Sunday, December 30, 2012

Victor Hugo - A Giant Pillar of French Literature

Victor Hugo represents one of the giant pillars of French literature and an influential 19th century political figure.  Born in 1802 in Besancon, Hugo had a long and prolific literary career that included poetry, novels, theatre dramas and political essays.    Here are ten facts about this ever more popular author.

  • Poet- From an early age, Hugo displayed talent for poetry and very much admired romantic poet Chateaubriand (1768-1848).  At 20, Hugo published his first collection of poetry " Odes et Poesies Diverses" that earned him a royal pension from King Louis XVIII.    His most famous poetry works throughout his career include: 'Odes and Ballades"(1826), "Les Orientales" (1829) , "Les Feuilles d'Automne" (1831), "Les Chants du Crepuscule" (1835), "Les Voix Interieures"(1837)  and the epic "Legende des Siecles"(1883).

  • Playwright- Victor Hugo is the author of "Hernani", "Marion Delorme" and "Ruy Blas".  All three plays  are classics of the French repertoire and often staged at the Comedie Francaise, the national theatre.  

  •  Novelist- Hugo's world reputation rests on his two epic novels - "Notre Dame de Paris"(1831) ("Hunchback of Notre Dame") and "Les Miserables" (1862). These two novels have been popularized numerous times on the silver screen and on the  stage  - the musical adaptation of Les Miserables "Les Miz"  has been the longest running musical in London's West End.

  • Preservationist- The enormously popular novel "Notre Dame de Paris" (1831), led to the raising of public funds for the restoration of the much neglected Parisian cathedral.  Initiated in 1845, the works of restoration were led by architect renovator Viollet -le -Duc and took 25 years; in the process the cathedral acquired a spire.

  • Politician- Hugo had monarchist tendencies as a young man but his political affinities shifted to ardent Republicanism.  Supporting the July monarchy, Victor Hugo was elected Pair de France by King Louis Philippe, a seat he held from 1845-1848.   Following the 1848 Revolution and the formation of the Second Republic he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly (1848) and the National Assembly (1849-51).

  • Activist- Hugo fought for social justice and was an opponent of the death penalty.  He wrote and debated in favor of its abolition. He convinced the government of Queen Victoria of England to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities.

  • Political Exiled- After the forced government take over by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) in 1851 that established the Second Empire, Victor Hugo declared him traitor to the nation and went into exile  to the Channel islands- first in Jersey then in Guernsey where he lived for 17 years to return to France in 1870 when Napoleon III's empire collapsed.  After the Franco-Prussian war, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1871 but resigned the post after a month.  He was then elected to the Senate in 1876  and kept the seat till his death in 1885.

Victor  Hugo-Gavroche

  • Artist- Victor Hugo showed talent for drawings and produced more than 4000 sketches. He kept his drawings from the public sharing them with friends and family.  The painter Delacroix expressed the opinion that if Hugo had decided to become a painter instead of a writer, he would have outshone the artists of their century.

  • Musically Inspiring -- Victor Hugo lacked musical talent but his works inspired many artists among them composers such as Berlioz, Bizet, Faure, Lizst, Saint Saens, and even Verdi whose opera Rigoletto was inspired from the play "le Roi s'amuse".  

  • Spiritualist-Victor Hugo explored Spiritualism and participated in occult seances during his self-imposed exile in Jersey and Guernsey.   He claimed to have communicated with famous departed such as -Shakespeare, Plato, Rousseau, Galileo and Jesus.

Pantheon -OT Paris Tourisme-

Victor Hugo died in Paris in 1885 at the age of 83.  As a venerated national hero, his funeral procession gathered over 2 million people. After laying in state under the Arc de Triomphe, he was enterred in the Pantheon among the nation's Greats.  When in Paris you can visit the Victor Hugo Museum located 6, 
Place des Vosges.  The second floor apartment  displays mementos and drawings of the author.  


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