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You are in: Guernsey > People > Profiles > Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

One of France's greatest writers and a major national and political figure in that country spent 13 years in Guernsey, where he wrote some of his most influential works.

Victor Hugo statue

The statue of Victor Hugo in Candie Gardens

Victor Hugo was born on 26 February 1802 in Besancon, France and travelled extensively as a child thanks to his father's occupation as a high ranking officer in Napoleon's army.

As an older boy he studied at the Lycée Louis-Le Grand in Paris, one of France's most demanding schools and in 1817 was honoured by the French Academy for a poem he wrote, marking the start of a writing career that still sees him revered as a poet and dramatist primarily, but also a novelist in France and around the world.

Hugo's first book, Odes et Poésies Diverses (or Miscellaneous Odes and Verses), was published in 1822, followed by his first novel, Han d'Islande (Han of Iceland), in 1823 and his first play, Cromwell, in 1827, which is credited with starting the debate between Classicism and Romanticism in France.

His 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) saw him gain a reputation as the greatest writer in France and led to his election to the French Academy in 1841.

1843 was a pivotal year for Hugo as his daughter and her husband drowned and his play Les Burgraves was not well received - this led to him focusing his work on politics and social injustice.

Following various changes of political view from Monarchist to, eventually, Republican, his political work led to his enforced exile from France after he led a failed coup against President Loius Napoleon (later Emperor Napoleon III).

His first place of exile was Brussels, in Belgium, but due to its proximity to France he was soon unofficially expelled from there and headed to Jersey where he was officially expelled in 1855 and headed to Guernsey.

Hauteville House being renovated

Hauteville House being renovated in 2009

While in Guernsey he purchased the only house he would ever own, Hauteville House, where he lived from 1856 to 1870. In his time at the house he oversaw a grand redesign of the interior which has remained in place thanks to his descendants and, since 1927, the City of Paris.

It was during his time in Guernsey that he wrote some of his most famous and most important works, including Les Miserables which has gone on to be adapted into films and even one of the world's most popular musical stage shows.

His love of Guernsey, and the inspiration it brought him, can be seen in his novel Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), which is dedicated to the people of the island and was written from his room overlooking the harbour at St Peter Port.

Inscription on the statue

An inscription on the statue

As well as these novels he also began to write more philosophical works while he lived in Guernsey and wrote even more poems, including the collection Legend of the Centuries. He also branched out into literary criticism with his essay, William Shakespeare.

Hugo was already well known when he moved to Guernsey, thanks to works like Hunchback of Notre Dame, but he also became popular among locals during his time in Guernsey and was himself very fond of the island in return.

Following the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Napolean's Empire, Hugo returned to Paris in 1870 where he re-entered the world of politics and was elected to the National Assembly but by 1876 he returned to Guernsey due to ill health, where he lived out the last years of his life before returning to Paris once more, where he died on 22 May 1885.

Hugo was given a national funeral attended by more than two million people before he was buried in the Panthéon, the burial place of many great French people.

last updated: 19/02/2009 at 15:42
created: 19/02/2009

You are in: Guernsey > People > Profiles > Victor Hugo

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