Thursday, 29 March 2018

Victor Hugo Introduction


I've had a few Graham Robb books in the TBR for some time. Chunksters like Parisians and The Discovery of France. I knew that he'd written a chunky biography of Victor Hugo, and while I was somewhat interested because of my Francophile nature I was never brave enough to pick it up. Well, my participation in the year long #LesMisReadalong this year has changed all that. You may have noticed that I'm really loving it. A few weeks ago I found myself ordering a copy of Victor Hugo, and tonight I picked it up. 

I'm really not much of a reader of chunky books. I'm such a slow reader that they take me months and I find it endlessly frustrating, and I lose interest long before I'm anywhere near finished. But once you're taking on a 1416 page Les Mis then a 682 page biography of its author can seem like a relative doddle. It helps that Graham Robb already displays such a light touch.
The present biography was intended primarily to provide its author with an excuse to spend four years reading the works of Victor Hugo. 
I think I'm going to enjoy this. Tonight I read just the seven page Introduction. Already there is so much there. So much food for thought.  So much worthy of quoting starting with the very first sentence. 
Wherever one looks in the nineteenth century- there is Victor Hugo....
While I'm no expert on the nineteenth century certainly wherever I go- there is Victor Hugo. Naturally I've visited Musée Victor Hugo in Paris (see my blog post) which really helped me start to understand what a phenomenon he really was. I've visited his final resting place at the Pantheon (several times), and somewhat randomly found the Maison de Victor Hugo in Vianden, Luxembourg in 2010. There was even a link to my recent trip to Cambodia(!) when I discovered that Victor is seen as a saint by the Vietnamese Cao Dai religion, although sadly I didn't get to visit the Cao Dai temple whilst in Phnom Penh.

Victor Hugo was such a prominent nineteenth century figure that many grand statements can be found about him just within the introduction:
By the time he fled the country in 1851, Hugo was the most famous living writer in the world...
His influence on French literature was second only to that of the Bible. 
I was astonished to learn that only two-thirds of Victor's work was published during his lifetime, and 3,000 words were published about him every day- in 1997- probably that would be even more now, with people like me wittering on in our own little way. Given that, it's also surprising  in 1997 at least, there was no "complete, scholarly edition of his works and letters" published in France. 

This was the first time that I have heard of L'Homme Qui Rit, and obviously I immediately thought of La Vache Qui Rit! Really? Is that really a cheesy Victor Hugo reference? Seems I'm not the only person who think so... Oh, and there is a Maison de la Vache Qui Rit! Straight to the wish list. Oh and the 1928 silent movie version The Man Who Laughs inspired The Joker!

It seems that even in the twenty first century Victor Hugo is still everywhere! I can't wait to read on. 

Through the magic of the internet we can still watch Graham Robb speaking about Victor Hugo in 1998. It's worth listening to. 

6 comments:

Nancy Burns said...

Victor Hugo is so much more than just Les Mis and Nôtre-Dame de Paris!
Hope you enjoy learning more about the man....and his books. I have been reading continually and will post a book review 'about his work' in April or May. PS: Waterloo in French....was a long struggle!

Louise said...

Waterloo in French would be a major battle! Well done (I'm still stalled only two chapters in on my French reading, almost set aside really). I'll be looking forward to your reviews Nancy.

Nancy Burns said...

Readig chapter 88 Napoleon is defeated...."...le maître de L'Europe a été mis dans une cage..." :)

Brona Joy said...

I've just taken possession of the David Bellos Novel of the Century because like you & Nancy I am hooked on Hugo and his work and want to know more.
Curiously I was avoiding the Robb bio as I thought I didn't like his writing style in Parisians - but my 2014 doesn't seem to reflect that at all - http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/parisians-adventure-history-of-paris-by.html

Louise said...

Ah memory is such a funny thing Brona! You called Parisians a gem of a book! I've only been delaying it because it is such a chunkster. I'll have to try and get to it sooner now.

Marg said...

Funny story. A few years ago I was reading Les Mis and it took me months to read so I thought it would be funny to update my relationship status on Facebook to say I was in a relationship with Victor Hugo. Only problem was Facebook just said I was in a relationship. It didn't say who with so all my friends were congratulating me and asking for details and I ended up having to say that he was much older than me and had been dead for quite some time!!