Victor Hugo is, without a doubt, the most famous literary figure ever to have lived in the Channel Islands.
He was born in Besançon in 1802. He very soon realised that he had a literary calling, and by the age of 13 he’d won several awards, including two “mentions” from the Academie Francais. He was a truly prolific writer with much of his work having a overt political and social sub-text or commentary. To understand the context surrounding his writings see the Historical Background panel at the end of this article.
Below is a list of his works. Hover your mouse over a link to show a pop-up summary.
Note : Victor Hugo also published many poems. Not all of which are listed here.
Published during Hugo’s lifetime
- Cromwell preface only (1819)
- Odes et poésies diverses (1822-1828)Odes et Ballades, the final version published in 1828, is the most complete version of a collection of poems by Victor Hugo written and published between 1822 and 1828. It includes five books of odes and one book of ballads.They are among his very earliest works, and reflect the Catholic royalist views of his early twenties.
- Han d’Islande (1823) (Hans of Iceland)
- Bug-JargalBug-Jargal is a novel first published in 1826, it is a reworked version of an earlier short story of the same name published in the Hugo brothers' magazine Le Conservateur littéraire in 1820. The novel follows a friendship between the enslaved African prince of the title and a French military officer named Leopold D'Auverney during the tumultuous early years of the Haitian Revolution. (1826)
- Nils Gunnar Lie’s history (1826)
- CromwellCromwell is a play that takes Shakespeare as his model dramatist. The play was never performed on stage. It tells the story of Oliver Cromwell's internal disputes in being offered the crown of England. It is notable for its preface which is considered the manifesto of the Romantic movement. (1827)
- Les OrientalesLes Orientales is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, inspired by the Greek War of Independence (1821-32). (1829)
- Le Dernier jour d’un condamné (1829) (The Last Day of a Condemned ManThe Last Day of a Condemned Man (French: Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné) is a short novel recounting the thoughts of a man condemned to die.
Plot summary A man who has been condemned to death writes down his cogitations, feelings and fears while he is waiting for his execution. He does not betray his name to the reader or what he has done, though he vaguely hints that he has killed someone. He describes his life in prison, everything from what his cell looks like to the personality of the prison priest. On the day he is to be executed he will see his three-year-old daughter for the last time, but she does not recognize him.)
- HernaniHernani (Full title: Hernani, ou l'Honneur Castillan) is a drama set in a fictitious version of the Spanish court of 1519, it is based on courtly romance and intrigues. (1830)
- Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), (The Hunchback of Notre-DameThe Hunchback of Notre-Dame is a novel. Plot summary The story dates back to Epiphany (6 January), 1482 in Paris, France, the day of the 'Feast of Fools' in Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is introduced by his crowning as Pope of Fools. Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy, captures the hearts of many men, including that of a Capt Phoebus, and especially Quasimodo and his adoptive father, Claude Frollo, Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but the hunchback is captured by Phoebus and his guards who save Esmeralda. Quasimodo is sentenced to be whipped and tied down in the heat. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, offers him water. It saves him. Esmeralda is later charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo attempted to kill in jealousy, and is sentenced to death by hanging. As she is led to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down by a bell rope and carries her off to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Clopin, a street performer, rallies the Truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. The King, seeing the chaos, vetoes the law of sanctuary and commands his troops to kill Esmeralda. When Quasimodo sees the Truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Frollo betrays Esmeralda to the troops and watches while she is hanged. Quasimodo pushes him from the heights of Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo then goes to a mass grave and carries her off to another tomb where he eventually dies of starvation. 2 years later, when the grave is excavated, Quasimodo is found embracing Esmeralda, whose neck is broken. As someone tries to separate the two, Quasimodo's bones turn to dust.)
