author of Les Misérables, 1802 -1885
The Victor Hug character is the narrator in Montreuils annual spectacular son-et-lumière outdoor presentation of Les Misérables.
and the north
In France he was better known as popular poet and political thinker - many towns have a street named after him.
He had the disrupted childhood you'd
expect as the son of one of Napoleon's generals. After
Napoleon's defeat he was a poor and not very successful law
student in Paris - echoed perhaps in the 'Marius' character
in "Les Misérables".
His early publications gained royal
approval and a pension from the far-right French king
Charles X, but he soon fell foul of the regime's strict
censorship. As in Shakespeare's England, writers who wanted
to explore political issues often wrote about historical
situations, expecting the audience to understand when a
reference to current affairs was intended. This was enough
to have the censor ban a stage play Hugo set in the Middle
Ages, which was seen as critical of a royal ancestor, Louis
In the 1830's, cheaper printing, and wider literacy created a wider market for novels with immediate appeal: everyone in middle-class society would want to read and talk about the latest fashionable best-seller.
Hugo turned increasing to social and
political issues: he wrote poems in praise of
Louis-Philippe, the "citizen-king" brought to power as
France's first constitutional monarch in 1830; and to the
glory of Napoleon, though he did not then support
republicanism; and about the miseries of the workers.
Brief visit to
Writing this novel had to slot in with many other play- and poetry writing projects he was working on. Hugo was also spending more time on politics and the social demands of being a well-known popular writer.
Work was interrupted by his grief at the
accidental drowning of his daughter in 1843, and by Hugo's
election as an MP for Paris after the 1848 Revolution.
Exile in the Channel
He devoted himself to writing, and
produced some of his best poetry - much of it political. He
took up his abandoned novel, "Les Misérables", and
published it in 1862. It was immediately a huge popular
success, and was translated into many languages, selling all
round the world.
The completion of
Les Misérables 1862
The plot is a mixture of detective story
and historical romance, with larger-than-life characters
facing a series of moral dilemmas, exploring Hugo's constant
theme of man's ceaseless combat with evil. Jean Valjean in
particular represents the possibility of an individual
somehow remaining good in a hard uncaring world. The story
comes across as a harsh comment on how bleak life could be
for ordinary people in 19th century France - a very unequal
and corrupt society that brutalised many of its poor.
& later life: 1871-1885
He was saddened by the death of his wife Adèle in 1868. In 1878 became too ill to write any more, and in 1883 his long-term mistress Juliette also died. The street where he lived in Paris was named "Avenue Victor Hugo" on his 80th birthday.
Victor Hugo died in 1885, and was given a
national funeral. His body lay in state under the Arc de
Triomphe and was buried in the Panthéon. He was and
is still regarded as the greatest French writer of his day,
one with a very popular appeal.