imageFrench poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Marie Hugo was born 26 February 1802 in Besançon, France. Hugo’s childhood was a period of national political turmoil. Napoléon was proclaimed Emperor two years after Hugo’s birth, and the Bourbon Monarchy was restored before his eighteenth birthday. The opposing political and religious views of Hugo’s parents reflected the forces that would battle for supremacy in France throughout his life. Since Hugo’s father was an officer in the army, the family moved frequently and Hugo learned much from these travels. On a childhood family trip to Naples, Hugo saw the vast Alpine passes and the snowy peaks, the magnificently blue Mediterranean, and Rome during its festivities.ugo published his first novel the year following his marriage (Han d’Islande, 1823), and his second three years later (Bug-Jargal, 1826). Between 1829 and 1840 he would publish five more volumes of poetry (Les Orientales, 1829; Les Feuilles d’automne, 1831; Les Chants du crépuscule, 1835; Les Voix intérieures, 1837; and Les Rayons et les ombres, 1840), cementing his reputation as one of the greatest elegiac and lyric poets of his time.Like many young writers of his generation, Hugo was profoundly influenced by François-René de Chateaubriand, the famous figure in the literary movement of Romanticism and France’s preeminent literary figure during the early 19th century.

In his youth, Hugo resolved to be “Chateaubriand or nothing,” and his life would come to parallel that of his predecessor in many ways. Like Chateaubriand, Hugo would further the cause of Romanticism, become involved in politics as a champion of Republicanism, and be forced into exile due to his political stances. The precocious passion and eloquence of Hugo’s early work brought success and fame at an early age. His first collection of poetry (Odes et poésies diverses) was published in 1822, when Hugo was only twenty years old, and earned him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. Though the poems were admired for their spontaneous fervor and fluency, it was the collection that followed four years later in 1826 (Odes et Ballades) that revealed Hugo to be a great poet, a natural master of lyric and creative song.

Victor Hugo’s first work appeared in 1829, entitled Le Dernier jour d’un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) it had a profound influence on later writers such as Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Claude Gueux, a documentary short story about a real-life murderer who had been executed in France, appeared in 1834, and was later considered by Hugo himself to be a precursor to his great work on social injustice, Les Misérables. Hugo’s first full-length novel would be the enormously successful Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), which was published in 1831 and quickly translated into other languages across Europe. One of the effects of the novel was to shame the City of Paris into restoring the much-neglected Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was attracting thousands of tourists who had read the popular novel. The book also inspired a renewed appreciation for pre-Renaissance buildings, which thereafter began to be actively preserved. Hugo also began planning a major novel about social misery and injustice as early as the 1830s, but it would take a full 17 years for Les Misérables to be realized and finally published in 1862.

HunchbackThe Hunchback of Notre Dame begins on Epiphany (6 January), 1482, the day of the Feast of Fools in Paris, France. Quasimodo, a deformed hunchback who is the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is introduced by his crowning as the Pope of Fools.Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy with a kind and generous heart, captures the hearts of many men, including those of Captain Phoebus and Pierre Gringoire, a poor street poet, but especially those of Quasimodo and his adoptive father, Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Frollo is torn between his obsessive love and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but the hunchback is suddenly captured by Phoebus and his guards who save Esmeralda. Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged and turned on the pillory for one hour, followed by another hour’s public exposure. He calls for water. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, offers him a drink. It saves him, and she captures his heart.

Esmeralda is later charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy after seeing him about to have sex with Esmeralda, and is tortured and sentenced to death by hanging. As she is being led to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down by the bell rope of Notre Dame and carries her off to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Frollo later informs Pierre Gringoire that the Court of Parliament has voted to remove Esmeralda’s right to sanctuary so she can no longer seek shelter in the church and will be taken from the church and killed. Clopin, a street performer, hears the news from Gringoire and rallies the Truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda.When Quasimodo sees the Truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Likewise, he thinks the King’s men want to rescue her, and tries to help them find her. She is rescued by Frollo and her phony husband Gringoire. But after yet another failed attempt to win her love, Frollo betrays Esmeralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is being hanged.When Frollo laughs during Esmeralda’s hanging, Quasimodo pushes him from the heights of Notre Dame to his death.

