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February 16, 2018


Victor Hugo vol 1 (1802-1851)

by N@ncy



  1. I took me 3 weeks to read this book.
  2. I was exhasted when I reached pg 1159
  3. It felt like brushing my teeth, it became a daily habit.
  4. I jotted down some thoughts during my reading.
  5. It is impossible to give a review of the total book.
  6. I just cannot remember everything.
  7. I hope you can glean some information
  8. …from my notes that will  interest you.



Autobiographical: Hugo saturated all his works with memories, confidences and fragmented confessions. The author embedded characters/places in his poems and stories that were linked to his own name Hugo or people in his childhood.
There is secret code in Les Miserables that only Hugo and his long time lover Juliette Drouet would understand!

Notes: amazing family tree HUGO from father and mother’s side -ending with Hugo’s granddaughter Jeanne (1869-1941).Hovasse even includes the family tree of Victor Hugo’s (1802-1885) long time mistress Juliette Drouet (1806-1883)!

Notes: Some think Victor Hugo’s father was `not Leopold Sophie’s husband…but her lover General Victor Lahore! She asked him to be Hugo’s godfather and she named the baby after him! Hmmm.

Marriage of Hugo’a parents: Leopold and Sopie, was a train wreck!

Trivia: Tome IV, livre II, chapitre III. Il est intitulé “Apparition du père Mabeuf”
The character M. Mabeuf is a reference to a dictée that Victor Hugo  completed when he was 7 years old. He made just one mistake…he left the ‘O’ out of boeuf!  That simple incident found its way into one of the greatest novels written!

Trivia: The family life Valjean experienced rue Plumet resembles the 18 months that Hugo  spent in Feuillantines….this was the first time he  felt a loving family feeling….he was 7 yrs old.

Personage: Outlaw Jean Valjean is modeled on General Lahorie Victor Hugo’s godfather.

Spain: Victor Hugo’s  father was stationed in Spain (general) and Victor spoke better Spanish than French at the age of 10 yrs old.

LesMis: chapter 1817 -this is a list of ‘triva’ that occurred in 1817. The most important fact is left out. Victor Hugo  had entered a poem in the contest for Prix Poesie de L”Academie française…..and got an honourable mention. He was only 15 yrs but it was his official debut as a man of French Letters!

Quote: pg 210: Hugo’s advice: Live simply as other men…see what they see, feel what they feel and think a little more than they think!

Autobiographical:  Hugo was living on a very small budget 1822 and sharing a room with his cousin Aldolphe. Reading LesMis notice the Marius’s budget this describes the real situation of Hugo! Marius and Hugo both had only 2 suits!

Autobiographical: The  marriage of Marius and Cosette is a mixture of fact and fiction. The date of the marriage represents the first night with Juliet Drouet, VH’s long time lover, 16.02.1833.
The place of the wedding is not St. Suplice where VH and Adele were married….but Hugo  moved it to St. Paul where he beloved daughter Léopoldine married her husband.
The sudden departure of Valjean from the marriage celebration represents the break with Eugène, Hugo’s  brother, who was secretly in love with Adele himself.  The description of the marriage night in Les Mis is apparently not of Hugo’s actual wedding night (12 Oct 1822) but the first night with Julliet Drouet (16 Febr 1833). Ouch!

Reading plan: the book turns out to be more than a biography…it is a guide through the Romantic period…and brushing against the next movement that was a reaction to Romanticism….’Parnassianism’.
I found that some chapters were difficult to read because I did not know many poets mentioned.

Trivia: Victor Hugo preferred beer over wine!

LesMis: Fantine is born 2 days after Victor Hugo was elected to Academie française (1841). Hugo witnessed a young girl being harassed in the street…this became Fantine.
M. Madeleine = Victor Hugo. Hugo is now taking notes about ‘les temps présents’ to help his move from literature to politics.

Wedding: Victor Hugo’s daughter Léopoldinen married on 15 Febr 1843. The ceremony was moved 1 day forward as not to coincide with 10th anniversary the affair H had started with Juliette Drouet. Cosette’s wedding day DID correspond with 16 February and was a coded message to Hugo’s mistress Juliette. Cosette’s wedding gown is the description of the dress Léopoldine wore on her wedding day.

Note: I was surprised how quickly Hovasse handed the wedding and death of Hugo’s most beloved daughter. It was done in 3 pages!  Yet the reader is dragged through an ‘analyse extrêmement poussée’ (highly detailed) day to day description of 8 road trips!

Note: pg 948-952    1845: …very touching moments between Louis-Philippe (25 yrs older than VH) and the poet. Louis Philippe asked VH to linger after other guests left. LP spoke candidly and hoped VH would be a witness for history and reveal the man LP really was under the burden of the crown of France. Hugo wrote a condense version of these conversation is his chapter ‘Louis-Phillippe” in LesMis. (volume 4 ‘St Denis’, book 1 ch 3)



Updates Goodreads:


Massive biography and it is only vol 1 (1802-1851)..but is is so good!
It read like a novel!”


Victor Hugo ‘s writing is saturated with confidences and fragmented confessions. In 1871 after his exile Hugo visited many sites from his childhood. He was sad to see that only a patch of grass and a dilapidated section of a wall was left. “It was not worth looking at if not with the profound eye of memories”


#LesMisReadalong + reading biography of V. Hugo:
Victor experienced a sad childhood coping with a messy and bitter divorce of his parents. Hugo was sent to boarding school (imprisonment was more like it…) by his father. Education was strict but Victor still managed some ‘joie de vivre’ by memorizing 30-40 lines of Hoarce or Virgil each night and in the morning translated the verses into French.
He was just 13 yr.


