On this day, in 1802, Victor Hugo was born, in Besançon, France. His father was a military officer who later served under Napoleon as a general. Victor’s father encouraged his son to admire Napoleon as a hero.
Victor studied law, but never actually practiced it. Instead, his mother encouraged him to go into literature. Mothers often seem to acknowledge the talents of their children and prod them into following their dreams. By this time, Victor’s parents were separated, so his mother was able to influence her son in this direction.
The fact of his parents’ separation undoubtedly had to do with their political differences along with a little hanky panky going on with his mother. Victor’s father was a free thinking Republican military follower of Napoleon while his mother was Catholic Royalist who was intimately involved with her possible lover General Victor Lahorie, who was executed in 1812 for plotting against Napoleon.
Victor became one of the most important authors of the French Romantic Period with his poetry, novels and plays – the most well known being The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables.
By the 1840s he was one of the most celebrated literary figures in France.
His eldest and favorite daughter, Léopoldine, drowned in a boating accident in 1843. Her husband also died while trying to save her. Victor was devastated and wrote the following poem:
Alas! turning an envious eye towards the past,
inconsolable by anything on earth,
I keep looking at that moment of my life
when I saw her open her wings and fly away!
I will see that instant until I die,
that instant—too much for tears!
when I cried out: “The child that I had just now—
what! I don’t have her any more!”
Like most dramatists, he used what he had experienced in life to create masterpieces of literature. The best authors write what we know. He had experienced war, death, politics, music, the law and conflict of many kinds. He took all of that experience and wrote his most astounding works.
His interest in political life led him to fight for democracy in France as well. He was a firm believer in liberty, equality and fraternity. When he was 75 he made this statement:
“I am not one of these sweet-tempered old men. I am still exasperated and violent. I shout and I feel indignant and I cry. Woe to anyone who harms France! I do declare I will die a fanatic patriot.”
Les Misérables was not completed until 1862, almost twenty years after his daughter’s death. Hugo felt this was the pinnacle of his career as a writer. This work along with many of his other plays and poems have become the inspiration for musicians. The passionate story lines and deep emotional fervor is meant to be turned into music.
On May 20, 1885, Victor Hugo died of pneumonia. He requested a pauper’s funeral, but instead was honored by the state and his funeral procession included more than two million mourners.
Happy birthday, Victor Hugo. You have enriched our lives beyond compare with your words.