Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo, around 1875
Hugo's signature

Victor-Marie Vicomte Hugo  [ viktɔʁ maʁi yˈɡo ] (born February 26, 1802 in Besançon , † May 22, 1885 in Paris ) was a French writer and politician . Please click to listen!Play

He wrote poems as well as novels and dramas and worked as a literary, but also political publicist . Several times he was directly politically active as a member of the chamber of peers, member of parliament or senator. In addition to Molière , Voltaire and Balzac , many French consider him their greatest author. His work can be attributed partly to romanticism and partly to realism .

Life and work

The beginnings and first successes

Hugo was the youngest of three sons of 1809 by Napoleon to General conveyed and the count conditions raised Joseph Leopold Sigisbert Hugo (1773-1828) and his wife Sophie Trébuchet (1772-1821). The brothers' childhood was very troubled. Not only was the father often absent as a senior military officer, the mother often went her own way after apparently estranged from her husband at an early age and entered into a relationship with General Victor-Claude-Alexandre Fanneau de Lahorie (who was a conspirator in 1810 arrested and executed in 1812). Hugo grew up mostly in Paris, but spent a long time with his family with his father in Naples (1808) and in Madrid (1811/12). From 1812, after his parents separated, he and his middle brother Eugène lived with their mother in Paris. When the eldest, Abel, also came to Paris in 1815, the father sent the three brothers to a private boarding school ("Pension"), from where they attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand .

Hugo might have started writing when he was 10, and his goal at an early age was to “become Chateaubriand or nothing”. When he was 15, he received an “encouraging mention” in a poetry competition. At the age of 16 he began to study law with Eugène, living with his mother again. At the age of just seventeen (1819) he founded a literary magazine, Le Conservateur littéraire , along with two brothers (who also tried to write) , based on the model of Chateaubriand's more political magazine Le Conservateur ; for at that time, under the influence of their mother, they were convinced royalists . In 1819 Hugo received an award in a poetry competition and made his first contacts in Parisian literary circles. In 1820 he received a gratuity for his Ode sur la mort du duc de Berry ("Ode on the death of the Duc de Berry", a nephew of King Louis XVIII and a potential heir to the throne who was stabbed by an assassin ).

In the same year, Le Conservateur printed Hugo's first narrative work, Bug-Jargal , set during the slave revolt that made Haiti practically independent from the colonial power of France in 1791. In 1822 his first volume of poetry, Odes et poésies diverses , was published, which in turn identified him as a royalist and earned him a royal pension of 1,000 francs a year, on which a modest individual could almost live. After his mother's death in 1821 and his father's remarriage, Hugo married nineteen-year-old Adèle Foucher in 1822 , a childhood friend to whom he had been secretly engaged for three years. A first child died shortly after birth (1823); four more children followed: Léopoldine in 1824, Charles in 1826, François-Victor in 1828, Adèle in 1830, of which only the last-born Hugo survived.

In 1823 his first novel came out, the horror story Han d'Islande , which earned him another "pension" of 2000 francs, which ensured the young family's subsistence level. After the anthology Nouvelles Odes was published in 1824 , he found access to the literary salon of Charles Nodier as a hopeful young author , who gathered the first generation of French romantics around him. In 1825 he was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor ) and invited as a guest to the pompous ceremony at which Charles X , the brother and successor of Louis XVIII, was crowned the new king in the Cathedral of Reims has been. On the birth announcement of his third child (1826), Hugo proudly calls himself “Baron”. Soon after, however, under the influence of his new romantic friends, he changed his political stance and mutated from a royalist to an opposition liberal. In 1826 a new version of Bug-Jargal appeared in book form and extended to the novel .

Hugo as an exponent of the romantic school

Contemporary portrait of the 30-year-old writer in volume 1 of the "Complete Works" (1835)
Victor Hugo, sitting on the conventions (of the "French Academy" and the National Theater Théâtre français ).

In 1827 Hugo wrote his first play, the verse drama Cromwell . This turned out to be hardly playable, but the foreword, the famous Préface de Cromwell , became the manifesto of the new romantic theater and the romantic school in general, of which Hugo was now the undisputed boss and which he gathered around him in the legendary circle of the Cénacle .