- Marion DelormeMarion Delorme is a play by Victor Hugo in 5 acts, about the famous French courtesan of that name. (1831)
- Les Feuilles d’automne (1831)
- Le roi s’amuseLe roi s'amuse (literally 'The King Takes His Amusement' but called 'The King's Fool' in English) is a play which depicts the escapades of Francis I of France, censors of the time believed that it also contained insulting references to King Louis-Philippe and banned it after one performance. The lawsuit that Hugo brought to permit the performance of the play propelled him into celebrity as a defender of freedom of speech in France. He lost the suit, however, and the play was banned for another fifty years. (1832)
- Lucrèce BorgiaSpurred by the ban on The King Takes His Amusement, Hugo wrote Lucrèce Borgia in fourteen days. The theme was the same as in Marion de Lorme and Lucrèce Borgia; man burdened with vice but saved by a single stroke of virtue. (1833)
- Marie Tudor (1833)
- Littérature et philosophie mêlées (1834) (A Medley of Philosophy and Literature)
- Claude GueuxClaude Gueux is a short story. It is considered an early example of 'true crime' fiction, and contains Hugo's early thoughts on societal injustice which thirty years later he would flesh out in his novel Les Misérables. (1834)
- Angelo, tyran de padoue (1835)
- Les Chants du crépuscule (1835) (Tears of the Tyrant)
- La Esmeralda (only libretto of an opera written by Victor Hugo himself) (1836)
- Les Voix intérieures (1837)
- Ruy BlasRuy Blas is a tragic drama. The action takes place in 17th century Spain during the reign of Charles II. Ruy Blas, an indentured commoner (and a poet), dares to love the Queen. The play is a thinly veiled cry for political reform. Plot summary The story centers around a practical joke played on the queen by Don Sallusto for revenge. Knowing that one of his slaves, Ruy Blas, has secretly fallen in love with the queen, the Don disguises Blas as a nobleman and takes him to court. Intelligent and generous, Blas becomes popular, is appointed prime minister, and begins useful reforms, and conquers the queen's heart. Don Sallusto returns to take his revenge; he discloses the masquerade by cruelly humiliating Blas - he commands Blas to close the window and pick up his handkerchief, while trying to explain the condition of Spanish politics. Blas kills him and decides to commit suicide with poison. On the point of death, he is forgiven by the queen who openly declares her love for him. (1838)
- Les Rayons et les ombresLes Rayons et les Ombres ('Beams and shadows') is a collection of forty-four poems by Victor Hugo, the last collection to be published before his exile, and containing most of his poems from between 1837 and 1840. (1840)
- Le RhinLe Rhin is a travel guide written by Victor Hugo. Similar to Mark Twain's writings about the Mississippi, it includes many stories about the Rhine river. It ends with a political manifesto. (1842)
- Les BurgravesLes Burgraves is a historical play by Victor Hugo, first performed by the Comédie-Française on 7 May 1843. It takes place along the Rhine and features the return of Emperor Barbarossa. (1843)
- Napoléon le PetitNapoleon le Petit was an influential political pamphlet which condemned the reign of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. Hugo lived in exile in Guernsey for most of Napoleon III's reign, and his criticism of the monarch was significant as he was one of the most prominent Frenchmen of the time, and was revered by many. It includes the concept of two and two make five as a denial of truth by authority, a notion later used by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four
Volumes were smuggled into France (eg. in bales of hay, and between metal sheets as a tin of sardines), read at secret meetings, and hand-copied. (1852)
- Les ChâtimentsLes Châtiments ('Castigations') is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo that fiercely attack the grandeur of Napoléon III's Second Empire. (1853)
- Les ContemplationsDeals with the death of his daughter and the pain of exile. (1856)
- Les Tryne (1856)
- La Légende des sièclesLa Légende des siècles ('The Legend of the Ages') is a collection of poems conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity. Summary The dreaming poet contemplates the 'wall of the centuries', indistinct and terrible, on which scenes of the past, present and future are drawn, and along which the whole long procession of humanity can be seen. The poems are depictions of these scenes, fleetingly perceived and interspersed with terrifying visions. Hugo sought neither historical accuracy nor exhaustiveness; rather, he concentrated on obscure figures, usually his own inventions, who incarnated and symbolized their eras. The poems form a view of the human experience, seeking less to summarize than to illustrate the history of humanity, and to bear witness to its long journey from the darkness into the light. (1859)
