Portrait of Victor Hugo by Etienne Carjat, in 1873

Born in 1802, Victor Hugo became a social writer, a playwright, a poet, a novelist and a romantic designer. Nicknamed the man-ocean then the man-century, he is a political figure and a committed intellectual. He found success with Notre-Dame-de-Paris in 1831 and with Les Misérables in 1862.

After Notre-Dame-de-Paris, which established him as a romantic writer, Victor Hugo moved in 1832 to the Rohan-Guéméné hotel on Place des Vosges, formerly called Place Royale. He is the most famous inhabitant of the Marais in the 280th century, the site where he lived for sixteen years. In this 2mXNUMX mansion which has become a museum, he will give literary evenings attended by Théophile Gaultier, Lamartine, Dumas, Mérimée and even David d'Angers.

Portrait of Victor Hugo by Nadar (circa 1884)

A few streets away, rue Sainte-Anastase lives his muse and mistress Juliette Drouet with whom he maintained a passion for fifty years. He wrote to her: “I was dead, I am alive, you are the blood of my heart, the clarity of my eyes, the life of my life, the soul of my soul. To me, you are more than myself.” Married to Adèle-Adélaïde Foucher, with whom he had four children, he lost the eldest, still an infant.

At the Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis church, he celebrated the marriage of his daughter Léopoldine to Charles Vacquerie, on February 14, 1843. As thanks, he offered the church two pearly fonts in the shape of a shell. In the company of Juliette, he learns of the death by drowning of Léopoldine, “Didine”, six months after the wedding, in Villequier (Seine Inférieure). Second mourning.

He then becomes a follower of spiritualism and rotating tables. Shortly after, Claire, the daughter that Juliette Drouet had with the sculptor James Pradier, died at the age of 20. Victor and Juliette face their sorrows together. However, Victor Hugo ceased all publication for ten years except his literary production. “When We All Lived Together” was written in 1844.

Juliette Drouet lithographed by Alphonse-Léon Noël, 1832

It took Bonaparte's coup d'état for him to take up his pen again and publish “Napoléon le petit” (1852) and “Les châtiments” (1853). Without forgetting the poems in memory of his daughter. “Tomorrow, at dawn” etc. Less known, his great parliamentary speech “Destroying poverty”, on July 9, 1849. He denounced the working conditions of children and the cruelty towards convicts.

Very involved in public debate, he was a parliamentarian under the July Monarchy and under the 2nd and 3rd Republic. Sensitive to poverty, he speaks out in favor of certain social advances and campaigns against the death penalty and slavery. Defender of democracy, he supports the idea of ​​a unified Europe.

In 1870 during the siege of Paris, he feared for his life and wrote to his children, speaking of Juliette: “her soul has never left mine. May those who loved me love him. May those who respected me respect her. She is my widow.” He went into exile for twenty years in Jersey then Guernsey under the Second Empire.

Juliette died in 1883, his entourage dissuaded him from attending the funeral. He followed her to the tomb two years later and left behind an abundant correspondence, four thousand ink drawings, talents as a photographer and interior decorator. But above all, the memory of an extraordinary love.

Text: Valérie Rodrigue

02.05.24

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