In 1829 Hugo published the novel Le dernier jour d'un condamné à mort , a plea against the death penalty and indirect criticism of the regime. In the same year he wrote the melodramatic historical pieces Marion Delorme , which was banned as critical of the regime before the performance, and Hernani . Its premiere on February 25, 1830 went down in literary history as the bataille d'Hernani ( Battle for Hernani ), namely as a clash between the supporters of classicist regular theater and the adepts of the new romantic theater, which above all focused on the "truth “The representation intended. In his private life, however, Hugo was not doing well: his wife Adèle began a relationship with his friend and fellow writer Sainte-Beuve , which he tolerated helplessly and whose reflexes can be found in poems in the Les feuilles d'automne collection (“Autumn Leaves”, late 1831).

In 1831 Hugo published one of his most successful works, the 1482 novel Notre Dame de Paris , whose central characters and storylines are grouped around the cathedral and are intended to paint a picture of late medieval Paris (which is why the popular German title " The Hunchback of Notre-Dame " is not is quite correct). In the next few years Hugo wrote mainly historical pieces, the first of which, Le roi s'amuse (“The King is amused”, 1832), was banned as politically unpopular immediately after the premiere. Because Hugo, along with other young intellectuals, soon after the July Revolution of 1830 went into opposition to the new regime of the “citizen king” Louis-Philippe . The next pieces, however, became increasingly less critical. They were: 1833 Lucrèce Borgia and Marie Tudor , 1835 Angelo , 1838 Ruy Blas . In 1837 Hugo got to know King Louis-Philippe personally and grew closer to him politically.

In addition to his literary works, Hugo also wrote and published poems that he collected from time to time: 1835 Les Chants du crépuscule (“Twilight Chants ”, 1837), Les voix intérieures (“The inner voices”, 1840), Les rayons et les ombres ("rays and shadows").

Between 1838 and 1840 Hugo made three trips to the Rhine, which took him along the entire river to Switzerland. He presented his detailed local observations and generalizing conclusions in the three-volume work “Der Rhein. Letters to a friend ”. In the third volume, Hugo formulated ideas on the Franco-German partnership and European unification that only became reality over a hundred years later.

In the meantime, Hugo was doing well again in his private life: at the beginning of 1833 he met the four years younger actress Juliette Drouet , with whom he stayed together until her death in 1883. In 1838 a publishing house acquired the rights to his previous works for an enormous 300,000 francs. In 1841, after several attempts, he was finally elected to the Académie française . In 1843, however, his drama Les Burgraves ("The Burgraves") was a complete failure that forever spoiled his enjoyment of the theater. Another, bigger stroke of fate was the death of his newlywed favorite daughter Léopoldine, who was surprised by the flood with her husband while hiking in the mudflats near Le Havre .

In 1845 King Louis-Philippe elevated Hugo to viscount and peer , that is, a member for life of the chamber of peers , the parliamentary upper house (which, however , was abolished after the February revolution in 1848).

After Hugo had changed his political direction again in 1846 and had mutated into a republican, Hugo began a socially committed novel in the manner of Eugène Sue's famous Les mystères de Paris in 1847 , but it was not until 1862 as Les Misérables (English today: The poor , earlier: The Miserable) should be finished. At the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1848 he was enthusiastic at first, but after the June uprising of the Paris workers he sided with the conservative “Parti de l'ordre” and then with the newly elected President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte . Elected to the Conservative MP, however, he confused his political friends with socially committed and politically liberal speeches. In addition, Hugo was active in the Société protectrice des animaux founded by Étienne Pariset as an opponent of vivisection . This also earned him the friendship with Marie-Françoise Bernard .

The years of exile

Hauteville House in Saint Peter Port

When Hugo rebelled against the coup with which Bonaparte made himself president for life on December 2, 1851, he was briefly imprisoned and then banished from France. He settled in the French-speaking Channel Islands , which were part of England , first in Jersey and then in Guernsey , in Saint Peter Port , where he lived in the Hauteville House . From here he attacked Bonaparte, who on December 2, 1852 as Napoléon III. had proclaimed emperor, satirically as "Napoléon le Petit", as "Little Napoleon" (compared to his great uncle).

