ESL – Victor Hugo

26 February

Victor Hugo


Born in Besançon on the 26 February 1802, he quickly became aware (at the age of thirteen) of his literary vocation, his first poems having earned him many awards, including two “mentions” of the French Academy. In the 1820s, he became one of the main figures of the French Romantic movement.

The year 1830 saw the publication of “Notre Dame de Paris”, an evocation of life in the Middle Ages around the famous cathedral of Paris.

During his youth, Hugo had been a monarchist, and during the period of political turmoil that began in 1848, Hugo was initially in favour of maintaining order, and began by welcoming and supporting the candidacy of Louis Bonaparte. But he soon realised that his political allies did not share his moral and political ambitions, and his relationship with them began to deteriorate.

As early as July 1851, his opposition to Louis Bonaparte had hardened, expressed in a pamphlet by the phrase “Because we had Napoleon the Great, we must have Napoleon the Little”, and after the coup d’état On December 2, which he tried in vain to oppose, he hurriedly left the country, so as not to be arrested.  He went first to Brussels and soon after to Jersey, where he stayed for the next 20 years. In 1856 he published Les Contemplations, a collection of poems that was an immediate success. 

Although officially authorised to return to France in 1859, Hugo chose, by provocation, to remain on the island until 1870. During his stay in Guernsey, he wrote, completed or published a large number of his works that have ensured his fame, including “Les Contemplations” (1856), “Les Misérables” (1862), “The Songs of the streets and woods” (1865), “The Workers of the Sea” (1866), “The Man Who Laughs” (1869), and “Four-Twenty-Thirteen” (1874). In varying degrees, these works have enjoyed popular success, especially, of course, Les Miserables, which remains to this day still a very popular literary work. It illustrates some of Hugo’s ideas on social and moral issues that were important to him and are of universal significance even today.

After the fall of Louis Bonaparte in 1870, Hugo returned to France where he was welcomed as a hero, and was again interested in politics ,during this new period of turmoil, complicated by the war with Prussia . In 1871, he was elected to the National Assembly, being already on that date an illustrious public and literary personality. He continued to publish books, including, in 1877, the Art of Being Grandfather, one of the first books of French literature to deal specifically with childhood.

Hugo also believed strongly in a European union, and to illustrate this idea, he planted an oak (which can still be seen today) in the garden of Hauteville House on the 14th of July 1870, predicting that when the tree would have reached maturity, the “United States of Europe”, bringing together all the European nations, would have become a reality.  An acorn of idealism giving birth to a huge body of strength and power.

Hugo’s wish was to be buried in a coffin of poor man. This wish was granted, but at his death in 1885 the national funeral was, however, passed by both assemblies. His coffin was exposed under the Arc de Triomphe, and on June 1, 1885, he was buried in the Pantheon like a hero. It is estimated that at least two million people followed the funeral procession.

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