A novelist, poet
, and dramaticist of the nineteenth century who embodied the ideal
s of the Romantic
era in his work. According to one of his greatest admirer
s, Ayn Rand
, "Romantic literature
did not come into existence
until the nineteenth century
, when men's life
was politically freer than in any other period of history
, and when Western culture
was still reflecting a predominantly Aristotelian
influence - the conviction that man's mind
to deal with reality
... The nineteenth century saw both the start and the culmination of an illustrious
line of great Romantic novelist
s. And the greatest of these was Victor Hugo ..." (Rand, The Romantic Manifesto
Victor Marie Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besançon, France to General Count Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo and Sophie Hugo. After his parents' separation shortly after his birth, he attended the lycée Louis-le Grand in Paris from the age of 13 until he was 16. He received training as a lawyer, but desired instead to be a writer. At this young age, he began to demonstrate a remarkable talent for writing and was honored by the French Academy for a poem he wrote in 1817. In addition to writing poetry, he founded and edited a literary journal called Conservateur Littéraire. He wrote his first book shortly thereafter, in 1822.
In the 1820's, Hugo married Adèle Foucher, whose father was an officer in the French ministry. He continued to publish during this period in his life. In the foreward to his play Cromwell, written in 1827, he wrote about the importance of being free from traditional restrictions which began the debate between French Classicism and Romanticism. Hugo became a leader in the school of Romantic writers. With the publication of his play Hernani in 1830, his fame began to grow and eventually he earned an election to the French Academy in 1841. During this period in his life, Hugo wrote several collections of lyric poetry, said to be inspired by Juliette Drouet, with whom he had an affair until her death 1833.
Two years after his election, his daughter, Léopoldine and her husband drowned. Hugo removed himself from the public life after this and did not write for an extended amount of time. After this period, he returned to politics. When the French Revolution came about in 1848, Hugo associated himself with the Republicans, advocating justice in French society. In 1851, Hugo fled to Belgium where he lived in exile for 20 years. He wrote several pieces during this time, including possibly his best known work, Les Misérables which was published in 1862.
After the collapse of the Second Republic in 1870, Hugo returned to France. He resumed his earlier involvment in politics and was elected to the National Assembly. He became a senator in 1876. He died on May 22, 1885. His funeral drew over two million people and was buried in the Panthéon.
Work in Exile:
Victor Hugo studied pacifist ideas and believed that man could triumph beyond times of war. A particularly excellent example of this can be seen in a speech he delivered to the International Peace Congress held in Paris in 1851. From that speech:
A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.
A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!
A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together to reap the well-being of all.
Henceforth the goal of great politics, of true politics, is this: the recognition of all nationalities, the restoration of the historical unity of nations and the uniting of the latter to civilization by peace, the relentless enlargement of the civilized group, the setting of an example to the still-savage nations; in short, and this recapitulates all I have said, the assurance that justice will have the last word, spoken in the past by might.
Hugo creates worlds of heros and their triumph over crisis. His characters are extraordinary individuals, as evidenced by their success in times of the revolution Hugo offers as the setting for his novels. Says Ayn Rand, " ... every event is an instance of man's violent, tortured, agonized, yet triumphant dedication to his values ... this is what gives a beggar the stature of a giant, this absense of blind irrationality and stupurous, unfocused drifting; this is the hallmark of all of Hugo's characters; it is also the hallmark of human self-esteem." (Rand, The Romantic Manifesto, 157, 160)