of Jean Valjean’s prisoner number 24601.[3]

In 1810 Hugo’s father was created Count Hugo de Cogolludo y Sigüenza by then King of Spain Joseph Bonaparte,[4] though it seems that the Spanish title was not legally recognized in France. Hugo later titled himself as a viscount, and it was as “Vicomte Victor Hugo” that he was appointed a peer of France on 13 April 1845.[5][6]

Weary of the constant moving required by military life, Sophie separated temporarily from Léopold and settled in Paris in 1803 with her sons; she began seeing General Victor Fanneau de La Horie, Hugo’s godfather who had been a comrade of General Hugo’s during the campaign in Vendee. In October 1807 the family rejoined Leopold, now Colonel Hugo, Governor of the province of Avellino. Sophie found out that Leopold had been living in secret with an Englishwoman called Catherine Thomas.[7]

Soon Hugo’s father was called to Spain to fight the Peninsular War. Madame Hugo and her children were sent back to Paris in 1808, where they moved to an old convent, 12 Impasse des Feuillantines, an isolated mansion in a deserted quarter of the left bank of the Seine. Hiding in a chapel at the back of the garden, was Victor Fanneau de La Horie, who had conspired to restore the Bourbons and had been condemned to death a few years earlier. He became a mentor to Victor and his brothers.[8]

In 1811 the family joined their father in Spain, Victor and his brothers were sent to school in Madrid at the Real Colegio de San Antonio de Abad while Sophie returned to Paris on her own, now officially separated from her husband. In 1812 Victor Fanneau de La Horie was arrested and executed. In February 1815 Victor and Eugene were taken away from their mother and placed by their father in the Pension Cordier, a private boarding school in Paris, where Victor and Eugène remained three years while also attending lectures at Lycée Louis le Grand.[9]

On 10 July 1816, Hugo wrote in his diary: “I shall be Chateaubriand or nothing”. In 1817 he wrote a poem for a competition organised by l’Academie Française, for which he received an honorable mention. The Academicians refused to believe that he was only fifteen.[10] Victor moved in with his mother 18 rue des Petits-Augustins the following year and began attending law school. Victor fell in love and secretly became engaged, against his mother’s wishes, to his childhood friend Adèle Foucher. In June 1821 Sophie Trebuchet died, and Léopold married his long time mistress Catherine Thomas a month later. Victor married Adèle the following year. In 1819, Victor and his brothers began publishing a periodical called Le Conservateur littéraire.[11]



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