- Les MisérablesLes Misérables (literally 'The Miserable Ones') is widely considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. It follows the lives and interactions of several French characters over a seventeen-year period in the early nineteenth century, starting in 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion. The story is historical fiction. Plot summary The novel focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. It examines the nature of law and grace, and expatiates upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. The story is historical fiction because it contains factual and historic events. Les Misérables is known to many through its numerous stage and screen adaptations, most notably the stage musical of the same name, sometimes abbreviated 'Les Mis'. (1862)
- William Shakespeare (essay)William Shakespeare was originally intended to be an introduction for a collection of French translations of Shakespeare's plays written by his son, Francois Victor Hugo. However, it grew to be approximately 300 pages in length, and Hugo had to write a separate introduction to the plays. The work begins with an approximately twenty page biography, filled with inaccuracies, and then becomes a work of literary criticism focusing on the literary geniuses of history. Shakespeare, but also Homer, Job, Aeschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, St. John, St. Paul, Tacitus, Dante, Rabelais, and Cervantes. Deciding there was more of Hugo in the work than Shakespeare, some French critics suggested he should have entitled it, 'Myself'. (1864)
- Les Chansons des rues et des bois (1865)
- Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the SeaToilers of the Sea (French: 'Les Travailleurs de la Mer'), is a novel dedicated to the island of Guernsey, where Hugo spent 15 years in exile. Plot summary The story concerns a Guernseyman named Gilliatt, a social outcast who falls in love with Deruchette, the niece of a local shipowner, Mess Lethierry. When Lethierry's ship is wrecked on the Roches Douvres, a perilous reef, Deruchette promises to marry whomever can salvage the ship's steam engine. Gilliatt eagerly volunteers, and the story follows both his physical trials and tribulations (which includes a battle with an octopus), as well as the undeserved opprobrium of his neighbours. Les Travailleurs de la Mer is set just after the Napoleonic Wars, and also deals with the impact of the Industrial Revolution upon the Island. )
- La voix de GuernseyLa voix de Guernsey ('The voice of Guernsey') is a poem from Victor Hugo to the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi. The poem is 326 verses long and was written after the following events ... Historical background In 1867, Garibaldi, encouraged for a long time by Victor Hugo, takes the initiative in putting an end to the temporal power of the Pope and to give back Rome to the almost unified Italy. But France still protects the Pope, and is not ready to let the initiative go to Garibaldi: the latter is arrested at the end of September, then placed under house arrest, at home in Caprera, a small island of the north-east of Sardinia. However he manages to escape and with four thousand men, launches an offensive on Rome at the end of October. Napoleon III decides to send a division, led by the general de Failly, to protect the Papal States: it disembarks on October 28th in Civitavecchia. Much larger and better equipped than Garibaldi’s troops, it wins a riskless victory in Mentana, a small town to the east of Rome, on November 3rd and 4th: six hundred Italians are killed, compared to twenty Papal soldiers and two French soldiers. Garibaldi, arrested again is sent back to Caprera. When Victor Hugo learns the disaster of Mentana, he writes in three days a long poem that he entitles La Voix de Guernesey. 326 verses in three days! (1867)
- L’Homme qui rit (1869), (The Man Who LaughsThe Man Who Laughs is a novel originally published in April 1869 under the French title L'Homme qui rit. Also published under the title By Order of the King. Although among Hugo's most obscure works, it was adapted into a popular 1928 film. Hugo wrote The Man Who Laughs, or the Laughing Man, over a period of fifteen months while he was living in the Channel Islands, having been exiled from his native France due to the controversial political content of his previous novels. Hugo's working title for this book was On the King's Command, but a friend suggested The Man Who Laughs. )
- L’Année terrible (1872) (The Terrible YearL'Année terrible is a series of poems written by Victor Hugo and published in 1872. They deal with the Franco-Prussian War, the trauma of losing his son Charles, and with the Paris Commune. Covering the period from August 1870 to July 1871, a group of poems encapsulates each month, blending Hugo's anguish over personal tragedies with his despair at the predicament of France.)
