February 26, 1806
Born In: Besancon, France
Died On: May 22, 1885
Career: Poet, Playwright, Novelist, Essayist, Visual Artist, Statesman, Human Rights Campaigner
Victor Hugo, a prolific French writer, led an extraordinary life during the time when the political scenario in France was undergoing a crucial change. Hugo’s career as a writer and a statesman revolved around it and besides bringing him enough success and fame, it made him one of the most controversial literary figures in the world. Among a fair collection of novels based on politics and social issues, Hugo is mostly identified for his novels “Les Miserables” and “Notre Dame de Paris”. Besides, he is also known for his prodigious output of poems such as “Les Contemplations” and “Les Legende des siecles”, which stand high and are regarded as his best works in this genre.
Victor Hugo, born in 1802 in Besancon, France was the third and last son of Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo and Sophie Trébuchet. He spent most parts of his life in Besancon, except for a few brief exiles, by choice, during the reign of Napoleon III. Hugo’s childhood was etched with significant historic events in France. Napoleon was declared the emperor of France when Hugo was two years old and the Bourbon Monarchy was restored just before his eighteenth birthday. At home, Hugo’s parents had opposing political and religious views. While Hugo’s father was a high-ranked atheist Republican officer in Napoleon’s army, his mother was an extreme Catholic royalist.
Hugo’s father’s job entailed a lot of traveling, which allowed him to imbibe in a lot of knowledge. Sophie followed her husband to his posts in Italy and Spain, but soon became weary of the constant traveling. Tired of his unfaithfulness, she temporarily separated from Leopold in 1803 and settled in Paris for a while. During this time, she completely engaged herself to Hugo’s education and upbringing. This influenced Hugo’s early work in poetry and fiction, in which he shows passionate devotion to both the King and Faith. Later, however, when he witnessed the events leading up to French Revolution of 1848, Hugo rebelled against his catholic royalist base of education and owned the principles of Republicanism and free thought like his dad.
Marriage And Family
When Hugo was an adolescent, he fell in love and went against his mother’s wishes to become secretly engaged to his childhood friend Adele Foucher. However, since he was extremely close to his mother, he married Adele only after her death. The couple had their first child named Leopold in 1823, but the boy died in infancy. His other children were named Leopoldine, Charles, Francois:Victor and Adele.
Writing As A Career
As a young writer, Hugo was extremely influenced by François:René de Chateaubriand, the famous and towering figure in the literary movement of romanticism as well as the French literary society of the 1800s. While he was young, Hugo was determined to become someone like Chateaubriand and incidentally his life ran on similar lines like that of his mentor. Much like Chateaubriand, Hugo furthered the cause of romanticism, became involved in politics politicizing republicanism. However, in the process, Hugo was forced into exile, due to his political stances. Hugo’s early works were full of passion and eloquence and brought him fame and success at an early stage. He was just twenty years old when his first collection of poetry was published. Such was the success that the poetry earned him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. The collection of poetry called “Odes et Ballades” published in 1826, portrayed Hugo as a great poet who, in turn, became renowned as the master of spontaneous lyric and creative song.
Hugo’s first mature work of fiction called “Le Dernier jour d’un condamne” (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) was published in 1829 and influenced later writers like Albert Camus, Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Hugo’s first full length novel “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was published in 1831 and soon translated into other languages all across Europe. Although he began working on another major novel based on social misery and injustice in the 1830s itself, “Les Miserables” got materialized into a hard back only in 1862. His next novel was called “Les Travailleurs” (Toilers of the Sea), which was published in 1866. It was dedicated to the channel island of Guernsey where he spent fifteen long years of exile. Hugo returned back to his usual theme of political and social issues in his next novel, “L'Homme Qui Rit” (The Man Who Laughs), which was published in 1869 and portrayed a critical picture of the French aristocratic rule. His last novel, “Quatre:vingt:treize” (Ninety:Three), published in 1874, was based on the reign of terror during the French Revolution.
His Political Views
Hugo throughout his life remained deeply involved in the French politics. In 1841, he was elected to the Académie française after struggling for three attempts. Soon, he was assigned the position of peerage by King-Louis Philippe, as a result of which he got the opportunity to enter the Higher Chamber as a Pair de France. Hugo voiced out his opinion against the death penalty and social injustice. He also spoke in favor of freedom of the press and self-government for Poland. However, he also showed a republican streak as well. As such, after the end of 1848 revolution, with the formation of the Second Republic, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly. In the year 1851, when Napoleon III surged supreme and went on to establish an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo openly declared him as a traitor to France and went into exile until 1870, when Napoleon III lost power and the Third Republic came into being. As soon as he returned to his homeland, Hugo was elected to the National Assembly as well as the Senate.
Interest In Painting
Hugo was extremely good at visual arts along with his literary skills. He produced more than 4,000 drawings in his lifetime. Although he had initially pursued it as a casual hobby, it turned out to be his exclusive creative outlet during his years of exile from 1848 to 1851. Hugo only worked on paper and primarily used colors like dark brown, black, pen-and-ink wash with slight touches of white. Applying techniques of surrealism and abstract expressionism, his drawings established the modern style. Few of his works were even appreciated by contemporary artists like Van Gogh and Delacroix. However, Hugo kept his works of art far from the public, fearing that it would overshadow his literary work.
His Contribution To Music
Hugo’s works was a constant source of inspiration for the music composers all through the 19th and 20th century. Around thousand musical compositions have been inspired by his work until the present day. His plays, in general, attracted the interest of composers, who adapted them into operas. Not just restricted to ballets and operas, Hugo’s works have been adapted into musical theatre such as “Notre Dame de Paris” and the ever popular “Les Misérables” as well. Even Hugo’s collection of poetry has been of exceptional interest for composers.
Hugo died on 22nd May, 1885 at the age of 83. By that time, he had become not just a renowned figure in the world of literature, but a towering figure in the political history of France. He was the statesman who framed the Third Republic and ushered the concept of democracy in France. As such, his death became a cause of intense national mourning. Over two million people joined his funeral procession in Paris, right from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon, where he was buried. He shares a crypt within the Panthéon with Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola. While most French cities and towns have a street by his name, the avenue in Paris where he died is also named after him.
1802: Victor Hugo was born.
1824: First volume of poetry titled “Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses” was published.
1821: His mother, Sophie died.
1823: His first novel “Han d'Islande” was published.
1822: He married his childhood friend, Adèle Foucher.
1823: Their first child Leopold was born.
1831: His first full length book “Notre: Dame de Paris” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was published.
1841: Hugo was elected to the Académie française.
1841: Hugo became a part of the Higher Chamber as a Pair de France.
1859: An amnesty was granted to him.
1868: His wife died in 1868.
1870: He was appointed to the National Assembly and the Senate.
1872: “Les Misérables” was published.
1872: He lost the National Assembly election.
1874: His last novel “Quatrevingt:treize” (Ninety:Three) was published.
1876: Was elected to the Senate.
1885: Died on 22nd May.