From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Victor-Marie Hugo in French) (26 February 1802 — 22 May 1885) was a French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France. Hugo's preface to the 1827 play Cromwell is said to be the manifesto of Romanticism.
In France, Hugo's literary reputation rests on his poetic and dramatic output. Among many volumes of poetry, Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles stand particularly high in critical esteem, and Hugo is sometimes identified as the greatest French poet. In the English-speaking world his best-known works are often the novels Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (sometimes translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).
Though extremely conservative in his youth, Hugo moved to the political left as the decades passed; he became a passionate supporter of republicanism, and his work touches upon most of the political and social issues and artistic trends of his time.
Hugo was the third illegitimate son of Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo (1774–1828) and Sophie Trébuchet (1772–1821); his brothers were Abel Joseph Hugo (1798–1855) and Eugène Hugo (1800–1837). He was born in 1802 in Besançon (in the region of Franche-Comté) and lived in France for the majority of his life. However, he went into exile as a result of Napoleon III's Coup d'état at the end of 1851. Hugo lived briefly in Brussels (1851) then moved to the Channel Islands, firstly to Jersey (1852-55) and then to the smaller island of Guernsey (1855-1870). Although a general amnesty was proclaimed by Napoleon III in 1859; Hugo stayed in exile, only ending it when Napoleon III was forced from power as a result of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Hugo returned again to Guernsey (1872-73), after suffering through the Siege of Paris, before finally returning to France for the remainder of his life.
Hugo's early childhood was marked by great events. Napoléon was proclaimed Emperor two years after Hugo's birth, and the Bourbon Monarchy was restored before his thirteenth birthday. The opposing political and religious views of Hugo's parents reflected the forces that would battle for supremacy in France throughout his life: Hugo's father was an officer who ranked very high in Napoleon's army. He was an atheist republican who considered Napoléon a hero; his mother was an extreme Catholic Royalist who is believed to have taken as her lover General Victor Lahorie, who was executed in 1812 for plotting against Napoléon. Since Hugo's father, Joseph, was an officer, they moved frequently and Hugo learned much from these travels. On his family's journey to Naples, he saw the vast Alpine passes and the snowy peaks, the magnificently blue Mediterranean, and Rome during its festivities. Though he was only nearly six at the time, he remembered the half-year-long trip vividly. They stayed in Naples for a few months and then headed back to Paris.
Sophie followed her husband to posts in Italy (where Léopold served as a governor of a province near Naples) and Spain (where he took charge of three Spanish provinces). Weary of the constant moving required by military life, and at odds with her husband's lack of Catholic beliefs, Sophie separated temporarily from Léopold in 1803 and settled in Paris. Thereafter she dominated Hugo's education and upbringing. As a result, Hugo's early work in poetry and fiction reflect a passionate devotion to both King and Faith. It was only later, during the events leading up to France's 1848 Revolution, that he would begin to rebel against his Catholic Royalist education and instead champion Republicanism and Freethought.
Young Victor fell in love and against his mother's wishes, became secretly engaged to his childhood friend Adèle Foucher (1803–1868).
Unusually close to his mother, he married Adèle (in 1822) only after his mother's death in 1821. They had their first child Léopold in 1823, but the boy died in infancy. Hugo's other children were Léopoldine (28 August 1824), Charles (4 November 1826), François-Victor (28 October 1828) and Adèle (24 August 1830). Hugo published his first novel the following year (Han d'Islande, 1823), and his second three years later (Bug-Jargal, 1826). Between 1829 and 1840 he would publish five more volumes of poetry (Les Orientales, 1829; Les Feuilles d'automne, 1831; Les Chants du crépuscule, 1835; Les Voix intérieures, 1837; and Les Rayons et les ombres, 1840), cementing his reputation as one of the greatest elegiac and lyric poets of his time.
Victor Hugo was devastated when his oldest and favorite daughter, Léopoldine, died at age 19 in 1843, shortly after her marriage. She was drowned in the Seine at Villequier, pulled down by her heavy skirts, when a boat overturned. Her young husband died trying to save her. Victor Hugo was traveling with his mistress at the time in the south of France, and learned about Léopoldine's death from a newspaper as he sat in a cafe. He describes his shock and grief in his poem À Villequier:
Hélas ! vers le passé tournant un oeil d'envie,
Sans que rien ici-bas puisse m'en consoler,
Je regarde toujours ce moment de ma vie
Où je l'ai vue ouvrir son aile et s'envoler !