#LesMisReadalong Poet friends (romantics, Royalists) A. Soumet, A. de Vigny turn a cold shoulder towards Hugo….as his political views dirft into liberalism. This hurts the sensitive Victor.


#LesMisReadalong – very little about personal life of Victor Hugo only a few pages about his wedding (12 Oct 1822), birth son (1823-1823) and joy when daughter Leopoldien is born and is healthy. The rest was about literary publications (la Muse Francaise) and other poets involved. Hugo attends coronation King Charles X in Reims. All in all…a lot of reading and found only 2 references to things in Les Mis.


#LesMisReadalong: Keep reading Les Mis daily chapter then…tackle the massive biography. Stats: 10 days, read 5 of 10 chapters, 380/1159 pages, Victor Hugo is 27 yr and just published his famous Odes and Ballads (1829) Expected more personal history but the emphasis is mostly on his writings, the Romantic movement and the other family, poets, publishers, illustrators and friends that swirl around Hugo. Exahusted.


#LesMisReadalong – Success has its dark side. VH is only 28 yrs old and his world is starting to crumble. Brouhaha about play Hermani (banned by Charles X), defied censure and the play is a hit. Unfortunately VH is blind and does not see his marriage weakening under the pressure of fame. The ultimate deception: does Adèle feel more than friendship for VH’s closest friend Saint-Beuve? VH is a genius but feels weak.


#LesMisReadalong – trivia about Victor Hugo
Crushing reviews of Notre-Dame de Paris (1831):
Stendhal thinks it is muck
Sainte-Beuve thinks it is not catholic enough.
Montelembert likes part about ND’s architecture….the rest, mèh!
Goethe thinks its is abominable…could hardly finish it.
Chateaubriand….no comment.
Oh, critics…..what do they know?
Notre-Dame de Parsis is still a classic!


#LesMisReadalong- trivia: Victor Hugo used the biography of his mistress (Juliette Drouet) as a basis for Fantine….both orphans at a young age, placed in the care of a convent..both had to a struggle to survive.
This book is more than a biography…it is a panoramic view of the literary world of Paris 1790-1885. Classicists – art for art’s sake VS Romantics – usefulness of art for political and social change.


#LesMisReadalong – Love affair with Juliette Drouet is dripping with passion. JD writes him every day…VH is not reading them as he used to. JD does not even come close to Mme Sévigné’s style. (dame des belle lettres 1626-1676). How many times can you say je t’adore? We get it!. The reader knows that VH will be starting his next romance with Leonie d’Aunet in 1837. VH is drawn to ladies like a moth to a flame!


#LesMisReadalong- VH travels with Juliette but he is always taking notes, making sketches of cathedrals, architecture, towers. Visits ‘bagne’ (prison) in Toulon and Brest leave lasting impressions that he used in Les Mis. VH is elected to Academie française and L’ Assemblée. Death of Balzac leaves VH stunned…(1850). Life is still complicated: VH has wife, 4 children 2 mistresses (Juleitte, Léonie) and muse, Louise.


#LesMisReadalong I needed some visual by Vincent Van Gogh to push me today. Starting the last 100 pages of Victor Hugo bio (very long book in French ) and I am determined to reach the finish line tonight! #NeedCoffee

Finally VH achieves his goal…be the next René Chateaubriand! RC was 32 years older than VH and his role model. RC was poet and given peerage in 1815. VH was poet and given peerage 1845. He entered the Higher Chamber as a pair de France, where he spoke against the death penalty and social injustice, and in favour of freedom of the press and self-government for Poland.

Looking ahead….Note: Vol 2 Book 6 ch 7   coded message and reference  to mistess Juliette Drouet
The names of Gauvain and Drouet are metioned.
Gauvain is Juliette’s family name and Drouet is the name she took for the theater. It is the name of a military uncle who adopted her at an early age.

Last chapters Whew: ..a lot of politics!  Thriling to read how Victor Hugo managed to escape Paris 05.02.1851 after coup’d’état with a price on his head of 25.000 francs!

…Victor is only 49 yr…ready to go into exile after coup d’état 02 December 1851. We still have a long way to go! But having witnessed the massacres on the barricades….Hugo is determined to write down all that he saw in Les Misérables!


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, this book is a BEAST! But you are now a Victor Hugo expert, so if I have any questions, I’ll come to you, Nancy! I’ve been watching your reading with envy. I read a little of Crime and Punishment tonight, but at this pace I’ll read 2 books this year. I need to step it up!


    • Feb 17 2018

      in French that would be “..s’y mettre!” = Let’s get crackin’
      I must admit it is difficult to get into the ‘flow’ of reading while the Olympic Games are on tv 24/7!
      My problem is …I want to read so many things I just can’t decide where to begin the day.
      Well, first read a chapter in Les Mis….
      Thanks for your comments!


  2. Feb 23 2018

    You are a rock star. I would never dare read a bio that was that long – at least I’m not that brave yet.


    • Feb 23 2018

      Even rock stars have moments of doubt. It took all my determination to finish this book.
      I can’t promise I will read vol 2…at least not this year! Thanks for your comments!



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