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Victor Hugo was an eminent French novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, and perhaps the most influential exponent of the Romantic movement in France. His notable works include Les Contemplations, Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris.
See the fact file below for more information on the Victor Hugo or alternatively, you can download our 25-page Victor Hugo worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Victor-Marie Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besancon, France, the third son of Sophie Trebuchet and General Joseph-Leopold-Sigisbert Hugo, who served under Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.
- Hugo’s early life revolved around constant traveling with his father and the French imperial army, and domestic conflicts that later alienated his parents from one another.
- His mother’s royalism and his father’s loyalty to the successive governments – the Convention, the Empire, the Restoration – reflected their deeper incompatibility.
- Young Victor had a difficult time traveling from Paris to set out for Elba or Naples or Madrid, yet always returning to Paris with his mother, whose royalist ideologies he initially adopted.
- It was during the fall of the empire that Victor had a time of uninterrupted study at the Pension Cordier and the Lycée Louis-le-Grand.
- He graduated from the law faculty at Paris, where his academics seemed to have been worthless and irregular.
- In the course of his studies, Hugo had ambitions other than law, as he was already writing verses, translations – particularly from Virgil – two tragedies, a play, and elegies.
- Encouraged by his mother, he founded a review, the Conservateur Litteraire, in 1819, in which his own articles on poets Alphonse de Lamartine and Andre de Chenier stood out.
- His mother died in 1821, and a year later, Victor married Adele Foucher, a childhood friend with whom he had five children.
- In the same year, he published his first book of poems entitled Odes et Poesies Diverses, whose royalist sentiments earned him a pension from Louis XVII.
- Hugo anonymously published his first novel Han d’Islande in 1823 in the form of four pocket-sized volumes. It later appeared in a Norwegian and English translation as Hans of Iceland in 1825.
- He became acquainted with journalist Charles Nodier who enthusiastically liked Hugo’s works and drew him into the Cenacle, a literary group who met regularly at the Bibliotheque de L’Arsenal. During one of their meetings, Hugo introduced a new review of modern tendencies called the Muse Francais.
- In 1824, he published a new verse collection, Nouvelles Odes, followed by an exotic romance novel Bug-Jargal (The Slave King in English) in 1826, which tells the story of friendship between a French army officer and an enslaved African prince.
- Hugo also published Odes et Ballades in 1826, an extended and a youthful edition of his prior printed verse. Three years later, he released Les Orientales, a collection of poems which appealed to the Romantic taste of Oriental locals.
- Like his contemporaries, Hugo was highly inspired and influenced by the most celebrated 19th century literary figure and Romanticist, François-René de Chateaubriand. Hugo wished to become like de Chateaubriand and advanced the cause of his literary movement.
- In the late 1820s, Hugo began to produce more mature works including Le Dernier jour d’un condamné which reflected his piercing social conscience and later influenced other prominent literary icons such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, and Charles Dickens.
- Hugo received global acclaim in 1831 when one of his major works, Notre-Dame de Paris, was released. The poignant story is set in the 15th century Paris presents a harsh criticism of a degrading society ruled by Louis XI, and revolved around the Notre Dame Cathedral and its characters, Frollo the archdeacon, Quasimodo the hunchback, and Esmeralda the gypsy girl.
- The novel reached instant success upon its publication and prompted French authorities to restore the Cathedral and other Renaissance structures. Notre-Dame was Hugo’s most celebrated work, and paved the way for his subsequent political writing.
- While Notre-Dame was being completed, Louis-Philippe was crowned constitutional king through the July Revolution. In honor of the event, Hugo composed Dicte apres juillet 1830, a poem which sparked the beginning of his political writings.
- In the course of the July Monarchy, Hugo published four books: an intimate Les Feuilles d’automne in 1831; an overtly political Les Chants du crepuscule in 1835; a philosophical Les Voix interieures in 1837; and a vivid and picturesque Les Rayons et les ombres in 1840.
- Hugo’s creativity during the July Monarchy overflowed so much that he continued to write plays which became a platform for his political and social ideas: Le Roi s’amuse (1832), Lucrézia Borgia (1833), Ruy Blas (1838), and Les Burgraves (1843).
Political Stint and Exile
- In 1841, Hugo pursued his political aspirations and was elected to the French Academy. Subsequently, he became more and more involved in French politics, supporting the Republic form of government. Louis-Philippe promoted him and made him a member of the Higher Chamber.
- After the 1848 Revolution and the establishment of the Second Republic, Hugo held office at the Parliament as a conservative.
- When Napoleon III gained power in 1851 and instituted an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo resisted and was exiled to Brussels.
- During his exile, he published two prominent political treaties against Napoleon III, Napoléon le Petit and Histoire d’un crime. Although the pamphlets were banned in France, they managed to create a strong impact there nonetheless.
- Napoleon III granted amnesty to all political exiles in 1859, but Hugo decided not to return to France until the Napoleon dynasty was removed from power. He imposed upon himself a self-exile and took refuge in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel.
- Hugo returned home to France after the fall of Napoleon III and the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870, and was soon elected to the National Assembly and the Senate.
- Thereafter, he became a founding member of the Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale.
- Hugo almost ceased to publish because of his social and political commitments, and the demise of his daughter, Léopoldine, who accidentally drowned with her husband in September 1843.
- Intense grief and loss poured out of Hugo through Les Contemplations, his purest and most moving poetry masterpiece which centers on one’s progression from infancy to death, in remembrance of Léopoldine.
- Les Contemplations reveals a tormented mind that wrestles between faith and uncertainty as it searches for meaning and purpose.
- Hugo found ultimate solace in writing a new novel, Les Miserables, published in 1862, after it had been set aside for almost 17 years and then resumed.
- Les Miserables became the most important novel of Hugo’s literary career as it explored social misery and injustice through the eyes of Jean Valjean, a victim who has been wrongly convicted for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.
- The novel solidified not only Hugo’s concern for the socially disadvantaged, but also his place in the literary world as it reached overwhelming success locally and internationally.
Last Years and Legacy
- Hugo’s triumphs and trials of his last years had aged him, and there were more to come: he lost his wife in 1868, one son in 1871, and another one in 1873.
- Years later, in 1878, he was afflicted by cerebral congestion, but he continued to survive it for some years.
- Hugo died of pneumonia in 1885 and was honored with a national funeral. His body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe and was buried in the Panthéon.
- The recognition of Hugo as a great poet at the time of his death was followed by a period of critical neglect. A few of his poems were remembered, and Les Misérables continued to be widely read.
- The generosity of his ideas and the warmth of their expression still moved the public mind, for Hugo was a poet of the common man and knew how to write with simplicity and power of common joys and sorrows.
Victor Hugo Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Victor Hugo across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Victor Hugo worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Victor Hugo who was an eminent French novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, and perhaps the most influential exponent of the Romantic movement in France. His notable works include Les Contemplations, Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Following Hugo’s Steps
- Hugo the Great
- Judge by the Cover
- Hugo and Friends
- A Poem for the Poet
- The Romantics
- What Victor Said
- Learn Français
- L’Artiste de Notre Dame
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Use With Any Curriculum
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