- Quatrevingt-treize (1874) (Ninety-ThreeNinety-Three (Quatrevingt-treize) is the last novel written by Victor Hugo. Published in 1874, shortly after the bloody upheaval of the Paris Commune, the novel concerns the Revolt in the Vendée and Chouannerie — the counter-revolutionary revolts in 1793 during the French Revolution. It is divided into three parts, but not chronologically; each part tells a different story, offering a different view of historical general events. )
- Mes Fils (1874)
- Actes et parolesActes et Paroles (English: Deeds and Words) is a book that recounts his Hugo's life story and his dreams of the future. It speaks of universal education and a United States of Europe. It adopts a hostile tone to the military and the church. – Avant l’exil (Before Exile) (1875)
- Actes et parolesActes et Paroles (English: Deeds and Words) is a book that recounts his Hugo's life story and his dreams of the future. It speaks of universal education and a United States of Europe. It adopts a hostile tone to the military and the church. – Pendant l’exil (During Exile) (1875)
- Actes et parolesActes et Paroles (English: Deeds and Words) is a book that recounts his Hugo's life story and his dreams of the future. It speaks of universal education and a United States of Europe. It adopts a hostile tone to the military and the church. – Depuis l’exil (Since Exile) (1876)
- La Légende des Siècles 2e série (1877)
- L’Art d’être grand-père (1877) (The Art of Being a GrandfatherL'Art d'être grand-père ('The Art of Being a Grandfather') is a series of eighteen poems published in 1877. They were among the last he wrote. On 13 March 1871, his 44-year-old son Charles died of a stroke, while riding in a carriage to a farewell dinner for some of Victor's friends at a restaurant in Bordeaux. Charles's wife died shortly afterwards, and Victor Hugo became the guardian of their children, Georges and Jeanne Hugo. The poems describe the feelings of a grandfather entrusted with innocent young children. Love and tenderness are celebrated, and the complexities, politics, and grand themes of his other poems are set aside. )
- Histoire d’un crime – 1re partie (1877) (The History of a CrimeThe History of a Crime (French: Histoire d'un crime, 1877) is a novel by Victor Hugo about Napoleon III's takeover of France. )
- Histoire d’un crime – 2e partie (1878)
- Le Pape (1878) (The PopeLe Pape ('The Pope') was a political tract in verse, supporting Christianity but attacking the rigid organization of the Catholic Church. Although written in 1874-5, it was not published until 29 April 1878, two months after the beginning of the papacy of Leo XIII. Leo's predecessor, Pius IX, had revealed deep divisions in the Church with his definition of the dogma of papal infallibility in July 1870. Hugo had long disliked Pius because of his support for Napoleon III. )
- La pitié suprême (1879) (The Supreme CompassionLa Pitié suprême ('The Supreme Compassion') is a long poem in fifteen sections, by Victor Hugo, published in February 1879 but in fact written in 1857-8. It was originally part of La Légende des Siècles, and was linked with the immense poem 'La Révolution' which was supposed to be at its centre. The two long poems which would follow La Révolution -- Le Verso de la page and La Pitié Suprême -- would serve to explain or justify God's permission of the violence of the French Revolution by pointing to its ultimate effect of liberation. La Légende des Siècles developed differently, however, and the central episode was set aside. Le Verso de la page was separated into several pieces, and La Pitié Suprême published alone (but in the same stretch of work as Le Pape, L'Âne and Religions et religion, forming a kind of philosophical testament), two years before its original parent La Révolution appeared as part of Les Quatre Vents de l'esprit in 1881. The decision to publish in 1879 was motivated by Hugo's wish for amnesty for the Communards; the poem's theme, clemency, was seen as appropriate for the occasion. )
- Religions et religionReligions et religion was an 1880 political tract by Victor Hugo supporting belief in God but attacking organized religion. (1880)
- Les Quatres vents de l’esprit (1881)
- TorquemadaTorquemada is an 1869 play about Tomás de Torquemada and the Inquisition in Spain. It criticized religious fanaticism and fanatical catholicism. It was first published in 1882, as a protest against antisemitic pogroms in Russia at the time. (1882)
- La Légende des siècles Tome III (1883)
- L’Archipel de la Manche (1883)
- Théâtre en liberté (1886)