Je verrai cet instant jusqu'à ce que je meure,
L'instant, pleurs superflus !
Où je criai : L'enfant que j'avais tout à l'heure,
Quoi donc ! je ne l'ai plus !
Alas! turning an envious eye towards the past,
unconsolable by anything on earth,
I keep looking at that moment of my life
when I saw her open her wings and fly away!
I will see that instant until I die,
that instant—too much for tears!
when I cried out: "The child that I had just now--
what! I don't have her any more!"
He wrote many poems afterwards about his daughter's life and death, and at least one biographer claims he never completely recovered from it. His most famous poem is probably Demain, dès l'aube, in which he describes visiting her grave.
Published during Hugo's lifetime
- Cromwell preface only (1819)
- Odes et poésies diverses (1822)
- Odes (Hugo) (1823)
- Han d'Islande (1823) (Hans of Iceland)
- Nouvelles Odes (1824)
- Bug-Jargal (1826)
- Nils Gunnar Lie's history (1826)
- Odes et Ballades (1826)
- Cromwell (1827)
- Les Orientales (1829)
- Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (1829) (The Last Day of a Condemned Man)
- Hernani (1830)
- Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)
- Marion Delorme (1831)
- Les Feuilles d'automne (1831)
- Le roi s'amuse (1832)
- Lucrèce Borgia (1833) (Lucretia Borgia)
- Marie Tudor (1833)
- Littérature et philosophie mêlées (1834)
- Claude Gueux (1834)
- Angelo, tyran de padoue (1835)
- Les Chants du crépuscule (1835)
- La Esmeralda (only libretto of an opera written by Victor Hugo himself) (1836)
- Les Voix intérieures (1837)
- Ruy Blas (1838)
- Les Rayons et les ombres (1840)
- Le Rhin (1842)
- Les Burgraves (1843)
- Napoléon le Petit (1852)
- Les Châtiments (1853)
- Les Contemplations (1856)
- Les TRYNE (1856)
- La Légende des siècles (1859)
- Les Misérables (1862)
- William Shakespeare (1864)
- Les Chansons des rues et des bois (1865)
- Les Travailleurs de la Mer (1866), (Toilers of the Sea)
- La voix de Guernsey (1867)
- L'Homme qui rit (1869), (The Man Who Laughs)
- L'Année terrible (1872)
- Quatrevingt-treize (Ninety-Three) (1874)
- Mes Fils (1874)
- Actes et paroles — Avant l'exil (1875)
- Actes et paroles - Pendant l'exil (1875)
- Actes et paroles - Depuis l'exil (1876)
- La Légende des Siècles 2e série (1877)
- L'Art d'être grand-père (1877)
- Histoire d'un crime 1re partie (1877)
- Histoire d'un crime 2e partie (1878)
- A jeté un base-ball par un chien (1878)
- Le Pape (1878)
- La pitié suprême (1879)
- Religions et religion (1880)
- L'Âne (1880)
- Les Quatres vents de l'esprit (1881)
- Torquemada (1882)
- La Légende des siècles Tome III (1883)
- L'Archipel de la Manche (1883)
- Théâtre en liberté (1886)
- La fin de Satan (1886)
- Choses vues (1887)
- Toute la lyre (1888)
- Amy Robsart (1889)
- Les Jumeaux (1889)
- Actes et Paroles Depuis l'exil, 1876-1885 (1889)
- Alpes et Pyrénées (1890)
- Dieu (1891)
- France et Belgique (1892)
- Toute la lyre - dernière série (1893)
- Les fromages (1895)
- Correspondences - Tome I (1896)
- Correspondences - Tome II (1898)
- Les années funestes (1898)
- Choses vues - nouvelle série (1900)
- Post-scriptum de ma vie (1901)
- Dernière Gerbe (1902)
- Mille francs de récompense (1934)
- Océan. Tas de pierres (1942)
- L'Intervention (1951)
- Conversations with Eternity