Victor Hugo- The Brillant French Novelist

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Early Life

Victor Hugo's Birthplace, Besancon, France

Victor Hugo was born to army general, Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo and wife. Sophie Trébuchet. They lived in Besancon, France and it was February 26th 1802, when this brilliant author was brought into the world. Hugo grew up under his father's teachings, strongly believing that Napoleon was a hero. However, his parents had opposing views on politics and religion. His mother was a Catholic Royalist and disagreed with her husbands position in the army and his lack of Catholic morals. This caused a rift between the two and eventually, Sophie, took it upon herself to move away with her three children, Victor, Eugene, and Abel. They settled in Paris, France. This was where Hugo would spend the remainder of his life. As he was growing up, his parents were not the only tumultuous area. France was in a national state of turmoil, reeling from the aftermath of the French Revolution. When Hugo was merely a child, he witnessed a great deal of political changes in his country. The most significant of which was the rise of the First French Empire and the dictatorship under Napoleon Bonaparte, his father's military hero. But, to Hugo, Napoleon was no longer much of a hero, his mother's teachings had taken effect. His mother confidently instilled a belief in the Catholic faith and the King. These teachings can be seen in his earliest poems and literary works.

Marriage and Family Life

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Victor Hugo's Wife

At a fairly, young age, Hugo fell in love. Even though his mother wasn't too keen on the idea, Hugo became secretly engaged to a longtime friend of his. Hugo did not want to upset his mother, who did not like his bride to be, so he patiently waited until his mother passed on. In 1822, a year after his mother's death, Adele Foucher became Mrs. Adele Hugo. Just one year after their marriage, their first child was born. They named him Leopold after Hugo's father, unfortunately this child died soon after it's birth. This did not deter the young couple, on August 28th the following year in 1824, their first daughter was born. Her name was Leopoldine and would forever remain as Victor Hugo's favourite child. Charles came next on November 4th of 1826, followed by Francois-Victor on October 28th of 1928, and their fifth and final child, Adele was born on August 24th of 1830.

Everything was fairly blissful in the Hugo family's life until the September of 1843. Nineteen year old Leopoldine, drowned in the Seine at Villequier and her new husband perished trying to save her. After this event Hugo was reeling, having read about the event in the newspaper. His grief is expressed in many of his poems, the most famous of which would be; A Villequier. In thisparticular which was originally published in French, he expresses his shock and grief over this unfortunate death.

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Leopoldine Hugo

A Villequier

Alas! turning an envious eye towards the past,
inconsolable 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!"

Literary Career

From a very early age, Hugo found a love in literature. He always seemed to express himself with the written word. Whether it be poetry, plays, or novels, Hugo believed they spoke to him, and that through these mediums he could speak to the people too. Hugo was inspired by the likes of William Shakespeare and Francois -Rene de Chateaubriand. Chateaubriand was one of the leaders in the romantic movement of literature and a republican with bold political views. These views, which Hugo had now strayed back into, had led Chateaubriand into a fate of exile. However, this did not deter Hugo, it powered him further. By 1826, he had two volumes of poetry published(Nouvelles Odes et Poesies Diverses and Odes et Ballades) along with two novels (Han d'Islande and Bug-Jargal). Soon he gained a reputation as a very lyrical and beautiful poet.

After his first two novels he decided to go back to writing poetry as the novels were not as widely received. He penned five more poetry collections before he struck gold. The Hunchback of Notre Dame brought him the fame first, but the novel that took him nearly seventeen years to finish, took the cake. Les Miserables was incredibly successful and gave him a grand amount of fortune. Even though none of his other novels reached this high of a success rate, he penned three more after this and continued to write until the day he died.

Novels Penned:
A Poetry Volume by Victor Hugo

  • Han d'Islande (1823)
  • Bug-Jargal (1826)
  • The Last Day of a Condemned Man (Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné) (1829)
  • The Hunchbackof Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) (1831)
  • Les Miserables (1872)
  • Toilers of the Sea (Les Travailleurs de la Mer) (1866)
  • The Man Who Laughs (L'Homme Qui Rit) (1869)
  • Ninety-Three (Quatrevingt-treize) (1874)

Poetry Written:
A Novel by Victor Hugo

  • Nouvelles Odes et Poesies Diverses (1824)
  • Odes et Ballades (1826)
  • Les Orientales (1829)
  • Les Feuilles d'automne (1831)
  • Les Chants du Crépuscule (1835)
  • Les Voix Intérieures (1837)
  • Les Rayons et les Ombres (1840)
  • Les Chatiments (1853)
  • Les Contemplations (1856)
  • La Legende de Siecles (1859)

