HAPPY BIRTHDAY – Victor Hugo, born 26 February 1802
“Intelligence is the wife, imagination is the mistress, memory is the servant.”
André Gide was once asked who the greatest French poet of all time was, and his response was “Victor Hugo, alas”. He did not like the man, but he could not help but revere the poetry. Victor Hugo was the towering figure of 19thC France. His funeral was a state event and people commented that God had been moved out of the Pantheon to make room for Hugo!
In the English speaking world we know him better as a novelist, with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. Those novels have also been filmed and memorably turned into musical and theatrical versions. It is probably thanks to Victor Hugo that tourists to Paris can admire Notre Dame today. When Hugo wrote his novel, the cathedral was fast becoming a ruin and no-one thought about spending money to repair it. But Hugo’s book was an international best-seller and so the French authorities were shamed into repairing the building that Quasimodo and Esmeralda had made so famous.
I have visited Hugo’s house on the glorious Place des Vosges in Paris (it’s free to go inside) and also his home on the island of Guernsey. That has to be the most over-decorated house I have ever visited, but it truly reflects the personality of the man. It has a wonderful attic, where Hugo would stand naked at his desk, giving his mistress Juliette (who lived just along the road) a good view of his naked body! Victor Hugo’s life is just as fascinating as one of his novels.
Victor Hugo died on 22 May 1885, aged 83.
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