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Work(s) of Victor Hugo


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[Biography of Victor Hugo]
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Biography of Victor Hugo [Top]

Victor-Marie Hugo (2/26/1802 - 5/22/1885), son of an officer in Napoleon's army, was born at Besancon on February 26, 1802. He spent a roving and unsettled childhood, for wherever the father was sent the mother and children followed. The first three years of his life were spent in Elba, where he learnt to speak the Italian dialect spoken in the island in addition to his mother tongue. Then for three years the family was in Paris and Victor got a little education in a small school. But in 1805 the father was appointed to a post in the army of Naples, and in the autumn of 1807 his wife and children joined him at Avellino. Two years later General Hugo was invited by Joseph Bonaparte to fill an important position in the kingdom of Spain, and, desirous that his sons should receive a good education, he sent his family to Paris, where his wife chose for their home the house in the Rue des Feuillantines which has been so charmingly described by the poet in the lines _Ce qui se passait aux Feuillantines_. There he learnt much from an old soldier, General Lahorie, who, obnoxious to Napoleon for the share he had taken in Moreau's plot, lived secretly in the house, and from an old priest named Lariviere, who came every day to teach the three brothers. There too he played in the garden with the little Adele Foucher, who afterwards became his wife. But this quiet home life did not last long. In 1811 Madame Hugo set off to join her husband at Madrid, and the boys went with her. At Madrid they were sent to a school kept by Priests where Victor was not very happy, and from which he got small profit. Next year the whole family returned to Paris, and in 1815, at the age of thirteen, he was definitely sent to a boarding-school to prepare for the Ecole Polytechnique. But his was a precocious genius, and he devoted himself, even at school, to verse-writing with greater ardour than to study. He wrote in early youth more than one poem for a prize competition, composed a romance which some years later he elaborated into the story _Bug-Jargal_, and in 1820, when only eighteen, joined his two brothers, Abel and Eugene, in publishing a literary journal called _Le Conservateur Litteraire_. About the same time he became engaged to Adele Foucher, and wrote for her the romance of _Han d'Islande_, which, however, was not published till later. In 1822 he and Adele were married, and in the same year he published his first volume of _Odes_. He was now fully launched on a literary career, and for twenty years or more the story of his life is mainly the story of his literary output. In 1827 he published his drama of _Cromwell_, the preface to which, with its note of defiance to literary convention, caused him to be definitely accepted as the head of the Romantic School of poetry. _Les Orientales_, _Le dernier jour d'un condamne_, _Marion de Lorme_, and _Hernani_ followed in quick succession. The revolution of 1830 disturbed for a moment his literary activity, but as soon as things were quiet again he shut himself in his study with a bottle of ink, a pen, and an immense pile of paper. For six weeks he was never seen, except at dinner-time, and the result was _Notre-Dame de Paris_. During the next ten years four volumes of poetry and four dramas were published; in 1841 came his election to the Academy, and in 1843 he published _Les Burgraves_, a drama which was less successful than his former plays, and which marks the close of his career as a dramatist. In the same year there came to him the greatest sorrow of his life. His daughter Leopoldine, to whom he was deeply attached, was drowned with her husband during a pleasure excursion on the Seine only a few months after their marriage.

In 1845 Hugo began to take an active part in politics. Son of a Vendean mother, he had been in early life a fervent royalist, and even in 1830 he could write of the fallen royal family with respectful sympathy. Yet by that time his democratic leanings had declared themselves, and he accepted the constitutional monarchy of Louis Philippe only as a step towards a republic, for which he considered France was not yet ripe. In 1845 the king made him a peer of France, but this did not prevent him from throwing himself with all the ardour of his nature into the revolution of 1848. Divining the ambition of Louis Napoleon, he resisted his growing power, and when the Second Empire was established the poet was among the first who were exiled from France. He took refuge first in Jersey, and afterwards in Guernsey, where he lived in a house near the coast, from the upper balcony of which the cliffs of Normandy could sometimes be discerned. Thence he launched against the usurper a bitter prose satire, _Napoleon le Petit_, and a still bitterer satire in verse, _Les Chatiments_, and there he wrote two of his greatest novels, _Les Travailleurs de la Mer_ and _Les Miserables_, two of his finest volumes of poetry, _Les Contemplations_, the greater part of the first series of _La Legende des Siecles_, and the two remarkable religious poems, _Dieu_ and _La Fin de Satan_. He returned to France on the fall of Napoleon in 1870, to be for fifteen years the idol of the people, who regarded him as the incarnation of the spirit of liberty. Several volumes of poetry were issued during those fifteen years, notably _L'Annee Terrible_, _Les Quatre Vents de l'Esprit_, and a second series of _La Legende des Siecles_, none perhaps equal as a whole to the best of his earlier volumes, but all, especially the second-named, abounding in beautiful and striking poetry. He died in 1885, and was buried in a manner befitting one who had filled Europe with his fame, and had been for so many years the 'stormy voice of France.'

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