Victor Hugo: The French Romantic

Posted on Jan 05, 2017

Victor Hugo is one of the most translated French writers of all time. Despite being published in the nineteenth century, his works are loved and revered by many to this day.

Victor-Marie Hugo by

The youngest of three children, Hugo was born in Besancon, France, witnessing vast political changes in the country. In his lifetime, he saw the rise of the first French Empire as well as the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Before becoming well-known for his novels, Hugo wrote poetry. His first volume, Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses, was published in 1824. At the age of twenty, he was granted a royal pension by King Louis XVIII, and he published a second collection, Odes et Ballades, only two years later. He is a huge supporter of the Romantic Movement. Romanticism emphasized emotion and individualism. Romanticists used intense emotion to evoke an authentic aesthetic experience.

Hugo, of course, is best known for his tragic novel, Les Misérables. Written in five volumes, the novel is set before the French Revolution. The novel spans from the year 1815 up until the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. The novel begins with the story of Jean Valjean, a man who escapes his parole and turns his life around to pay for his sins. This involves him adopting a child of a woman he couldn’t help, facing a policeman intent on recapturing him, and a group of young men who are eager to see change happen.

Another popular novel by Hugo is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The novel tells the story of Quasimodo, a hunchback who grows up shut away in the attic of the Notre Dame church by the archdeacon, Claude Frollo. Once he makes it outside Notre Dame, he meets a gypsy woman by the name of Esmeralda, who shows him that the world is far beyond what his master has taught him.

The abovementioned works are still Hugo’s most remembered works. For more than thirty years now, the story of Les Misérables is being retold every night on the West End stage. Cameron Mackintosh’s musical production of Les Misérables was written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and premiered in London in 1985. One year later, it was premiered on Broadway as well. It garnered three Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards. The book was adapted into a film in 1998, and the musical was adapted into a film in 2012, winning three Academy Awards.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame has also been adapted for the stage and screen. Disney created an animated film in 1996 but changed the original ending to make it more kid-friendly. Other than that, Hunchback has been adapted into an opera, a ballet, and, in 2015, a musical.


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