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The Best 7 Books by Victor Hugo [PDF]

Victor-Marie Hugo was born in Besançon, France, on February 26, 1802, to mother Sophie Trébuchet and father Joseph-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo. His father was a military officer who later served as a general under Napoleon.

Hugo studied law between 1815 and 1818, although he never practiced it. Encouraged by his mother, Hugo embarked on a literary career. He founded the Conservateur Litteraire, a magazine in which he published his own poetry and that of his friends.

His mother died in 1821. That same year, Hugo married Adèle Foucher and published his first book of poetry, «Odes et poésies diverses». His first novel was published in 1823, followed by a series of plays.

In 1831 he published one of his most enduring works, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Set in medieval times, the novel presents a harsh critique of society that demeans and rejects the hunchback Quasimodo. This was Hugo’s most celebrated work to date and paved the way for his later political writings.

In the 1840s, Hugo became one of France’s most celebrated literary figures. In 1841 he was elected a member of the French Academy and appointed to the Chamber of Peers.

He took a step back from publishing his work after the accidental drowning of his daughter and her husband in 1843. Privately, he began work on a writing that would become Les Misérables.

Hugo fled to Brussels after a coup d’état in 1851. He lived in Brussels and Britain until his return to France in 1870. Much of the work Hugo published during this period conveys biting sarcasm and fierce social criticism.

Among these works is the novel Les Misérables, which was finally published in 1862. The book was an immediate success in Europe and the United States. Later reinterpreted as a theatrical musical and a film, Les Misérables remains one of the best-known works of 19th-century literature.

Although Hugo returned to France after 1870 as a symbol of the republican triumph, his last years were largely sad. He lost two sons between 1871 and 1873. His later works are somewhat darker than his earlier writings, focusing on the themes of God, Satan, and death.

In 1878, he suffered a mild stroke. Hugo and his mistress, Juliette, continued to live in Paris for the rest of their lives. The street where he lived was renamed Avenue Victor Hugo on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1882. Juliette died the following year and Hugo passed away in Paris on May 22, 1885.

He received a hero’s funeral. His body rested under the Arc de Triomphe before being buried in the Panthéon.

1) Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris, Hugo’s second novel, emphasizes the theme of ananke, a Greek word meaning fate or necessity. Ananke appears in the novel primarily as an inevitable transition; stylistically, the transition is from classicism to romanticism and, ultimately, from the human to the divine.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the embodiment of what must be recognized as the permanence of the transition. Originally a Gallo-Roman temple to the classical deity Jupiter, it became a Christian basilica and later, in the 12th century, a Romanesque cathedral. As its construction continued into the 13th century, the Gothic style overtook and succeeded the Romanesque configuration; and the cathedral, completed in 1345, stood as the architectural script of its own history. The novel treats this cathedral as a statement of ananke rather than of any of its many particular characters.

2) Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris, Hugo’s second novel, emphasizes the theme of ananke, a Greek word meaning fate or necessity. Ananke appears in the novel primarily as an inevitable transition; stylistically, the transition is from classicism to romanticism and, ultimately, from the human to the divine.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the embodiment of what must be recognized as the permanence of the transition. Originally a Gallo-Roman temple to the classical deity Jupiter, it became a Christian basilica and later, in the 12th century, a Romanesque cathedral. As its construction continued into the 13th century, the Gothic style overtook and succeeded the Romanesque configuration; and the cathedral, completed in 1345, stood as the architectural script of its own history. The novel treats this cathedral as a statement of ananke rather than of any of its many particular characters.

3) Ninety Three

This work published in 1874 is set during a stage of the French Revolution known as the Terror of 1793. It is the last novel by Victor Hugo, who intended it to be the first part of a cycle of works on the French Revolution.

In fact, it is a reflection of the author on the events that took place during the revolution, as well as on the legitimacy of it. It mixes fiction with reality to tell the story of three men: the aristocrat Lantenac; Gauvain, military chief of the republican army and the priest Cimourdain, who is a revolutionary. Ninety-Three is divided into three parts, each of which tells a different story and offers the reader different visions of this event of great relevance for the history of Europe. Both republicans and royalists are portrayed as individuals willing to perform even the cruelest act in order to defend their ideals, completely devoted to their causes.

4) Claude Gueux

Claude Gueux was first published in 1834 and is one of the works in which Victor Hugo shows his rejection of the death penalty. The story mixes reality with fiction, narrating the fate of a man -Claude Gueux- who is condemned to prison.

The events are set in Paris in the early nineteenth century, where the protagonist of the story is driven to despair by the lack of food and fire to survive the winter, so he decides to commit a robbery to get food for himself, his woman and son.

As a result of this event he is sent to the Clairvaux prison where he experiences horrors at the hands of the director of the prison, but also relates and creates a bond of friendship with another prisoner named Albin. Due to an arbitrary and malicious decision by the director, a series of consequences for the protagonist’s life will be unleashed.

5) Told Under Canvas

Told Under Canvas is a short work by Victor Hugo that will arouse the curiosity of those who immerse themselves in its pages. It tells us the story of Captain Leopold D’Auverney, who is a man who inspires in others a feeling of respect.

In addition to being described as a reserved man, with nothing about him that draws attention at first glance, Leopold D’Auverney is also a person who has been able to travel extensively and see much of the world, but in spite of this the captain considers that there is no incident in his life that deserves to be repeated.

We invite you to give a chance to this work of Victor Hugo, that although perhaps it is not as recognized as other of his writings, it is a story that deserves to be read and enjoyed for the quality of his writing.

6) Under Sentence of Death Or, a Criminal's Last Hours

Under Sentence of Death Or, a Criminal’s Last Hours is a novel that tells the fictional story of a man on trial and subsequently sentenced to death, who wakes up every morning with the idea that this may be his last day alive.

It is a book with a profound and moving narrative that is thought-provoking, in which the condemned man recounts what his life was like before incarceration, narrating his thoughts, feelings and fears. Always with the hope of being released, although as time goes by he knows he can do nothing to change his fate.

In this story, as in others of his authorship, Victor Hugo expresses his opinion on the death penalty, which he considered an act of savagery since he did not conceive the idea of society resorting to it as an act of justice.

7) William Shakespeare

The origin of this book is due to a rather curious fact: François-Victor, Victor Hugo’s son, was translating into French the works of the English playwright, so his father decided to write the prologue to this translation.

This prologue became a book of more than 500 pages in which the French writer wrote an essay on the life and work of William Shakespeare, literary creation and romanticism in literature. This event took place after Victor went into exile with his family on the island of Jersey in 1852.

Those who have not yet read Shakespeare will find in this book a guide to immerse themselves in his magnificent works. On the other hand, those who have read it will surely agree with Victor Hugo’s ideas about Shakespeare’s genius.

8) Les Misérables

Set in the post-Napoleonic era, just after the French Revolution, Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, a convict, who has just been released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

Influenced by the bishop to start a new life, Jean assumes a new name and moves to a new place where he becomes a respected citizen and makes a fortune in manufacturing. The police inspector, Javert, suspects him, but it is not until Jean’s conscience pushes him to reveal his true identity that he is forced to flee.