Victor Hugo was a French poet, novelist and playwright and a leading supporter of the Romantic Movement in France. He was also a visual artist, statesman and human rights activist, though his fame primarily lies in his poems and dramas. Among his prodigious output of poems, Les Contemplations and Les Legende des siecles stand high and are regarded as his best works in this genre. His best novels include Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (in English, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Les Travailleurs de la Mer. He is regarded as the leading figure in the history of French literature and politics who did not only contributed to the Romantic Movement in France but also gained international fame for his efforts towards establishing the Third Republican and democracy in the country. The author died on 22 May 1885, at the age of 83.
Childhood & Education
Victor Hugo was born on 26 February 1802 in Besancon, France and was the third and the last son of Joseph Leopold Sigisbert Hugo and Sophie Trebuchet. He had two siblings Abel Joseph Hugo and Eugene Hugo, both elder to him. Hugo, as a child witnessed a great deal of political changes in his country, among them the most significant was the rise of the First French Empire and the dictatorship under Napoleon Bonaparte. His father, Joseph was an atheist republican and an influential officer in the army of Napoleon and a fervent supporter of him while his mother Sophie was a staunch Catholic Royalist. The conflicting political views of his parents mirrored the struggle between two major forces in the country for the attainment of the power and would badly affect their married life. As an officer, Joseph Hugo was on constant trips, moving from one place to another, with his family following him everywhere. Traveling gave Victor ample time and opportunity to learn and instilled in him a fondness for nature and beauty.
However by 1803, his mother had grown tired of the constant traveling and her adulterous husband and decided to stay back in Paris while John Hugo went away to Italy on one of such postings. Thereafter, Sophie became in charge of the education of her son and successfully instilled in her son the faithfulness and loyalty to both King and the Catholic beliefs. Young Hugo adapted the teachings of his mother which is mirrored in his early writings, however later in life he would rebel against Catholic Royalist beliefs and instead become a supporter of Republicanism, like his father.
Early Life & Works
As a youth poet, Hugo was inspired by François-René de Chateaubriand, the leading figure in the Romantic Movement in literature and resolved to follow him in his fame. Chateaubriand was also a fervent supporter of republicanism who was given exile because of his bold political views and Hugo would also share the fate of his hero in his later years.
Hugo's first volume of poetry entitled as Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses was published in 1824 and with this a star was on the horizon. He was granted a royal pension from Louis XVIII at an early age of 20. He began working on his second collection of poetry, Odes et Ballades which was published two years later in 1826 and solidified his reputation as a master of lyrics and creative songs.
Hugo's first novel Han d'Islande was published in 1823, followed by his second novel Bug-Jargal which was published three years later in 1826. After this, he turned to writing poetry and published five collections of poetry between 1829 and 1840. The volume, which consisted Les Orientales, 1829; Les Feuilles d'automne, 1831; Les Chants du crépuscule, 1835; Les Voix intérieures, 1837; and Les Rayons et les ombres, 1840, further gained him fame as the most though provoking poet of that times.
Marriage & Children
Victor Hugo became involve with his childhood friend Adèle Foucher and despite fierce resistance from his mother, continued the relationship covertly. After Sophie's death in 1821, Hugo married Foucher in 1822. In 1823, their first child Leopold was born, but failed to survive into adulthood. Hugo's other surviving children were Léopoldine (28 August 1824), Charles (4 November 1826), François-Victor (28 October 1828) and Adèle (24 August 1830). His wife Adèle died in 1868.
Success as a Writer & Poet
In 1829, Victor Hugo published a fiction Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) what would become his first serious and important work. The short documentary, based upon a real life story of murderer, gain appreciation for its concise and critical elucidation of social scruples. As a novelist, Hugo's first success came with his first full-length book Notre- Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), which was published in 1831 and was translated in a number of foreign languages. The novel made the Cathedral of Notre Dame a popular with people across Europe and resulted in the appreciation and preservation of the old buildings of the country.
Around 1830, Hugo embarked on working on his most important book that would become the magnum opus of his literary career. Les Misérables, his most popular work, took him almost 17 years to complete it and was published in 1872. The success of the novel brought him a fortune, with fierce marketing and press releases. However, the so called intelligentsia group criticized it for a number of reasons; the book made its way to world fame and was adopted into films and television. Popularity of Les Misérables lies in the fact that issued raised in the book became the agenda of the political groups in the country.
For a change, Hugo estranged himself from the political and social issues in his future novel Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea); however it did not affect the popularity of the book. The book, which was published in 1866, portrayed the man's battle with the sea and sea creatures, which were considered non-existent previously. With his next novel L'Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), Hugo again turned to social issues. The book, published in 1869, mirrored the real depiction of the aristocracy. The novel failed to achieve a distinct position in the literature and he wrote what would become his last novel Quatrevingt-treize (Ninety-Three), which was finally published in 1874. The book depicted the atrocities during the French Revolution. The reception of this book was lukewarm despite its entirely new subject.
Political Life & Exile
In 1841, Hugo was elected to the Académie française. During this period he shown immense interest in French politics and became an open supporter of Republic form of government. In 1841, King Louis-Philippe promoted him to the higher rake of the society and made him a part of the Higher Chamber as a pair de France. A protagonist of republicanism, Hugo came forward against the death penalty and social injustice advocating the freedom of the press. After the 1848 Revolution and the establishment of the Second Republic, Hugo was appointed to the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Assembly.
With Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seizing the power in 1851, who established an anti-parliamentary constitution in the country, Hugo began attacking him openly. As a result, he was forced to leave the country and he settled in Guernsey at Hauteville House and lived there until 1870. During his exile, Hugo published his two controversial and debate pamphlets against Napoleon III, known as Napoléon le Petit and Histoire d'un crime. Although the pamphlets were banned and confiscated, it could not prevent them from gaining attention across the world. Other works composed during this period include Les Misérables, and three volumes of poetry (Les Châtiments, 1853; Les Contemplations, 1856; and La Légende des siècles, 1859).
In 1859, amnesty was granted to all political exiles by Napoleon III, Hugo chose not to come back and took a self exile until Napoleon dynasty was overthrown and the Third Republic was established in the country. Hugo returned in 1870, where he was appointed to the National Assembly and the Senate. He was also a member of the Association Litteraire et Artistique International.
Later Years & Death
Hugo ran for but lost the National Assembly election in 1872 despite his eulogized return to his country. Around this time, Hugo suffered from many personal losses that broke him. His wife died in 1868 and his mistress Juliet Drouet in 1883. Despite his failing health, he continued to actively participate in the politics and made significant contributions. In 1876, Hugo was elected to the Senate. Hugo's 80th birthday in 1881 was celebrated across the country with the largest parade in French history held on the occasion. The author died on 22 May 1885, at the age of 83. His death was mourned all over the country with millions of people paying tribute to him. He is buried in Pantheon, France.