Victor Hugo – French notable author whose best-known works are Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) (1831), Ruy Blas (1838) and Les Misérables (1862), which is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. Hugo became the figurehead of the romantic literary movement. And he not only loved cats, but the first animal protection law was made thanks to him.
Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802, in Besançon, France. His father, Joseph Léopold Hugo, was a high-ranking officer in Napoleon’s army and his mother, Sophie Hugo was a Catholic Royalist.
Since Hugo’s father was an officer, the family moved frequently and Hugo learned much from these travels. Though he was only five years old at the time, he remembered the six-month-long trip vividly – the vast Alpine passes and the snowy peaks, the magnificently blue Mediterranean, and Rome during its festivities.
Hugo studied law between 1815 and 1818, though he never committed himself to legal practice. Encouraged by his mother, Hugo embarked on a career in literature. Hugo’s innovative brand of Romanticism developed over the first decade of his career.
Hugo and a Cat
A vignette of Chanoineugo’s cat in the first edition became the frontispiece of the de luxe editions (above) with a note in Hugo’s hand quoting Joseph Méry’s dictum
God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger.
In 1850, by the support of Hugo, the Grammont Law, the first French law regarding the protection of animals was formulated.
quotations about animals
Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)
In 1831, he published one of his most enduring works, Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Set in the medieval period, the novel presents a harsh criticism of the society that degrades and shuns the hunchback, Quasimodo.
The book 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.
Ruy Blas is a tragic drama which is considered to be the Hugo’s best drama opened in 1838. It was the first play presented at the Théâtre de la Renaissance.
The story centers around a practical joke played on Queen Maria de Neubourg, by Don Salluste de Bazan, in revenge for being scorned by her.
Well over one thousand musical compositions have been inspired by Hugo’s works from the 19th century until the present day. More than one hundred operas are based on Hugo’s works.
Hugo himself liked music very much, especially Gluck, Weber and Beethoven.
The novel Les Misérables, was finally published in 1862 after a full 17 years of preparing. Hugo began planning to write a major novel about social misery and injustice as early as the 1830s.
He was on vacation when Les Misérables was published.
Hugo 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.
As the publisher told Hugo, the book was an immediate success in Europe and the United States. Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, the main character in the novel became one of the famous characters in the world.
Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil. Later reinterpreted as a theatrical musical and a film, Les Misérables remains one of the best-known works of the 19th-century literature.
Hugo’s novels as well as his plays have been a great source of inspiration for musicians, stirring them to create not only opera and ballet but musical theatre such as Notre-Dame de Paris and this ever-popular Les Misérables, London West End’s longest running musical.
Hugo’s religious views changed radically over the course of his life. In his youth and under the influence of his mother, he identified as a Catholic and professed respect for Church hierarchy and authority.
From there he became a non-practicing Catholic and increasingly expressed anti-Catholic and anti-clerical views.
After 1872, Hugo never lost his antipathy towards the Catholic Church. He felt the Church was indifferent to the plight of the working class under the oppression of the monarchy.
When his sons died, Hugo insisted that they would be buried without a crucifix or priest and wished the same for himself in his will.
Hugo died in 1885, received a hero’s funeral.
It’s the last year the Statue of Liberty was in Paris. It’s designed by a French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and it was dedicated to the American people in honor of their independence in 1886.
The statue became an icon of freedom and of the United States and was a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad.
A census-taker asked Hugo in 1872 Hugo if he was a Catholic, and he replied,
No. A Freethinker. His freethinking spirit remains not just in France, but all around the world just as the Lady Liberty was meant to enlighten the world.
Also published on Medium.