Victor-Marie Hugo

Portrait of Victor-Marie Hugo

Victor-Marie Hugo was a French poet, playwright, novelist and statesman and is considered to be amongst the greatest of French writers. He was born in Besancon, France on 26th February 1802 and died in Paris on 22nd May 1885 aged 83.

Major Works

Cromwell” (1827)
“Notre-Dame de Paris” (1831) 
“Contemplations” (1856) 
“Les Misérables”
 (1862) 

Biography Timeline

Victor-Marie Hugo was born on 26th February 1802 in Besancon, France. His father was Joseph Leopold Sigisbert Hugo a general in the Napoleonic army. His mother was the painter Sophie Trebuchet. Victor was the youngest of three sons.

1803: His mother Sophie temporarily separated from Léopold as she was weary of the constant moving of military life. She settles in Paris with her sons and begins a relationship with General Victor Fanneau de la Horie, Victor’s Godfather.

1807: In October the family rejoins his father, now a Colonel, in Southern Italy only to find that he has been living in secret with an Englishwoman called Catherine Thomas. Hugo is taught mathematics by Giuseppe de Samuele Cagnazzi, an Italian politician from Naples. 

1808: His father moves to Spain to fight in the Peninsula War and the family return to Paris.

1810: His father is made Count Hugo de Cogolludo y Sigüenza by Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain.

1811: The family move to Spain and Hugo and his brothers go to the Real Colegio de San Antonio de Abadschool in Madrid. His mother, now officially separated, returns to Paris.

1815: In February the sons are removed from their mother’s care by their father and sent to a private boarding school in Paris, the Pension Cordier. They also go to lectures at the Lycée Louis-Le Grand.

1816: He is influenced by the writings of Francoise-Rene de Chateaubriand and writes in his diary on 10th July “I will be “Chateaubriand or nothing”.

1817 He wins an honourable mention in a national poetry competition sponsored by the Academie Francaise who were surprised he was only fifteen. 

1818: He moves in with his mother when he starts at Law School. He becomes engaged to Adele Foucher against his mother’s wishes.

1819: He and his brothers begin publishing the journal “Le Conservateur Littéraire.”

1821: His mother dies in June and his father marries Catherine Thomas a month later. 

1822: His first book, “Odes et Poésies Diverses” (Miscellaneous Odes and Verses) is published and earns him a yearly pension from King Louis the Eighteenth. In October he marries Adele Foucher.

1823: His first novel, “Han d’Islande” (Han of Iceland) is published. His son Léopold-Victor is born but dies in infancy.

1824: On 28th August his daughter Leopoldine is born.

1826: Odes et Ballades” (Odes and Ballads) and his novel Bug-Jargal” are published. His son Charles is born on 4th November. 

1827: His play Cromwell” is published which he states is free from classical restrictions and Hugo becomes the figurehead of the Romantic literary movement.

1828: On 28th October his son Francoise-Victor is born.

1829: In February his first mature work of fiction. “Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamne” (The Last Day of the Condemned Man) is published without the author’s name attached. His collection of poetry “Les Orientales” is also published.

1830: His play “Hernani” is published and proves very popular at the Comedie Francaise in Paris and makes him very rich. The first performances are greeted by rioting between romantics and traditionalists in the audience (Théophile Gautier and Nerval are in the audience supporting him). His daughter Adele is born on 28th July.

1831: His novel “Notre-Dame de Paris” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) is published which further cements his reputation and it is translated into many other languages. He publishes the poetry collection “Les Feuilles d’Automne” (The Leaves of Autumn) and begins writing the play “Marion Delorme”.

1832: His play “Le Roi S’Amuse” (The King has Fun) is first performed on 22nd November but is banned by the government after one performance. It will later be used by Giuseppe Verdi in his 1851 opera “Rigoletto”.

1833: The actress Juliette Drouet becomes his mistress, his secretary and travelling companion for the next fifty years.

1834: His short story “Claude Gueux” is published about a real-life murderer who had been executed in France.

1835: His poetry collection “Les Chants du Crepuscule” (Songs of Twilight) is published.

1837: His poetry collection “Les Voix Interieures” (Inner Voices) is published.

1838: His play “Ruy Blas” is published.

1840: His poetry collection “Les Rayons et les Ombres” (Beams and Shadows) is published.

1841: He is finally elected to the Academie Francaise at his third attempt.

1843: His daughter Léopoldine and her new husband are drowned in a boating accident on the River Seine on 4th September. Hugo finds out about the event by reading about it in a newspaper in a café and is devastated. His next play “Les Burgraves” is a failure.

