FOCUS ON: Hugo, Victor
Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besançon, France. He was a poet, novelist, and
dramatist and the most important French Romantic writer of the 19th Century.
His mother raised him. His father a general in Napoleon's army was absent for most of his life.
When his mother died in 1821, Hugo even refused to accept financial help from his father. He lived in
abject poverty for a year, but then won a pension of 1,000 francs a year from Louis XVIII for his first
volume of verse.
In 1822, he married Adèle Foucher, who became the mother of his four children.
His first work of importance, "Hernani" (1830), made him famous and established him as a writer of some
importance. This was followed in 1831 by "Notre-Dame de Paris" (Hunchback of Notre-Dame). In
1843, Hugo decided to focus on the growing social problems in France. He was joined in his increasing
interest in politics by a number of other Romantic writers, marking the beginning of the
realistic-naturalistic era in French literature. In 1851, after a failed attempt by students to
reestablish the Republic, fearing for his life, he escaped to Brussels and finally made his way to the
islands of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel. He remained there in exile for 10 years. It is
during this period that he published "Les Misérables".
After the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Empire in 1870, Hugo made a triumphant return to
Paris. He continued to be active in both the arts and politics and even became a member of the Senate.
He died in 1885 at the age of eighty-three. Although he left instructions that his funeral be
simple, over 3 million mourners followed his cortege to the Pantheon, where he was buried with great
honor amid France's great men.
Hugo created poems and novels that integrated political and philosophical questions with stories of
his times. Many of Hugo's poems addressed the social disquiet of post-revolutionary France. He wrote
with simplicity and power of the joys and sorrows of life. Hugo authored an enormous body of work.
A recurring theme in Hugo's work is humanity's ceaseless combat with evil. He eloquently stated the
problems of his century and the great eternal human questions. Modern readers are still captured by the
larger than life characters and re-creation of the swarming underworld of 19th century Paris found in