The words of Victor Hugo appear in various types of literature and are often cited in motivational and political circles. He accomplished the task of being incredibly intelligent while achieving intense popularity during his own time. His major works are Notre Dame de Paris, known in America as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and Les Misérables.
Victor Hugo was born at Besançon in Western France in 1802. He was the third son of Joseph Léopold Hugo and Sophie Trébuchet. Victor’s father was a freethinking, high ranking officer in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Because of the military career, the family moved frequently. It was during travels to Naples, Italy that the five year old Victor was inspired by the snowy peaks of the Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, and the grandeur of Rome.
“Society is a republic. When individuals try to lift themselves above others, they are dragged down by the masses, either by ridicule or slander.”
Tired of constantly moving the family and her husband’s lack of Catholic faith, Victor’s mother temporarily separated from Léopold to settle in Paris with the children. It was this time period that influenced Victor’s earliest fiction and poetic writings.“The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.” When events led to the 1848 French Revolution, Victor rebeled against his Catholic Royalist education and espoused French Republicanism and Freethought.
Victor married his childhood friend Adèle Foucher in 1822 after waiting until after his mother’s death. Their first son died in infancy. Their second child, Léopoldine, died at age 19 with her husband, drowning in the river Seine when a boat capsized. “The most powerful symptom of love is a tenderness which becomes at times almost insupportable.”
In the summer of 1851, Victor Hugo voiced his opposition to Louis Bonaparte. He coined the phrase, “We have had Napoleon The Great, now we have to have Napoleon The Small”. Hugo tried in vain to oppose the new regime. Hugo went into exile to Guernsey, the small British Island off the coast of Normandy.
“Close by the Rights of Man, at the least set beside them, are the Rights of the Spirit.”
It was during his extended stay in Guernsey that Hugo wrote and published most of the literature for which he is famous. Les Misérables is undoubtedly his most famous work in these modern times. The book illustrates some of Hugo’s main ideas about the moral and social problems he felt were important.
“Those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables.”
“One evening little Gavroche had had no dinner; he remembered that he had had no dinner also the day before; this was becoming tiresome. He resolved that he would try for some supper.”
In 1870, Louis Bonaparte was deposed. Hugo enjoyed a hero’s return to France. He resumed his interest in political activity. Hugo was elected to the National Assembly in 1871. He was a believer in European unity. At the planting of an oak tree in the garden of his Hauteville House, Hugo predicted that upon the maturity of the tree, a “United States of Europe” will be a reality.
Hugo’s final wish was to be buried in a pauper’s coffin. The two governmental assemblies voted to hold a national funeral in his honor. Hugo’s remains lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe. He was then buried on June 1, 1885 as a hero at the French Panthéon.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this Hugo quotation, “Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.”