SUMMARY: Victor Hugo (February 26, 1802 – May 22, 1885) French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights campaigner,
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While Victor Hugo does not have the largest resume of writing he is considered to be one of the most important French Romantic writers. He was a novelist, poet and dramatist and some of his best known works are “The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables.
Victor Hugo was born in Besancon, France on February 26, 1802. He was a sickly infant who barely survived birth and was only kept alive by the devotion of his mother. His father was an army general, who taught young Victor to admire Napoleon as a hero. After his parents separated he was raised and educated in Paris by his mother, where the family settled when Hugo was two. From 1815 to 1818 Hugo attended the Lycee Louis-le Grand in Paris. He began his writing career early by writing tragedies and poetry, and translated Virgil. Hugo’s first collection of poems, Odes Et Poesies Diverses was so well received that it gained him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. As a novelist Hugo made his debut with Han D’Islande in 1823 followed by Bug-Jargal in 1826. In 1822 Hugo married Adele Foucher. She was the daughter of an officer at the ministry of war and historical experts state that she was Victor’s cousin. They had 5 children: Leopold, Leopoldine, Charles, Francois-Victor and Adele.
Hugo gained wider fame with his play “Hernani” written in 1830 and with his famous historical work “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” written in 1831 which became an instant success. Since The Hunchback’s appearance in 1831 the story has became part of popular culture. The novel which is set in 15th century Paris, tells a moving story of a gypsy girl Esmeralda and the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her.
In the 1830s Hugo also published several volumes of lyric poetry. Hugo’s lyrical style was rich, intense and full of powerful sounds and rhythms, and although it followed the popular taste of the period it also had bitter personal tones.
In his later life Hugo became heavily involved in politics as a supporter of the republican form of government. After three unsuccessful attempts, Hugo was finally elected in 1841 to the Academie Francaise. This political triumph was shadowed by the death of Hugo’s daughter Leopoldine in 1843. It was only after a decade that Hugo began again publishing books. He devoted himself to politics, with his emphasis on advocating social justice. He continued to serve in political office and after the 1848 revolution, with the formation of the Second Republic, Hugo was then elected to the Constitutional Assembly and to the Legislative Assembly.
When the coup by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) took place in 1851, Hugo then believed his life to be in danger. He fled with his family to Brussels and then to Jersey and Guernsey along the English Channel. Hugo’s partly voluntary exile was to last nearly 20 years. During this time period he wrote at Hauteville House some his best works, including Les Chatimets in 1853 and Les Miserables in 1862, which has become the epic story about social injustice.
The political upheaval that continued in France and the proclamation of the Third Republic made Hugo decide to return to France. During the time period of the Paris Commune, Hugo decided to live in Brussels, until he was expelled for sheltering defeated revolutionaries. He then moved to Luxemburg but after a short time of living as a refuge he returned to Paris and was elected senator. His later years were marred by the loss of his daughter, wife and mistress and the need to commit his daughter Adele to an insane asylum. Victor Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885 from an infection. He was given a national funeral, which was attended by two million people, and buried in the Pantheon.