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July 29, 2018


Victor Hugo: Romancier de l’Abîme

by NancyElin

Travailleurs de la mer





  1. If you are interested reading any books by Victor Hugo
  2. is always nice to have some back round information
  3. …you might not know!
  4. I’m reading Les Miserables  at the moment
  5. …and want to read Hugo’s
  6. Dernier jour d’un condamné
  7. Travailleurs de la mer
  8. Here are a few notes I made after reading these essays.


Structure:   11 essays

7 essays  in French
4 essays in English


Ch 2: Dernier jour d’un condamné

  1. Victor Hugo abandons ‘romanticisme noir’
  2. …in Bug-Jargal and Han d’Island.
  3. ..for romantic realism in Dernier jour d’un condamné.
  4. Hugo creates a character
  5. who presents arguments against capital punishment. (voice of V Hugo)
  6. Hugo uses the first person narrative.
  7. Trivia:…character never reveals the crime committed
  8. Trivia:…character reveals sarcastic bravoure
  9. ….rather than remorse for his crime.


Ch 6: Travailleurs de la mer

  1. In this chapter Delphine Glees draws my attention
  2. not only to Hugo’s writing Les Travalleurs de la mer
  3. but also to the drawing he made to accompany the book.
  4. Drawings do not represent the reality
  5. …but the fluctuating conditions of the sea and ships.
  6. Hugo stresses the impossibility of remaining stable in the world.

V. Hugo was also an artist


Ch 8: L’Homme qui rit

  1. This was a difficult chapter to understand
  2. because I have not read Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit.
  3. In this work Hugo uses costumes to reflect
  4. the personalities of the characters
  5. …and at times a sense of danger.
  6. Clothes are iridescent, opaque, white, black
  7. …and at time sparkling with lies!
  8. Themes Hugo often uses are:
  9. Gullibility (crédulité) of people (easily fooled)
  10. Poke fun at the grotesque – Quasimodo- in
  11. Notre-Dame de Paris …to forget their own misery.
  12. Manipulation of the aristocracy
  13. …sometimes court jesters are smarter than the king!


Ch 10: Barriers

  1. Hugo is fascinated by barriers…they are
  2. fragile, arbitrary and at times not ‘watertight’. (étanché)
  3. Barriers of the elements: Travailleurs de a mer
  4. Barriers of the social classes: Les Mis and Quatrevingt-treize
  5. Barriers that keep things out and keep thing in: Les Mis
  6. These frontiers exert pressure on the exterior and interior.
  7. The struggle between these frontiers will help humanity to advance.
  8. Hugo is interested in the shells people wear…their homes,
  9. their geographical shell (land of birth)
  10. …that may reveal their true identity.
  11. Hugo spends a great deal of time describing shells:
  12. constructions, edifices, scaffolds, walls, clothes that people wear.
  13. Shelters with barriers can be found in Les Mis:
  14. Gorgeau’s shack, the Petit-Picups convent, the house on rue Plumet
  15. …and ’l’éléphant de la Bastille.


Ch 11: Suicide

  1. Suicide is widespread in Hugo’s novels…
  2. …with the exception of Dernier jour d’un condamné.
  3. Some say Hugo’s obsession with suicide
  4. stems from the trauma of his brother’s suicide.
  5. Javert: commits suicide in Les Mis
  6. Valjean: places himself in a potentially suicidal position ( on the barricades)
  7. Trivia: Dante places suicides in the 7th circle of hell:
  8. … above Judas but beneath heretics and murderers.
  9. Suicide: the character is in an intolerable position
  10. no other way to make amends
  11. no other way of fulfilling a patriotic duty
  12. no other way of remaining faithful to one’s principles
  13. no other way of avoiding dishonour
  14. Javert: suicide represents
  15. the triumph of the spirit against the letter of the law.
  16. the triumph of humanity and love
  17. …against the blind and rigid principle.



  1. This book was like a box of chocolates
  2. …you never know what you’re going to get!
  3. Not having read all the works of Victor Hugo
  4. …some of the references went over my head.
  5. But I did manage to lean one or two things.
  6. The tone of the book is academic.
  7. Personally I think  some of the
  8. illustrious authors still need to ask themselves:
  9. Is this really good writing?
  10. Chapter 9  by Yves Gohin was an example.
  11. His  analysis is impressive
  12. …but his style of writing left much to be desired.
  13. Gohin  creates never-ending sentences that are
  14. impossible to read and grasp his concepts.
  15. He uses too many independent clauses.
  16. Gohin had something worthwhile to say
  17. …but his  thoughts ramble clumsily from one to other
  18. …using sentence fragments that
  19. left ‘this reader’ exhausted and confused.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 29 2018

    Those paintings are beautiful and haunting. It’s sad that most people’s mental image of Hugo comes from Disney!

    best… mae

  2. Aug 3 2018

    I’ve been in a french class for 10 years, and our Prof calls us Groupe Hugo. She’s a fan. But you know, in all that time, I’ve learnt more about Hugo here today that I have before, thanks for that.

    • Aug 3 2018

      It just goes to show if you read, read, read….you can gather so much wisdom on your own! I can read (..still looking up words…) in French so I am able to investigate books that probably never will be translated. If you like info on Hugo I suggest looking at my review (dated February 16 2018) of his biography (1159 pg…and that is only vol 1 !!) Victor Hugo Jean-Marc Hovasse (2015). He is a French Victor Hugo scholar. It took me 3 weeks to read this book….and I read every day! Thanks for hosting #ParisInJuly and I hope to join in next year!


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