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Victor Marie Hugo: The Catalyst of Change

The human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live. – Victor Hugo- Victor Hugo was a saviour of his time. With his sensitive and open-minded nature, he focused himself on educating the people and gave them a touch of awakening through his works. He was an agent of revolution, because he experienced to be a part of human nature’s good and dark side.

He knew what it feels like to be on the verge of the line, on its lowest point. He became a righteous politician and pursues the rights of the people.

On the other hand, he also became an enemy of the state to fight for his ideals in life. Through his writings, he presented how people discover evil and fight it. It is apt to present first his life and establish a connection of this and his works.

His works reveal his motive to enlighten the readers on what is happening on society; and somehow to present his life and feelings on aspects regarding historical events, suffering and redemption. Victor Marie Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besancon, France. His parents were Major Joseph-Leopold-Sigisbert Hugo and Sophie Trebuchet.

The military career of his father resulted to journey from France and Spain, which initialize his interest in both politics and literature when he was a kid. Victor had two older brothers, namely Joseph and Eugene. Victor and his brother, Eugene left for boarding school in 1815 to 1819.

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Victor developed his interest in writing in school and was inspired by the works of Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, a French poet. Victor Hugo’s first collection of poetry was published in 1822, it was called “Odes and Various Poems” He had established himself as a Romantic poet with “Odes and Ballads” (1826) (Means, 2006, p.

1). In l830, Hugo published “Hernani”, a play that achieved huge Victor Hugo 2 critical success paved way with changing the course of French Drama. The verse play established Hugo as a leader of French romanticism. In Hernani, political and literary movement was shown. He presented that the goal to be achieved by youth is liberty in art and society. It was denied by press but as time goes by, the Romantics had won the right of having their new style of plays, without qualms and questions (Bates, 1906, pp. 20-23). “The Hunchback of Notre dame”, his first major novel, was published in 1831.

This novel states the story of Quasimodo, a deformed individual which resides in Notre Dame Cathedral. Its goal is to expose injustice and social misery of that period. This made Hugo, a critically acclaimed, respected and one of the famous writers of his time. Hugo also envisioned Gothic style. In 1820, he acquired the architectural term gotique into the Romantic aesthetic principle and it was shown on Notre-Dame de Paris. Notre Dame is a transitional edifice and it is symbolic and divine (Ward , 1894, p. 277). Throughout the 1830’s, he published more plays, novels and poetry.

It included Bug-Jargal, “Leaves of Autumn”(1831), “The King is Amused” (1832), “Songs of Twilight”(1835), “ Inner Voices” (1837), “Ruy Blas” (1838), and, “Rays and Shadows” (1840). Bug-Jargal is a story of racial inequality and oppression and personal and more heroic. He presented it in local color to verify its historical truth. Moreover, Hugo also stand on issues of racial equality(Raser 307). In his Feuilles d’Automne(Autumn Leaves), he had given sketches of his life as he wished to see the world in beauty and admire it( Bates, 1906, pp.

11-13). He was also inclined to take significance on dates in his works. Meaning becomes clear not by its definitions but by its connection of signs and text. ( Raser, 2004, p. 21). A crisis came to Hugo in 1843. Leopoldine, his daughter died in a boat accident. Victor Hugo 3 Moreover, his first critically- denounced play, Les Burgraves” (The Governors, 1843), was a flop. As a result of these dilemmas, Hugo turned to politics and his writings of poetry, drama and fiction is minimized. His political career turned out fine.

During the Revolution of 1848, he began to support the ideas of the Republic and made him a noteworthy political figure. He was elected to the National Assembly and was known for his strong support of republican causes such as free education and lower class’ right to vote. At first, he was loyal to Louis Napoleon, the president of the Second Republic, but he denounced him as a tyrant. When Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III, he left France and began self-imposed exile. He would only return if France would regain its liberty.

It was on 1870, when the liberty was restored to France, because of this, Hugo finally returned. When civil war broke out in France in 1871, he took side of the rebel against the government, and later, Charles, Hugo’s son, died. On the other hand, his daughter, Adele, returned to France only to be in asylum and eventually died. On the same year, he wrote “L’Annee terrible” (The Terrible Year, 1872). He wrote that as a reflection of his life that year. The following year, their last surviving child died of tuberculosis.

Victor Marie Hugo died on May 22, 1885 in Paris and was honoured (Means, 2006, p. 2). Victor Hugo was noted for his skillfully constructive criticisms attacking the government to pursue social change. Hugo, as a leader of Romanticism, opposed the classical. His style of Romanticism sought to free a man from not so good experiences of reality through the appeal of aspiration for awe and enigma. He emphasized a love and admiration for the grotesque and found creativity in reverie and mystery of an individual.

Such straightforwardness was effective and challenged a response to the people of his time. His writings and his personality as well, served as catalyst for change. At first there Victor Hugo 4 was no growth in the system. Everybody just followed. The culture became stagnant and do not progress at all because of the closed-mindedness of people. But Romanticism made a great impact on the society. It challenged every mind to construct plans for the betterment of society. From the superficiality and hypocrisy came the truth that we were all seeking.

A piece of literature or author, no matter how perfect they were, we still have some things that we like and dislike about what they did. What I dislike about Victor Hugo is that he is too personal on his genre. It seems to me that he was full of anguish and bitterness. He was like shouting and protesting against injustice and exploitation as if it were only his. Aside from that, I cannot say that he has flaw on his writing because writing is subjective. Moreover, I really have a penchant on his works especially Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

If he were alive today, Hugo would have smiled, for he believed in the positive and militant love for his country, not passive and stagnant complacency. Truly, the very thought of his style, Romanticism, appeals to me. It proposes remedy to problems. From his works, we may learn and apply his comments and view from his era to ours: a revolution of mind and action- no longer timid, no longer silent and no longer afraid. In conclusion, we have accented the need to further understand the works of Victor Hugo, for it to have an impact on us. We are aware of the severity of his style.His visions encompasses that the goals are there to achieve, but still it is for us to act, and feel the victory of change. Victor Hugo 5


Raser, Timothy. (2004) The Simplest of signs: Victor Hugo and the languages of images in France, 1850-1950. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. Bates, Alfred. (1906). The Drama: Its history, literature and influence on civilization, Vol. 9. ed. London: Historical Publishing Company. Brombert,Victor. (1985). Victor (Marie) Hugo (1802-1885). Magill’s Annual 1985, Cambridge, Massachussetts: Harvard University Press.

Means, Richard. (2006). Victor Hugo: early life and education. Victor Hugo, Great Neck Publishing. Means, Richard. (2006) Victor Hugo: fame and exile. Victor Hugo, Great Neck Publishing, Means, Richard. (2006) . Victor Hugo: “Les Miserables” and Later Life. Victor Hugo,Great Neck Publishing. Raser,Timothy. (1998). Victor Hugo’s politics and aesthetics of race in Bug-Jargal. Romantic Review, May 98, Vol. 89 Issue 3, p307, 13p. Ward, Patricia A (1894). The political evolution of Victor Hugo’s gothic vision. Modern Language Quarterly; Sep73, Vol. 34 Issue, p272,10p.

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