In 1862 Hugo published Les Misérables with great success , a monumental melodramatic novel, which, with an exciting plot about the escaped galley convict Jean Valjean, was intended to draw attention to the misery of the proletarian masses of workers who now populated Paris. In addition, collections of poetry appeared again and again (with a high proportion of politically and socially committed texts): 1853 Châtiments ("Chastisements"), 1856 Contemplations ("Contemplations"), 1859 Chansons des rues et des bois ("Songs of the streets and forests") and La Légende des siècles ("The legend of the centuries"). In 1866 Hugo published Les travailleurs de la mer (“The workers of the sea”), a novel that describes the hard life of coastal fishermen, 1869 L'Homme qui rit (“The laughing man”, novel), 1874 Quatre-vingt-treize , a historical novel about the political terror of the terrible year 1793.

Use for a copyright

Victor Hugo worked together with Honoré de Balzac for copyright and was one of the most important advocates of the Bern Convention for the Protection of Works of Literature and Art .

“The book as a book belongs to the author, but as a thought it belongs - the term is by no means too powerful - to humanity. Every thinking person has a right to it. If one of the two rights, that of the author or that of the human mind, were to be sacrificed, it would, no doubt, be the author's right, for our only concern is the public interest and the general public, I declare, comes before us . "

- Victor Hugo

The last few years

Photo by Félix Nadar
Funeral ceremony for Victor Hugo on June 1, 1885

In 1871, after the fall of Emperor Napoléon III, Hugo returned from exile , but his attempts to gain a foothold in the politics of the young Third Republic initially failed . It was not until 1876 that he was elected to the Senate, which acted as the new upper house. After a stroke in 1878 his creative power declined, but he was able to enjoy his fame for a few more years.

When Hugo died on May 22, 1885, there was a brief but passionate debate in France about how best to honor him. Under pressure from public opinion, the Paris Church of St. Genoveva, which had been rededicated as a national hall of fame , the Panthéon , during the Revolution and then re-consecrated as a church, was again declared a Pantheon and Hugo was buried in a grave of honor in the crypt .

Although Victor Hugo is rarely read today - with the exception of Les Misérables - it has a similar meaning for the French as Goethe has in the German-speaking area.

It is still popular on the island of Guernsey. His name adorns shops and restaurants. The Victor Hugo House enjoys a large number of visitors. In Saint Peter Port he looks out to sea as a larger than life statue towards France.

The 1959 banknote of 5 Nouveaux Francs from the Banque de France in honor of Victor Hugo with the Panthéon (Paris) , his burial place, and the Place des Vosges in Paris where he lived temporarily.


In 1959, the 5 Nouveaux Francs banknote appeared in his honor after the French currency conversion. Issued by the French national bank Banque de France .


Statue of Victor Hugo in
Saint Peter Port
The writer died in house number 124 on avenue de Saint-Cloud (now avenue Victor-Hugo )

In addition to numerous poems, Victor Hugo's literary work comprises eight novels, nine dramas and countless smaller writings.

About a quarter of his texts after 1849 are politically motivated and committed. At first glance, his position seems contradictory: he defends the pursuit of profit and at the same time speaks out for social justice. He is liberal , but against people who accumulate profits instead of reinvesting them for the benefit of all. He detests war and violence, but calls for resistance when it comes to defending democracy. Several of his works have been placed on the Forbidden Books Index by the Vatican .

In addition to his literary work, Victor Hugo left behind an extensive oeuvre of drawings , most of which arose during his time in exile.

From this work comprising around 3500 drawings, an exhibition with 55 miniatures was on view in the Leopold Museum from November 17, 2017 to January 15, 2018. Even in this small selection, not only the variety of subjects of the visual artist Victor Hugo became clear, but also the various techniques that he used from the age of 35 from 1837; Günter Brus and Arnulf Rainer were later influenced by this.