- La fin de SatanLa Fin de Satan ('The End of Satan') is a long religious epic by Victor Hugo, of which 5700 lines were written between 1854 and 1862, but left unfinished and published after his death. When it was rejected by his publisher in 1857, Hugo tried to integrate it into Petites Epopées (later La Légende des siècles), eventually announcing that it would form a companion work, along with Dieu. His intention, apparently, was to invest the storming of the Bastille with a religious significance; after making various efforts, he ceased work on it in 1862 and returned to novels. There are many gaps large and small. (1886)
- Choses vues (1887)
- Toute la lyre (1888)
- Amy Robsart (1889)
- Les Jumeaux (1889)
- Actes et Paroles Depuis l’exil, 1876–1885 (1889)
- Alpes et Pyrénées (1890)
- DieuDieu ('God') is a long religious epic by Victor Hugo, parts of which were written between 1855 and 1862. It was left unfinished, and published after his death. When it was rejected by his publisher in 1857, Hugo tried to integrate it into Petites Epopées (later La Légende des siècles), eventually announcing that it would form a companion work, along with La Fin de Satan. He had stopped work entirely by 1862, and while the result is fairly coherent, it is less complete than either of the other works, lacking even opening lines. (1891)
- France et Belgique (1892)
- Toute la lyre – dernière série (1893)
- Les fromages (1895)
- Correspondences – Tome I (1896)
- Correspondences – Tome II (1898)
- Les années funestes (1898)
- Choses vues – nouvelle série (1900)
- Post-scriptum de ma vie (1901)
- Dernière Gerbe (1902)
- Mille francs de récompense (1934)
- Océan. Tas de pierres (1942)
- L’Intervention (1951)
- Conversations with EternityConversations with Eternity is a book by John Chambers, published from a series of notes by Victor Hugo. It set out to present the Hugo family's table-turning seances in Marine-Terrace on the island of Jersey between 1853 and 1855. Chambers translated the original notes, which dealt with themes of spirituality.
Historical background to Victor Hugo's Life ...
Victor Hugo lived in unstable times in France. There was much political unrest following the Napoleonic years of rule in France and much social deprevation. Victor Hugo gained more and more prominence as his works became popular and was always keen to voice his political and social opinions. He eventually went into self imposed exile over his views when Louis-Napoléon (nephew of Napolean Bonaparte) seized power.Below is a brief overview of the historical context which inspired much of his work.
Louis-Napoléon had previously made unsuccessful attempts to gain power, leading to his exile in London. His final attempt resulted in a coup d’état on 2 December 1852. French guards opened fire on a group of protesters, causing several deaths. This did little to help achieve the reputation that Louis-Napoléon had hoped for. In addition to this, he proceeded to change the constitutional laws governing the length of time that an emperor could rule.
Hugo’s sympathies lay with the working classes,and he was appalled by what he saw as a willingness to kill in order to gain power. Viewed as the voice of the masses in France, Hugo used his substantial influence to gather support against Louis-Napoléon. His contempt was best illustrated in a speech delivered to the Académie française, where he declared, ‘Quoi? Après Augustus, nous avons Augustule!’ This is a reference to the Roman emperor Augustus, and the suffix -ule derives from a Latin diminutive, indicating an object or person that is smaller in stature. This deliberately antagonistic declaration encapsulates Hugo’s view: Louis-Napoléon was far removed from the great military leader that his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, had been.
In addition, Louis-Napoléon’s legitimacy was also brought into question. Rumours abounded (although none was ever proven) that he was an illegitimate child — a product of one of his mother’s numerous affairs — and therefore could claim no right to his title. Hugo seizes on this in an attempt to discredit his position.
His vociferous condemnation of Louis-Napoléon as a traitor, usurper and dictator put Hugo and his family in danger . Realising this, Hugo fled his beloved France, vowing never to return until a new order was installed. After stopping in Brussels and then Jersey, Hugo settled with his family in Guernsey and remained there until 1870. Despite the distance from his readership, Hugo’s influence remained strong and the years in exile produced a flurry of literary activity.
Written in 1853, Les Châtiments is arguably Hugo’s most scathing work, including Les Égouts (‘The sewers’), which contrasts the lives of the poor whom Hugo claims Louis-Napoléon ignored with the pompous grandeur to which the emperor aspired. Even the editor of the collection claimed that Hugo had gone too far with his vehement criticisms of the Second Empire. However, even if Hugo’s comments did exaggerate the failings of Louis-Napoléon’s regime, they present a strong critique of a society bound by censorship of the press and the arts.