Famous French People

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Victor Hugo

A Great French Writer

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Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 in Besançon, France.  He was a poet, playwright and novelist and his work belonged to the Romantic style of writing. 
Like Charles Dickens, he wrote a lot about poor people and how unfair their lives were.  In the portrait below he is eighteen years old.

His most famous novels are probably Les Misérables because of the musical stage version and Notre Dame de Paris  because of the Disney film 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' 

Below is a very famous drawing by
Émile Bayard.  It portrays a character from Les Misérables:- a girl called Cosette.  This drawing was used for the book-cover of the original edition of Les Misérables  in 1862. 
Les miserables

Below is an image from the Disney version of
Dame de Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris tells the story of a hunchback called Quasimodo who is a bell-ringer in the cathedral of Paris. 
The hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl called Esmeralda.  At the time of writing this story, the cathedral was actually in a terrible state and needed to be repaired.  So, when the book was published and people became interested in the cathedral, everyone insisted on renovating the building.  In other words, it was Victor Hugo's book that saved the Cathedral of Notre Dame from becoming derelict!

Victor Hugo is considered to be a great writer because he wrote in so many styles - poetry, novels, plays, essays.  His writing talent was recognised when he was very young and at the age of twenty-two his first collection of poems was published.  This collection is called Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses. 

One of Hugo's plays (Le Roi S'Amuse) was turned into an Italian opera by the composer Verdi.  That opera is called Rigoletto.
(To hear Luciano Pavarotti singing an aria from the opera Rigoletto, click HERE and listen to Track 43.)

In 1822, Victor married Adèle Foucher who had been his friend since childhood.  One of the witnesses at the wedding was another great French poet, Alfred de Vigny.  Below is a portrait of Adèle.

Portrait by Louis Boulanger.

Victor and Adèle went on to have five children - the oldest (a son called Léopold) died in infancy. 
His second child (a daughter called Léopoldine) died tragically with her husband at the age of nineteen.  The newly-weds both drowned when their boat capsized on the River Seine.  Following this tragic event, Victor Hugo wrote some poems in his daughter's memory - the most famous one is called Demain dès l'aube (Tomorrow at dawn.....)  Below is a portrait of Léopoldine.

Leopoldine Hugo

Victor Hugo's other children were Charles,
François-Victor and Adèle.

For political reasons, Victor Hugo was obliged to live in exile.  This period lasted for twenty years!  He lived in Belgium in 1851, Jersey from 1852 till 1855 and Guernsey from 1855 till 1870.

Although he was married, Victor Hugo fell in love with an actress called Juliette Drouet (below) who acted in some of his plays.  She was madly in love with him and she even moved to Guernsey to be near him during his long period of exile.

In 1868, Victor Hugo's wife, Adèle, died.  She was buried next to her daughter Léopoldine at the cemetery of Villequier. 

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo died in 1885.  His funeral was attended by around two million people.  It was a state funeral, meaning that people did not go to work on that day.  His body lay in state beneath the Arc de Triomphe where people came to pay their respects.  He had become extremely popular because he had always tried to stand up for the poor.

Victor Hugo was laid to rest in a building in Paris called Le Panthéon.  Inside this building are the tombs of many famous French people.  Below, there is a photo of Le Panthéon.

Le Pantheon

Here is the famous poem written by Victor Hugo in memory of his daughter, Léopoldine:

Demain, dès l'aube...
(Tomorrow, at dawn....)

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

Merci Victor Hugo!
Thank you, Victor Hugo, for writing so many great works, some of which we can enjoy today in the theatre and cinema.
Merci mille fois!