Victor Hugo  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Victor Hugo in (26 February 180222 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.

Contents

Life

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.

Works

Published during Hugo's lifetime

Poems of Victor Hugo

Published posthumously

  • 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

Drawings

Hugo produced more than 4000 drawings. Originally pursued as a casual hobby, drawing became more important to Hugo shortly before his exile, when he made the decision to stop writing in order to devote himself to politics. Drawing became his exclusive creative outlet during the period 1848–1851.

Hugo worked only on paper, and on a small scale; usually in dark brown or black pen-and-ink wash, sometimes with touches of white, and rarely with color. The surviving drawings are surprisingly accomplished and "modern" in their style and execution, foreshadowing the experimental techniques of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

He would not hesitate to use his children's stencils, ink blots, puddles and stains, lace impressions, "pliage" or folding (i.e. Rorschach blots), "grattage" or rubbing, often using the charcoal from match sticks or his fingers instead of pen or brush. Sometimes he would even toss in coffee or soot to get the effects he wanted. It is reported that Hugo often drew with his left hand or without looking at the page, or during Spiritualist séances, in order to access his unconscious mind, a concept only later popularized by Sigmund Freud.

Hugo kept his artwork out of the public eye, fearing it would overshadow his literary work. However, he enjoyed sharing his drawings with his family and friends, often in the form of ornately handmade calling cards, many of which were given as gifts to visitors when he was in political exile. Some of his work was shown to, and appreciated by, contemporary artists such as Van Gogh and Delacroix; the latter expressed the opinion that if Hugo had decided to become a painter instead of a writer, he would have outshone the artists of their century.

  • Crépuscule ("Twilight"), Jersey, 1853–1855.
  • Ville avec le pont de Tumbledown, 1847.
  • Octopus with the initials V. H., ("Octopus with the initials V.H."), 1866.
  • Le Rocher de l'Ermitage dans un paysage imaginaire ("Ermitage Rock in an imaginary landscape")
  • Gavroche a 11 ans, ("Gavroche at 11 years old").





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Victor Hugo" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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