From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The war between the two great schools of French poetry, the classic and the romantic, passed into an acute stage shortly before the publication of Victor Hugo's Cromwell. Romanticism meant more than was implied in the definition of Madame de Staël, viz., the transference to French literature of 'the poetry originating in the songs of the troubadours, the offspring of chivalry and Christianity.' Victor Hugo, and men of a kindred if not an equal genius, were engaged in a struggle for the very life and soul of poetry. Poetic genius in France was wrapped in the grave-clothes of classicism; it was a corpse that needed galvanizing into life; and it was practically Victor Hugo who rose and said, 'Loose her, and let her go.'"--Victor Hugo: His Life and Work (1885) by George Barnett Smith
Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) was a French poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, 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, and 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 (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 he was a committed royalist when 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.
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 Hugo, 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
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").