German complete edition

All works . 19 volumes. Frankfurt a. M., Johann David Sauerländer 1835–1842. With gest. Portrait - First German complete edition. The translations are by Georg Büchner (Volume 6: Lucretia Borgia . Maria Tudor . 1835. One of the few publications Büchner published during his lifetime), Ferdinand Freiligrath (Volume 9: Odes and mixed poems . 1836. Freiligrath's first book publication; Volume 11: Twilight songs . 1836 ), August Lewald , Oskar Ludwig Bernhard Wolff , Heinrich Laube a . v. a. (cf. Fromm: Bibliography of German Translations from the French 1700–1948 . 1951. No. 12602)




  • Le Rhin , Lettres à un ami, Paris 1842, extended edition Paris 1845
    • The Rhine . Text selection with drawings by the author. Edited and translated by Annette Seemann. With an afterword by Hermann Mildenberger, Insel, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-458-19328-9 ;
    • The Rhine . Complete new translation with commentary by W. Preikschat based on the French edition from 1855, e-edition, Cologne 2013.


  • Napoleon le Petit (On the coup of Napoleon III.), 1851

Poetry cycles

(For more poetry volumes and cycles see French Wikisource )


  • La défense du littoral
  • La condition feminine
  • L'enseignement religieux
  • Plaid against la peine de mort


Film adaptations

Listed are some film adaptations of Hugo's novels. The country of origin in brackets.

Some of Hugo's works have been filmed very often; there are, for example, a good 50 different film adaptations of Les Misérables . Details can be found on the pages of the individual works.

Musical adaptations

Some musical adaptations of Hugo's novels are listed. The German title of the novel in brackets.


  • Gerda Achinger: Victor Hugo in the literature of the Pushkin period (1823-1840). The inclusion of his works and his representation in contemporary literary criticism. Böhlau, Cologne 1991 (= building blocks for the history of literature among the Slavs 37), ISBN 3-412-03590-4
  • Michael Backes: The characters of the romantic vision. Victor Hugo as a paradigm. Narr, Tübingen 1994 (= Romanica Monacensia; 45), ISBN 3-8233-4785-3
  • Karlheinrich Biermann: Victor Hugo. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1998 (= monographs # 50565), ISBN 3-499-50565-7
  • Fred Duval, Thierry Gioux: Hauteville House. Finix, Hadamar 2012, ISBN 978-3-941236-67-7
  • Martin Feller: The poet in politics. Victor Hugo and the Franco-German War of 1870/71. Studies on the French image of Germany and on Hugo's reception in Germany. Phil. Diss., University of Marburg 1988
  • Norbert Glas: Under the sign of Saturn. Victor Hugo - life and shape. Mellinger, Stuttgart 1975 (= ways, goals, mind shapes, 6)
  • Peter Heidenreich: Text strategies of the French social novel in the 19th century using the example of Eugene Sue's Les mystères de Paris and Victor Hugo's Les misérables. Tuduv, Munich 1987 (= Tuduv studies); Series Sprach- u. Literary studies; 22, since 2004 imprint by Herbert Utz Verlag , ISBN 3-88073-219-1
  • Thomas Hilberer: Victor Hugo. Les contemplations. Structure and meaning. Romanistischer Verlag, Bonn 1987 (= treatises on language and literature, 3), ISBN 3-924888-16-7
  • Rosemarie Hübner-Bopp: Georg Büchner as translator for Victor Hugos. Taking into account the simultaneous translations of "Lucrèce Borgia" and "Marie Tudor" as well as the inclusion of Victor Hugo in the German literary criticism from 1827 to 1835. Peter Lang, Frankfurt 1990 (= European university publications; series 1, German language and literature, 1177), ISBN 3-631-42651-8
  • Eugène Ionesco : The Grotesque and Tragic Life of Victor Hugo. Popa, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-9800542-7-6
  • Fritz Peter Kirsch: Problems of the novel structure with Victor Hugo. Austrian Academy of Sciences , Vienna 1973, ISBN 3-7001-0028-0
  • Heinrich Mann : Victor Hugo. In: Spirit and Action. French from 1780 to 1930. Essays, Berlin 1931. Again Fischer TB, Frankfurt 1997, ISBN 3-596-12860-9
  • Ralf Nestmeyer : French poets and their homes. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-458-34793-3
  • Jörg W. Rademacher: Victor Hugo. Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag dtv 31055, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-423-31055-3
  • Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Victor Hugo: "Autumn leaves" , in the same. Literary portraits. Translator and master Rolf Müller; Outs. And In. Katharina Scheinfuß. Dieterich'sche Verlagbuchhandlung , Leipzig 1958; Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft WBG, Darmstadt 1958 pp. 327–341
  • Bradley Stephens: Victor Hugo , London: Reaction Books, 2019, ISBN 978-1-78914-084-2
  • Pascal Tonazzi: Florilège de Notre-Dame de Paris (anthology) , Arléa, Paris 2007, ISBN 2-86959-795-9
  • Barbara Vinken : traces of characters, wording. Paris as a memory space. Hugo's "À l'Arc de Triomphe" , Baudelaire's "Le Cygne." In: Memory art: space-image-writing. Studies in mnemonics. Edited by Anselm Haverkamp & Renate Lachmann. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1991, it NF 653, pp. 231-262
  • Winfried Wehle : The dark light of the imagination. On Victor Hugo's lyrical modernity around 1830. (on "Les Djinns"). In: E. & J. Leeker (eds.): Text - Interpretation - Comparison, Festschrift for M. Lentzen , Berlin 2005, pp. 120–135. PDF
  • Harald Wentzlaff-Eggebert: Between cosmic revelation and word opera. Victor Hugo's romantic drama. Universitätsbund Erlangen-Nürnberg 1984. (= Erlanger research; Series A, Humanities; 32), ISBN 3-922135-33-1
  • Horst Jürgen Wiegand: Victor Hugo and the Rhine . "Le Rhin" (1842/45), "Les Burgraves" (1843). Bouvier, Bonn 1982 (= treatises on art, music and literary studies, 330), ISBN 3-416-01705-6
  • Adolf Wild: Victor Hugo and Germany. Drawings, books, documents. February 6–31. March 1990 in the Gutenberg Museum . Schmidt, Mainz 1990, ISBN 3-87439-208-2

