The French writer Victor-Marie Hugo is remembered as one of the most influential of French Romantic writers, adopting a style of writing philosophy that eschewed science and rationalism, and instead embraced emotions as the main inspiration for art. Although he is primarily remembered for his poetry and playwriting, Hugo was a jack-of-all-trades, producing a large number of novels, essays and drawings during his lifetime.
Hugo was born in Besancon, France – the third son of an Army general who was a great supporter of Napoleon. After moving to Paris at the age of two, his parents separated and from that point he was raised by his mother. At the age of thirteen, Hugo attended the Lycée Louis-le Grand in Paris, where he honed his interest in poetry.
The work of the Romantic poet François-René de Chateaubriand inspired him greatly, and remained his most major influence throughout his career – in fact, his motto was ‘Chateaubriand or nothing”.
Hugo was barely twenty when he published his first volume of poetry, Nouvelles Odes et Poésies Diverses in 1824, which garnered him a royal pension from King Louis XVIII. His next collection, Odes et Ballades (1826), garnered him even more acclaim, and cemented his reputation as a poet.
Hugo’s playwriting career took longer to take off, but his play Hernani (1830), a politically charged work changed all that by not only being good, but so good that it inspired riots and demonstrations. Then he topped it off with the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, which became an instant success.
Hugo went into voluntary exile for 20 years during the reign of Napoleon III, living in Brussels and Jersey and Guernsey. It was during this period when he wrote one of his most recognizable works, Les Misérables (1862) which took him nearly 17 years to finish. Because of its focus on social injustice, the novel was hotly debated by politicians, thinkers, and the public alike.
During his exile, Hugo also found time to publish anti-Napoleon III pamphlets, and by the time he returned from exile in 1870, he was so politically popular that he was elected senator in 1876.
Hugo ended up outliving everyone close to him – his children, his wife, and even his mistress. When is finally passed away in 1885, he was given a state funeral and was buried in the Panthéon.