lesmisLes Misérables remains Hugo’s most enduringly popular work. It begins in 1815 in Digne, as the peasant Jean Valjean, is released from Toulon prison by Inspector Javert after spending 19 years imprisoned for stealing bread. Myriel The Bishop of Digne is the only person to offer the convict food and shelter, and saves his life when he is caught stealing the bishop’s silver. Valjean Promises Bishop Myriel a new start in life. Eight years later, Valjean has become a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Fantine , one of his workers, is dismissed by the foreman because of her illigitimate daughter Cossette and is forced to become a prostitute. However During an argument with an abusive customer, Javert, now a police inspector in Montreuil, arrests Fantine, but Valjean takes her to a hospital and promises a dying Fantine he will care for Cosette. After a brief confrontation with Javert, Valjean flees and pays innkeeper Madame Thénardier and her dodgy husband to take Cosette in and raise her. sadly though they mistreat Cosette while indulging their own destitute daughter Éponine.

Nine years later, Paris is in turmoil because Jean Maximilien Lamarque, the only man in the government who shows any sympathy for the poor, is nearing death. So a street urchin named Gavroche, incites the prostitutes and beggars to take action, while a student revolutionary and young firebrand named Marius Pontmercy and his friend Enjolras organize a group of idealistic students to protest against the Governments treatment of the poor. While organising the protest Marius becomes friends with the Thenardiers’ daughter, Éponine, then he meets Cosette and they fall in love. Later The Thénardiers gang are prevented from robbing Valjean and Cosettes ‘s house by Javert, who does not recognise Valjean until after he escapes. Valjean refuses to tell Cosette about his past or Fantine and decides to flee Paris with Cosette. Later, Éponine laments that her love for Marius will never be reciprocated as he joins the other students who are preparing for the upcoming conflict; while Javert briefs his soldiers as he reveals his plans to spy on the students.

With the June Rebellion underway, the students interrupt Lamarque’s funeral and begin their assault on the army. They build a barricade when Javert, disguised as one of the rebels, volunteers to “spy” on the government troops. When Javert lies that the government will attack the next morning, he is exposed as a spy. Éponine, mortally wounded, returns to the barricades and professes her love for Marius before her death. Valjean, searching for Marius in the barricades, saves Enjolras. Despite being allowed to execute Javert, Valjean tells the inspector that he is not in his debt. As the students reminisce for the night, Valjean prays to God to save Marius from the oncoming assault.Although most Parisians have abandoned the rebels, Enjolras resolves to fight on, however When Gavroche is killed, Enjolras and the students realize they could end up paying a heavy price if they resist and some escape into the sewers hotly pursued by Javert and his men

The shortest correspondence in history is said to have been between Hugo and his publisher Hurst and Blackett Following the publication of Les Misérables in 1862. Hugo was on vacation when. He queried the reaction to the work by sending a single-character telegram to his publisher, asking “?”. The publisher replied with a single “!” to indicate its success.After the success of Les Misérables Hugo turned away from social/political issues for his next novel, Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), published in 1866, which depicts Man’s battle with the sea and the horrible creatures lurking beneath its depths and this spawned an unusual fad in Paris: Squids. From squid dishes and exhibitions, to squid hats and parties, Parisians became fascinated by these unusual sea creatures, which at the time were still considered by many to be mythical. Hugo returned to political and social issues in his next novel, L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), which was published in 1869 and painted a critical picture of the aristocracy.His last novel, Quatre-vingt-treize (Ninety-Three), published in 1874, dealt with a subject that Hugo had previously avoided: the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Though Hugo’s popularity was on the decline at the time of its publication, many now consider Ninety-Three to be a work on par with Hugo’s better-known novels. Victor Hugo sadly passed away 22 May 1885 but To this day Hugo is still considered one of the most well-known French Romantic writers. In France, Hugo’s literary fame comes first from his poetry but also rests upon his novels and his dramatic achievements. Among many volumes of poetry, Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles stand particularly high in critical esteem. Outside France, his best-known works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831 (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).

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