Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in Besancon, France, on 26th February, 1802. The son of a general, Hugo was educated in Paris and Madrid. Although trained as a lawyer, Hugo wanted to be a writer and as well as producing poems and plays, he founded and edited a literary journal Conservateur Littéraire (1819-21).

Hugo's first book of poems, Odes et Ballades, was published in 1822. This was followed by Han d'Islande (1823), Nouvelles Odes (1824), Bug-Jagal (1824) and a second set of Odes et Ballades (1826).

Hugo political beliefs became increasingly more radical and in 1827 he published the verse drama, Cromwell. In the play's long preface, Hugo argued that literature should deal with the contradictions of human existence. This was followed by Orientales (1828), The Last Days of a Condemned (1829), a protest novel about capital punishment, and Hernani (1830), a play about an outlaw in conflict with society.

In 1831 Hugo published his novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831). Set in medieval Paris, the book's central character, Quasimodo, captured the public's imagination and the book became a great success. Over the next few years Hugo wrote several plays including The King's Fool (1832), Angelo, Tyrant of Padua (1835) and Ruy Blas (1838). He also published four books of poems: Autumn Leaves (1831), Songs of Twilight (1835), Inner Voices (1837) and Sunlight and Shadows (1840).

Hugo's became increasingly involved in republican politics and after the 1848 Revolution he was elected a deputy for Paris in the Constituent Assembly. Hugo became interested in the philosophy of pacifism and in 1851 took part in the International Peace Congress in Paris where he called for the creation of a United States of Europe. Hugo was also a member of the Legislative Assembly but was forced to flee the country in 1852 after Emperor Napoleon III gained power.

Hugo lived in Brussels for a year before moving to the island of Jersey in the English Channel. Expelled from Jersey in 1855, Hugo went to live on the neighbouring island of Guernsey.

In exile Hugo produced Napoléon le Petit (1852), Les Châtiments (1853), Les Contemplations (1856) and the extremely popular novel, Les Misérables (1862), a story of a man who has been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

Hugo's later works included the essay, William Shakespeare (1864) and three novels, The Toilers of the Sea (1866), The Man Who Laughs (1869) and Ninety-Three (1874).

Victor Hugo died in Paris on 22nd May, 1885.

Primary Sources

(1) Victor Hugo, speech made at the International Peace Congress held in Paris in 1851.

Gentlemen, if someone four centuries ago, at a time when war raged from parish to parish, from parish to parish, from town to town, from province - if someone had said to Lorraine, to Picardy, to Normandy, to Brittany, to Auvergne, to Province, to Dauphine, to Burgundy, 'A day will come when you will no longer wage war, when you will no longer raise men of arms against each other, when it will no longer raise men of arms against each other, when it will no longer be said that Normans have attacked the men of Picardy, and the men of Lorraine have driven back those of Burgundy; that you will still have differences to settle, interests to discuss, certainly disputes to solve, but do you know what you will have in place of men on foot and horseback, in place of guns, falconets, spears, pikes, and swords? You will have a small box made of wood, which you will call a ballot box. And do you know what this box will bring forth? An assembly, an assembly in which you will all feel you live, an assembly which will be like your own soul, a supreme and popular council which will decide, judge, and solve everything in law, which will cause the sword to fall from every hand and justice to rise in every heart. And this event will say to you, 'There ends your right, here begins your duty. Lay down your arms! Live in peace!"

On that day you will be conscious of a common thought, common interests, and a common destiny. You will clasp each other's hands and you will acknowledge that you are sons of the same blood and the same race. On that day you will no longer be hostile tribes, but a nation. You will no longer be Burgundy, Normandy, Brittany, Provence, you will be France. On that day your name will no longer be war, but civilization.

Well, you say today - and I am one of those who say it with you - all of us here, we say to France, to England, to Prussia, to Austria, to Spain, to Italy, to Russia, we say to them, 'A day will come when your weapons will fall from your hands, a day when war will seem absurd and be as impossible between Paris and London, St. Petersburg and Berlin, Vienna and Turin, as today it would seem impossible between Rouen and Amiens, Boston and Philadelphia.

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 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.