1845: On 13th April Hugo is made a peer by King Louis Philippe and later calls himself “Vicomte Victor Hugo”. He enters the upper chamber of Parliament and begins to speak on social issues such as the removal of the death penalty, freedom of the press and self-government for Poland.

1848: After the 1848 Revolution Hugo is elected to the French National Assembly of the Second Republic as a conservative. Drawing becomes his main artistic output until 1851.

1849: He breaks with the conservatives after a speech calling for the end of misery and poverty. He goes on to demand universal suffrage and free education for all children. At the International Peace Congress in Paris he outlines his vision of a United States of Europe. He attends the funeral of Frederic Chopin whom he had been introduced to by George Sand. Although reasonably talented at music he wasn’t proficient but was friends with other greats of the day including Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt.

1851: He flees to Brussels to avoid execution after trying to rally the workers in an unsuccessful revolt against President Louis Napoleon (soon to be Emperor Napoleon the Third) whom he had described as a traitor to France. He publishes several pamphlets against Napoleon the Third and writes to the American abolitionist Maria Weston Chapman that slavery in the United States of America must end.

1852: The Belgian government are concerned that Hugo’s political statements would adversely affect relationships between them and France and so he had to move once again, this time to Jersey in the Channel Islands. He publishes “Napoléon Le Petit” (The Little Napoleon) in French from London.

1853: He publishes his poetry book “Les Chatiments” (The Punishments).

1855: Queen Victoria of Britain visits Paris and a satirical article about it is published in a London newspaper by French exiles. This is referred to in another newspaper in Jersey by Hugo and two others and the three of them are expelled from the Island. He moves on to live with a family at Hauteville House in Saint Peter Port in Guernsey at the end of October.

1856: His book of poetry Les Contemplations” is published and the proceeds from this allow him to buy the house in St Peter Port.

1859: “La Legende des Siecles” (Legend of the Ages) poetry anthology is published. He writes to the United States government to spare the life of the abolitionist John Brown. Emperor Napoleon the Third grants amnesty to all political exiles but Hugo declines to return to France.

1862: One of his most famous novels Les Misérables” is published concerning social injustice in 19th century France.

1866: His next novel “Les Travailleurs de la Mer” (Toilers of the Sea) is published about a man who attempts to win approval from his father by rescuing him from his ship marooned by its captain. Although it is well received it doesn’t sell as many copies as “Les Misérables”. 

1868: His wife Adèle dies and Hugo is unable to attend her funeral in Villequier, France.

1869: His next novel is “L’Homme Qui Rit” (The Man Who Laughs) is published in April and criticises the aristocracy. He also publishes “Torquemada” a play about the Spanish Inquisition.

1870: On 14th July he plants the “Oak of the United States of Europe” in his garden at Hauteville House. During the Franco-Prussian War he makes a return to Paris. Food is scarce and he famously eats animals given to him by the Paris Zoo. Napoleon the Third is deposed and the Third Republic is proclaimed in September. Hugo is again elected to the National Assembly and the Senate.

1871: He visits Brussels in March and on 27th May the Belgian newspaper “l’Indépendance” denounces the government’s refusal to grant political asylum to the Communards threatened with imprisonment or execution. A mob force their way into his house threatening to kill him.

1872: He loses his re-election to the National Assembly.

1874: His last novel, “Quatre-Vingt-Treize” (Ninety-Three) is published about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

1876: On 30th January Hugo is re-elected to the Senate, but poor health means he returns to Guernsey. He writes “Pour Le Serbie” (For Serbia) in his son’s newspaper “Le Rappel”.

1878: “Le Pape” (The Pope) is his political tract supporting Christianity but objecting to the rigid doctrines of the Catholic church.

1879: On 18th May he delivers a speech during a celebration on the abolition of slavery declaring that the Mediterranean Sea forms a natural divide between “ultimate civilisation and utter barbarism”.

1880: He writes “Religions and Religion” denying the usefulness of churches. (published posthumously).

1881: National celebrations of Hugo’s life begin on 25th June and on 27th a massive parade through the streets of Paris is held. On 28th June, Paris changes the name of the Avenue d’Eylau to Avenue Victor Hugo.

1883: His mistress, Juliette Drouet dies.

1885: In May a newspaper confirms that he is dying.

Victor-Marie Hugo died on 22nd May 1885 of pneumonia in Paris. After lying in state at the Arc de Triomphe he is given a state funeral, (described as “a veritable orgy of bad taste” by Friedrich Nietzsche) at which over two million people attend. He was buried in the Pantheon in Paris.

Further Information

Chronological list of the works of Hugo.