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Victor Hugo - Biography & Selected Products

Selected products from Victor Hugo

     

Victor Marie Hugo was born on February 26th 1802 and is revered as the greatest of all French writers. A poet, novelist, dramatist and painter he was a passionate supporter of Republicanism and contributed to the politics of his Country.

Born in Bersancon his life was paralleled by the immense political and social movements of the 19th Century. When he was 2 Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor but before he was 18 the Bourbon Monarchy was restored. His father was a high ranking officer and travelled widely, hids mother after some years of this returned with the children to Paris so that stability and education could be more easily administered. She brought him up with devotion to both King and the Catholic faith. This is reflected in his poetry and early works. It was only with his Mother’s death that he felt confident enough to marry Adele in 1822, whom he had kept secret from his Mother. Their first child Leopold was born the following year but died in infancy. Leopoldine was born the following year followed by three more siblings. Hugo published his first novel the year following his marriage (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), solidifying his reputation as one of the greatest elegiac and lyric poets of his time. After three unsuccessful attempts, Hugo was elected to the Académie française in 1841, cementing his position in the world of French arts and letters. A group of French academicians had managed to delay his election and thereafter he became increasingly involved in French politics. Elevated to the peerage by King Louis-Philippe in 1841 he entered the Higher Chamber as a pair de France, where he spoke against the death penalty and social injustice, and in favour of freedom of the press and self-government for Poland.

Hugo's favourite daughter, Léopoldine, died at age 19 in 1843, shortly after her marriage. She drowned in the Seine at Villequier on September 4th, weighted down by her heavy skirts after a boat overturned. Her young husband also died trying to save her. The death left her father devastated but he was only to read about it in a newspaper article whilst travelling with his mistress. In the years leading up to the Revolution in 1848 Hugo began to waver on his childhood beliefs and began to lean towards Republicanism and greater freedoms. With the 1848 Revolution and the formation of the Second Republic, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly.

When Napoleon III seized power in 1851, and established an antiparliamentary constitution, Hugo openly declared him a traitor to France. He relocated to Brussels, then Jersey and finally settled with his family at Hauteville House in Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, where he would live in exile from October 1855 until 1870. While in exile, Hugo published his famous political pamphlets against Napoleon III, Napoléon le Petit and Histoire d'un crime. The pamphlets were banned in France, but nonetheless had a strong impact there. He also composed or published some of his greatest work including Les Misérables, and three widely honoured collections of poetry (Les Châtiments, 1853; Les Contemplations, 1856; and La Légende des siècles, 1859). It was only after Napoleon III was replaced by the Third Republic that Hugo finally returned to his homeland in 1870, where he was elected to the National Assembly and the Senate. In Paris during the siege by the Prussian army in 1870, he ate animals given to him by the Paris zoo. As the siege continued, and food became ever more scarce, he wrote in his diary that he was reduced to "eating the unknown". Because of his concern for the rights of artists and copyright, he was a founding member of the Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale, which led to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. However, he aslso seems to argue to the contrary stating that "any work of art has two authors : the people who confusingly feel something, a creator who translates these feelings, and the people again who consecrate his vision of that feeling. When one of the authors dies, the rights should totally be granted back to the other, the people".

Victor Hugo's death on 22 May 1885, at the age of 83, generated intense national mourning. Revered not only as a towering figure in literature, he was a statesman who shaped the Third Republic and democracy in France. More than two million people joined his funeral procession in Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon, where he was buried. He shares a crypt within the Panthéon with Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola.