Victor Hugo Biography

Victor-Marie Hugo VICTOR MARIE HUGO was born in Basancon, February 26, 1802. His father was a military officer, hence in childhood Victor was not settled in any one locality, but was carried to Elba, Corsica, Switzerland, and Italy.

In his seventh year he was taken to Paris, where his mother and an old priest superintended his education, and where he commenced his classical studies in company with an elder brother, Eugene, and a young girl who afterward became his wife. In 1811, his father having been made general and appointed major-domo of Joseph Bonaparte, the new king of Spain, Victor went to Madrid, and entered the seminary of nobles with a view of becoming one of the pages of Joseph; but subsequent events defeated this design.

In 1812, Victor Hugo returned to Paris, where her sons continued their classical studies. When the empire fell, the general and his wife parted, and the former took charge of the education of Victor. He was placed in a private academy that he might prepare himself for the school of polytechnics. He showed considerable mathematical ability, but his strong inclinations were toward poetry. His first poem gave such excellent promise that his father decided to prepare him for a literary life.

In 1817 he presented to the French academy a poem upon Les Avantages de l'Etude. Afterward he won three prizes in succession at Toulouse academy of floral games. In 1822 he published his first volume of Odes et Ballades, which created a decided sensation. In 1823 he published a novel entitled Han d'Islande, and in 1825, Bug-Jargal. These two novels took rank among the best writings of the time, and at once presented Victor Hugo as an original and forcible prose writer. In 1826 he published a second volume of Odes et Ballades.

He contemplated starting a new school of literature in France. For this purpose Hugo, in company with others, formed a literary circle called the Cenacle, in which they were to discuss new artistic and literary doctrines. For the purpose of carrying into effect their plans, they started a literary periodical called La Muse Francaise. This journal attracted no particular attention. In 1827, the drama of Cromwell was performed as a specimen of the literary reforms aimed at by the new school. From this date Victor Hugo was acknowledged as the leader of the French literary school known as the Romanticists, and he waged a relentless warfare against the opposite school known as the Classicists. His victory was complete. At the age of twenty-five he was acknowledged as master in French poetry and prose.

In 1828, his fame was greatly enhanced by the publication of Les Orientales. Le jour d'un Condamne which followed, fascinated the public; its vivid delineations of the mental tortures of a man doomed to execution. For the next twelve or thirteen years, Hugo produced a literary cyclone in France, that carried everything before it. Dramas, poems and miscellaneous writings poured from his pen in perfect torrents. The contest between the two schools of literature reached its climax in 1830, when the drama of Hernani was produced at the Theatre Francais. In 1831, he published Marion Delorme, another dramatical triumph, also lyrical poems, and a novel entitled Notre Dame de Paris. His reputation had become so great that he was elected to the French academy in 1841, although the old classic school opposed him. Thus, having reached the highest distinction in literature, he turned his attention to politics. His political aspirations were gratified by his being made a member of the Legion of Honor, and created a peer of France in 1845.

On the revolution of 1848, he was elected a deputy to the constituent assembly, where he generally voted with the conservative party. On his re-election, he showed greater democratic tendencies, and in strong speeches denounced the action of the majority. He also opposed the secret policy of resident Louis Napoleon. When Napoleon declared himself king of France, Hugo boldly asserted the rights of the assembly, and sought to reserve the constitution. This action led to his proscription. Taking refuge in the island of Jersey he resumed his pen. However, he kept up his opposition to Louis Napoleon. In 1852, Hugo made a bitter attack upon the ruler in his Napoleon le Petit; and in 1853, in a fierce satire entitled Les Chatiments. Hostile movements caused him to remove to the island of Guernsey for two years. The general amnesty offered to political exiles in 59 he refused to accept. In 1856, Hugo published Les Contemplations, collection of lyrical and personal poems; in 1859, Les Legende des Siecles, two volumes, being a series of poems mainly of an epic character. In 1862, Les Miserables appeared in nine different languages. The success of this romance was fully equal to that of any of his former works. We think this work should be in every popular library.

Passing over some of his writings, which were fully up to standard of excellence, we will note that in 1869, he again refused to return to France upon the emperor's amnesty proclamation. When the empire fell and the republic was proclaimed, that prince of French writers and staunch friend of the people, Victor M. Hugo, returned to his own country. In 1871, he was elected to the national assembly. He opposed the parliamentary treaty of peace between France and Germany with so much earnestness as to arouse the anger of the party of the right. When he attempted to address the assembly the opposition was so violent that he left the tribune and resigned his seat. Leaving France, he went to Brussels, but his bold movements there soon led the Belgian government to order him to leave. He next went to London, where he remained till the condemnation of the commune leaders. In 1872, he published a volume of poetry entitled L' Annee Terrible, depicting the misfortunes of France; and also, in company with his son, started a democratic journal. In 1874 his novel, Quatre-vingt-treize, was published simultaneously in several different languages. Two of his sons, Charles and Victor, have become prominent in literature.

Victor Hugo was a tireless worker, having recently finished his one-hundredth publication. He is said to have kept two secretaries busy writing while he dictated. When the hour came for him to commence his literary task for the day, he commenced walking around in the room, his head slightly elevated, and his eyes looking upward in an angle of about forty-five degrees. Under these circumstances he dictated the matter and language of his works, while his secretaries wrote down the sentences as they fell from his lips.

He died August 22, 1885, and was given a public funeral and burial. He was 83 years old on his last birthday, the 26th of February.

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