Web links

Commons : Victor Hugo  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Victor Hugo  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Victor Hugo  - Sources and full texts (French)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jean Tulard: Art. Lahorie ; in: Dictionnaire Napoléon; Paris 1987; P. 1021.
  2. Sainte-Beuve reviewed them in 1831 literary, German in the edition of the literary portraits listed below ("Sainte-Beuve")
  3. Die Burggrafen (Les burgraves), Trilogy in Versen, by Victor Hugo , review in the Illustrirten Zeitung of July 29, 1843.
  4. Société Protectrice des Animaux ( Memento des Originals of December 22, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Kalechofsky, Roberta: The Poet-Physician and The Healer killer. Vivisection And The Emergence of A Medical Technocracy (online) , p. 12
  6. Quotes from Victor Hugo at Tribunal Animal (French)
  7. Oliver Tolmein: The hour of birth of copyright law. In: Calendar sheet (broadcast on DLF ). September 9, 2011, accessed February 14, 2013 .
  8. ^ Discours d'ouverture du Congrès littéraire international de 1878., Victor Hugo, éd. In Libro Veritas, 2005, p. 1
  9. ^ Leopold Museum (ed.): Victor Hugo The Black Romantic . Leopold Museum, Vienna November 2017.
  10. ^ Ernst P. Strobl: Avant-garde exercises . Ed .: Salzburger Nachrichten. Salzburg November 22, 2017.
  11. ^ German with long title: Die Neue Zeit, Lörrach 1946; with short title in Victor Klemperer (ed.), French stories from Chateaubriand to France . Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung , Leipzig 1951. In addition to the social indictment, also a plea against the death penalty
  12. Les Misèrables (musical). Retrieved April 24, 2019 .
  13. Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (musical). Retrieved April 24, 2019 .
  14. ^ State Operetta Dresden: The Man with the Laughing, by Frank Nimsgern (music), Tilmann von Blomberg (book) and Alexander Kuchinka (lyrics) | Commissioned by the Dresden State Operetta | Dresden State Operetta. Retrieved April 24, 2019 .
  15. also about Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Alain-René Lesage, Diderot, Madame de Staël, Jean de La Bruyère, Pierre-Jean de Béranger and Honoré de Balzac. Text about autumn leaves first in French in Revue des Deux Mondes , 1831, Volume 4, pp. 647–658 online
  16. contains: 1793; The miserables: Cosette 1 and 2; A double quartet; Han the Icelander; The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 2 translation variants 1858, 1884; Lucretia Borgia; Maria Tudor - these two in the translation by Georg Büchner