Political Life

One of the Pamphlets
Napoleon the Little
One of the Pamphlets

Victor Hugo was raised a Catholic Royalist by his mother but as he grew into his teen years and well into adulthood, he strayed to the more republican side. This was shown in his poetry and novels, and can either be seen as working to his advantage or disadvantage. In 1841 he was elected to the Académie française, because of his great interest in politics and his support of the republican government. So it was a natural when also in 1841, King Louis-Philippe promoted him to the higher place in society and made him a part of the Higher Chamber as a pair de France. In this new position he came forward against the death penalty, talked of censorship, and other social justice issues. Soon after these professions Hugo was appointed to the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Assembly. In 1851, Hugo began attacking the Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) and publishing many attack pamphlets. This led to Hugo fleeing the country in fear of his life. While he was away in exile he published Napoléon le Petit (Napoleon the Little) and Histoire d'un Crime (A History of Crime). These were banned and censored but still gained popularity and fame worldwide. When Hugo returned in 1870 after the Napoleon dynasty had been overthrown he was elected to National Assembly and the Senate.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

"The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is an epic of a whole people, with a cast of characters that ranges from the king of France to the beggars who inhabit the Parisian sewers, and at their center the massive figure--a character in itself--of the great Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral; his foster father, the tormented archdeacon Frollo; and the beautiful and doomed Gypsy Esmeralda are caught up in a tragedy that still speaks clearly to us of revolution and social strife, of destiny and free will, and of love and loss"

A main inspiration for this novel was the setting of Paris and the Cathedral, Notre Dame. This was the first novel of Victor Hugo's which gained a huge amount of success and attention. Although, the amount of success that this particular novel gained was probably beyond Hugo's wildest dreams. It caused a large trend of people to flock to Paris to see this wondrous church, the view from the top, and maybe hear of the legend of the Hunchback in the bell tower.
It is very apparent though, that this novel still has power today in this day and age. There have been countless adaptations and praise for his novel. One of the more renowned versions of this novel would be the Disney movie of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Though it does not entirely hold true to the novel, it still raises attention for it and to Victor Hugo.

The Cathedral which Inspired this Novel
  • Esmeralda (1905 Film)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1911 Film)
  • Esmeralda (1922 Film)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923 Film)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939 Film)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956 Film)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996 Film)
  • The Hunchback (1997 Film)
  • La Esmeralda (1836 Opera)
  • Esmeralda (1847 Opera)
  • Esmeralda (1883 Opera)
  • Notre Dame (1914 Opera)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1993 Musical)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1993 Musical)
  • Notre-Dame de Paris (1998 Musical)
  • Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (The Bellringer of Notre Dame) (1998-2002 Musical)
  • "Hunchback" (1998 Rock Musical)

Les Miserables

"Victor Hugo's tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830."

The story for Les Miserables was inspired by many different events in Hugo's life. Jean Valjean's character is loosely based off of a few people. The first of which being Eugène François Vidocq. He was an ex-convict who had became a very successful businessman much like Jean Valjean had done in the novel. He is also based off of Hugo at one point in the book, where Valjean saves Fantine from being arrested. Hugo had a conversation like this with a few police officers in regards to a misbehaving prostitute. However the main event which inspired Hugo to write this was the July Revolution of 1830. Hugo was inadvertently a part of the revolt, he was caught in the streets with the rioters, having to dodge bullets at the barricade. No matter the inspiration, this is without a doubt his most successful novel. It gained wild fame all around Europe and brought a lot of fortune to the Hugo family. It also upheld his reputation of being a very lyrical, beautiful, and powerful writer.
Musical Poster and Novel Cover

Much like The Hunchback of Notre Dame this novel has quite the following too, and many adaptations. Victor Hugo creates very vivid and beautiful worlds so it is very understandable that he would have this amount of a fan base. With Les Miserables, which was already his most popular novel, it was no wonder that it would be made into many other forms.

  • Les Miserables starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton (1935 Film)
  • Les Miserables with Orson Welles (1937 Radio)
  • Les Miserables starring Jean Gabin, Bernard Blier, and Bourvil (1958 Film)
  • Les Miserables starring Anthony Perkins (1978 TV Movie)
  • Les Miserables by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (Musical 1980) (Continues today)
  • Les Miserables starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush (1998 Film)
  • Les Miserables starring Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich (2000 Miniseries)
  • Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe (2012 Musical Film)


In 1868 Hugo's wife died, which affected him greatly. Soon after that in 1883 his faithful mistress died as well, devastating him even more than he w
Victor Hugo Avenue
The Street which was Renamed after Victor Hugo
as before. But even with these unfortunate events and his declining health, Hugo still pushed on. He was elected to senate but got very little done and suffered a mild stroke in June of 1878. In February of 1881 a street in Paris was renamed in honor of his 80th year. This special occasion, the whole country celebrated. However, once all of these festivities subsided Hugo succumbed to pneumonia and passed on at the age of 83. This day in May of 1885 was a national day of mourning. His body is laid in the Pantheon but his legacy still lives on in his writings and political power.