10 Best Works of Victor Hugo
(Besanzón, 1802; París, 1885)
On February 26, 1802, the year in which Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed himself monarch of the First Empire, this beloved son of France is born.
He had a long life, with ups and downs, but enjoyed recognition from a very young age. As a writer, he believed in the commitment that artists should have to their society, which is why his work had such an impact on the idiosyncrasy of the 19th century.
He grew up with two very marked influences. His father’s, the bland soldier who instilled discipline in him. And that of his mother, the bourgeois cult that lit the flame of creation early on in him. Both traits gave him the secret to success. To his talent he added the will, and that led him to write thousands of pages between novels, dramas, poems, essays, chronicles, without ever leaving his great love for drawing.
He was in his twenties when he married and became a father five times, a family man. However, his marriage to Adèle Foucher did not stand the test of time. And although Victor Hugo never lacked the love of a woman, he had the painful task of burying four of his children and also of leaving his homeland in 1851, after the coup d’état of Napoleon III.
This period in exile was very prolific, which culminated in the publication of his great romantic novel Los miserables. In 1870, the establishment of the Third Republic led to his return. In Paris he was received as a national hero: his great pen had been able to fulfill his desire to unify the French. Regardless of social class, everyone wanted to welcome him. Just as everyone wanted to bid him farewell on the Champs Elysées when his body was veiled under the Arc de Triomphe fifteen years later.
It is estimated that his funeral summoned two million people, a number understandable to someone who had already enjoyed all the titles and honors in life.
10 famous works of Victor Hugo
1. Cromwell. Paris, 1827.
This work is important because the preface is considered a manifesto in favor of artistic freedom. Hugo points out the considerations that would separate his dramas from classical theatre and open the door to French Romanticism. The plot takes place in 17th century England, a time when Oliver Cromwell is an important political and military figure.
2. Lucretia Borgia. Paris, 1833.
Once again he takes a historical figure and turns it into a character in one of his dramas. Lucretia Borgia, in the role, ends up being a harpy capable of poisoning her own son. Victor Hugo’s credibility is so great that it was very easy for him to tarnish even more the ambiguous image of the then daughter of Pope Alexander VI.
3. Hans of Iceland. Paris, 1823.
His first novel is also the first accolade he receives. He wrote it when he was just saying goodbye to his adolescence and already shows the sparks of that spirit of social denunciation that will accompany him for the rest of his life. A melodrama set in a fictitious place where intrigues and romance will be put in the background when the mysterious Hans, a rustic and ferocious man who seeks to avenge the death of his son, breaks in.
4. The last day condemned man. Paris, 1829.
The malaise caused by the death penalty in Victor Hugo is transmitted through this story that moved French society. Exposing the mind and heart of a man in the hours prior to being executed managed to put many against the use of the guillotine. The crudity and brilliance of this monologue is still testimony to the precarious human existence.
5. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Paris, 1831.
The father of the French social novel was not spared the economic hardships, which led him to accept a juicy contract to write his next fiction book. Legend has it that Victor Hugo locked himself up with nothing but ink and paper until the end of the story of the impossible love between Quasimodo and Esmeralda. A Gothic novel that shows the convulsed medieval Paris and also serves to criticize the era in which he lives.
6. Claudio Geux. Paris, 1834.
A short novel which, as he did before, becomes a plea by the writer against the death penalty. The character is a man who serves a lesser sentence, who in the face of the constant humiliations of one of his custodians, ends up killing him and himself ends up being sentenced to death. Faced with this barbarism, Hugo puts education at the centre of his discourse: “The head of this man of the people, cultivate it, weed it, water it, fertilize it, enlighten it, use it; you will not need to cut it off”.
7. Les Misérables. Paris, 1862.
A total and long-lasting novel that confirms Victor Hugo as one of the most lucid minds of his time, as well as the great defender of the oppressed. The soulless Jean Valjean, eponymous character of Romanticism, leads a dishonest life until he knows the goodness of the people. He then decides to follow the example of those who helped him and becomes a benefactor, although the shadow of his criminal past does not cease to haunt him.
8. Toilers of the sea. Paris, 1866.
A product of his days as an exile on the island of Guernsey, this is one of the author’s most beautiful books but also one of the least widespread. It is surprising how Hugo turns nature into an even more dynamic character than the protagonists of the story. The sea thus becomes for them a symbol of freedom, and at the same time represents an obstacle that they have to deal with on a daily basis.
9. The man who laughs. Paris, 1869.
Drama in prose that he publishes even far from Paris, which he considered an epic and even the best he wrote. Thought of as the first book of a trilogy he never completed, the plot follows the misadventures of an orphan with a deformed face, Gwynplain, who tries to flee his miserable life by becoming an artist and giving himself to the love of a young woman.
10. Ninety-three. Paris, 1874.
As a politician, Hugo defended his republican spirit with the most powerful weapon he had, his pen. He was never as clear in his ideas as when he turned them into stories. His last novel is based on reality and is set in the most violent year of the French Revolution, 1793, presenting its three protagonists in the middle of the crossfire. The French writer always showed his sympathies for this insurrection, basically because he placed the pillars of the future democracy.