Born on the 26 February 1802, amidst the political aftermath of the French Revolution and the battle between Republicanism, the Bourbon monarchy and the Imperial ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte, Victor Marie Hugo became one of France’s greatest poets and, in the international arena of Romantic literature and ideology, a novelist possessed of immense influence and stature.
Where his father, Joseph Leopold Sigisbert Hugo, was a free-thinking Republican, his mother, Sophie Trebouchet, was a devout Catholic. His writings tackle the truths and corruptions of these two opposing worlds of his earliest exposure.
Hugo is probably best known in the United Kingdom for his dramatically epic works - Les Miserables (1862) and Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 1831).
During politically turbulent years he was married to one Adele Foucher with whom he had five children; three dying in tragic circumstances before his own demise and one, a daughter who was committed to an asylum. Whether it were these devastations that led him to seek long term solace in the company of two mistresses or a particular sense of entitlement to sexual profligacy that belonged to the Romantic ideal of ‘free love’, Hugo remained committed to a marriage that would last for more than forty years. His grief was unquestionably profound and informed much of his later work with characteristic melancholy.
Despite his later, great antipathy towards the Catholic Church, he nonetheless maintained and was imbued by a religiosity of feeling that vacillated between Spiritism and the rationalist deism espoused by Voltaire: famous for his criticism of Christianity. Could we determine in this premise, perhaps, the underlying influence portrayed by the character Dom Claude Frollo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame?
The socio/political perspective he challenges his reader to confront of the abuse of power, patriarchy, injustice and exclusion are sublimated in a poetical seduction of richly metaphoric and textured language. It is in the beauty of his language that he divests, quite often, the double meaning and innuendo of his texts. The complex allure of Hugo’s themes conquers our truths, our contemplations and our hearts.
Victor Hugo died on the 22nd of May 1885.