A Blupete Biography Page

The Hugo Family, Part 3
Adele Hugo

Victor Marie Hugo was born in 1802 at Besancon, located in the Bourgogne area of France, 60 kilometers from the border with Switzerland. Victor, the son of a French general in Napoleon's army, was, as a child, not settled in anyone place; he was carried to Elba, Corsica, Switzerland, and Italy; and the lives of his parents were filled with "a constant succession of reconciliations and separations,"9 such that young Victor led a "childhood of restless wandering for himself." Victor's elementary education came to him in the form of an old priest, at Paris. He was in a class of three: he and his older brother Eugene, and another, a young girl. The young girl, Adele Foucher, was unrelated to the Hugo family; she was a pretty charge which the old priest had taken on as a favor; she was to be the future wife of Victor Hugo. Victor found the young girl's favor early and an engagement was announced in 1819, an announcement which left Eugene a different man.

Years later Hugo recalled when he first professed his love for her:

"Do you remember, Adele, it was on the twenty-sixth of April, 1819, one evening as I sat at your feet, that you asked me to tell you my greatest secret ... And then I confessed trembling that I loved you; and after your reply, my Adele, I had the courage of a lion ..."
After the passage of a respectable period of time, in 1821, Victor and Adele were married10; and all this time the spurned Eugene, brooded. "In the midst of the wedding feast a man rushed in with an axe and made straight for the bridegroom. They barely managed to pin him down."11 Adele's school chum, Victor's brother, Eugene, having sprung loose, had gone berserk.12

After Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo, Victor's father, Leopold, a general, spent more time with his sons and lent a direct hand in the raising of the boys -- the general's wife having taken her exit from the marriage. Though it is thought that his father would have preferred to see his son go off to "the school of polytechnics" it was soon obvious to every one that Victor was bound to lead a literary life. He started writing at the age of fourteen.

Victor Hugo had four children who survived to adulthood: two boys and two girls. There was Charles (1826-71) and Francois-Victor (1828-73), and then there was Leopoldine13 (1824-1848) and Adele (1830-1915).

A year before the birth of his daughter Adele in 1830, Victor Hugo lit the first bomb which the European Romanticists hurled at the Classicists.14 It was Hugo's stage play, Hernani. By it, Hugo had boldly challenged the enemy of the right. "In this play," he had declared, "I smash into bits all theories, prosodies and systems. I tear down the old plaster which covers the facade of beauty. From now on, there are neither rules nor models ..."15

Hugo "gradually became transformed from a Bourbon to a bourgeois, from a royalist to a socialist." He vowed to be employed "in the defence of powerless men"; he joined "the cause of the people" and, indeed, fought at the barricades in 1848, during which time his house was ransacked by the very people whom he was trying to save.16

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-69), the greatest literary critic of the time17 and but two years junior to Hugo, was to figure into the Hugo family. Sainte-Beuve, a fellow Romanticist, eulogized the writings of Hugo. They became the closest of friends, until in 1834 when Hugo discovered that Sainte-Beuve had an "liaison" with Madame Hugo.18 It was at the tumultuous applause as the curtain was brought down on Hugo's stage-play, Hernani, when he spied his old friend, Sainte-Beuve, in another box, oblivious to all with eyes fixed on Adele. He faced his wife's lover urgently implored him not to see Adele again. Hugo's plea fell on deaf ears, as Sainte-Beuve insisted on meeting her, in secret. Hugo knew what was going on but powerless to stop it.19 It was in this period of time that he found himself writing in a frenzy and after four months his labors yielded up and the world received Notre Dame de Paris, the story of Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer and her lover Captain Phoebus, together with the jealous archdeacon, Frollo, and the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo.

By the time his daughter Adele was born20, Victor Hugo had established himself as one of the foremost authors in France, indeed, by then, in 1830, Hugo had written Notre Dame de Paris; though, I should add, his great work, Les Miserables21, was not published until 1862, by which time our story had mostly unfolded. But, in fact, Victor's reputation was firmly established with the publication of Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne (The Last Day of a Condemned Man), a work which fascinated the public ("vivid delineations of the mental tortures of a man doomed to execution") and which assured Hugo, at the age of twenty-five, to be the acknowledged master in French poetry and prose. Between the years, 1828-1841, Hugo produced a literary cyclone in France, that carried everything before it.

With Napoleon III having eliminated the French constitution in 1851, Victor Hugo, then at Paris, found himself on the wrong side of the political fence.22 "A bounty of twenty-five thousand francs was offered for his body, dead or alive."23 He fled to Brussels, but the connections to France were too close, so he fled to the Channel Islands, first to Jersey, then to Guernsey.

In the Channel Islands the Hugo family found a spot beyond French influence. Guernsey is a small island, one that is nine miles long and six wide. The house in which the Hugo family took residence is known as Hauteville House.24 Hugo first rented but soon bought it.

Hugo kept two secretaries busy writing while he dictated. "When the hour came for him to commence his literary task for the day, he commenced walking around in the room, his head slightly elevated, and his eyes looking upward in an angle of about forty-five degrees." Then out of his mouth came the material which was eagerly bought up by his adoring public. Generally, Victor Hugo, as one writer put it, was a "Titan of physical and of mental endurance."

"Up at dawn, a plunge into the sea, and at his desk - standing up - before the sun rose. Afternoons, a bit of relaxation with his crayons - for he loved to draw as well as to write - and then a long walk over the seashore facing the sun and the spray. ... His appetite was enormous. Several platefuls of meat at a single sitting. There were days when two chickens were not enough to satisfy his hunger. Hearty eating, hearty thinking, and a hearty acceptance of the sorrows as well as of the joys of life. 'Sorrow is but a prelude to joy.' The symphony of life, if only we can attune our ears to it, resolves into a triumphant chord."25
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Peter Landry
2011

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