Saturday, February 26, 2011

Happy birthday, Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo
It is the birthday of Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist and playwright. Born in 1802, he is best known in America for two novels, Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In France, he was best known for his poetry. Indeed, some call him France’s greatest poet.

Some of his best known poems were written after the death of his eldest daughter at age 19, drowned in a boating accident. He was deeply affected by his daughter’s passing.

Aspiring writers should take heart. It took Hugo 17 years to finish what was perhaps his greatest novel, Les Misérables, a book about social justice. The novel was instantly popular in France, though it received mostly negative newspaper reviews. The French National Assembly addressed the issues raised in the book very promptly.

Hugo was in self-imposed exile when he wrote the book, living on the British Island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Hugo left France when Napoleon III came to power in 1851. He didn’t return to his homeland for 19 years.

The publishing of Les Misérables is said to have prompted the shortest correspondence in history. When Hugo learned it had been published, he wrote a single-symbol message to his publisher: “?” The publisher replied:”!”

Hugo died in 1885 at the age of 83. He is buried in the Pantheon in Paris in a crypt with two other literary luminaries, Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas.

Hugo’s work heavily influenced Charles Dickens, Fyordor Dostoevsky and Albert Camus.

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