Biography Victor Marie Hugo

Victor Marie Hugo

photo of Victor Marie Hugo
  • Time Period1802 - 1885
  • PlaceBesancon
  • CountryFrance

Poet Biography

Born in 1802 in Besancon, Victor Hugo was an extremely profilic poet, novelist and dramatist, the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. He has been analysed, praised, described, and criticised in many, many biographies; one of the first of these was published by his wife Adèle in 1863. He deeply influenced the Romantic movement and the formulation of its values in France.

Victor's father -Joseph-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo- was an officer and a general in Napoleon's Army, and a governor of provinces in Italy and Spain. His mother raised Victor after the initial collapse of their marriage; she would rejoin her husband several times at his various posts of duty.

At an early age, Victor began to write tragedies and poetry, and to translate Virgil. At 17, he founded a literary review with his brothers, the Conservatuer Littéraire. His first collection of poems, Odes et Poésies Diverse was published in 1822, the year of his marriage to Adèle Foucher (which triggered the lifelong incarceration in a mental institution of his brother and competitor, Engène). It earned him a royal pension from Louis the eighteenth. His first novel, Han D'Islande appeared anonymously in four pocket-sized volumes (his second appeared three years later). Cromwell, his famous dramatic poem, was published in 1827.

Hugo's political stance wavered from side to side. He wrote royalist odes and cursed Napolean's memory, would then defend his father's role in Napoleon's victory, and attack the injustices of the monarchist regime. When Léopold Hugo died in 1828, Victor started to call himself a baron. In his later life, he would become involved in politics as a supporter of the republican form of government. He was elected in 1841 to the Académie Francaise; in 1845, he was made a pair de France, and sat in the Upper Chamber among the lords. When the coup by Louis-Napoléon the third took place in 1851, he believed his life to be in danger, and fled to various different places; finally to Guernsey in the English channel. His voluntary exile lasted for 20 years, until he returned to France when Napoleon III fell from power and the Republic was reclaimed. In 1876, he was elected a senator of Paris.

His lyrical style has been described as 'rich, intense and full of powerful sounds and rhythms.. although it followed the burgeois popular taste of the poeriod it also had bitter personal tones.' Verlaine describes the progression in a typical Hugo love poem as follows: 'I like you. You yield to me. I love you - You resist me. Clear off.." In 1843, Hugo's daughter Léopoldine drowned along with her husband. A decade passed before Hugo would publish anything new.

Hugo's funeral in 1885 was a national event, attended by two million people.