Bio: Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 at Besanon, where his father, an officer (eventually a general) under Napoleon, was stationed. In his first decade the family moved from post to post: Corsica, Naples, Madrid. After his parents separated in 1812, Hugo lived in Paris with his mother and brothers. His literary ambition--to be Chateaubriand or nothing--was evident from an early age, and by seventeen he had founded a literary magazine with his brother. At twenty he married Adele Foucher and published his first poetry collection, which earned him a small stipend from Louis XVIII. A first novel, Hans of Iceland (1823), won another stipend.
Hugo became friends with Charles Nodier, leader of the Romantics, and with the critic Sainte-Beuve, but rapidly put himself at the forefront of literary trends. His innovative early poetry helped open up the relatively constricted traditions of French versification, and his plays--especially Cromwell, whose preface served as a manifesto of Romanticism, and Hernani, whose premiere was as stormy as that of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring--stirred up much protest for their break with dramatic convention. His literary outpouring between 1826 and 1843 encompassed eight volumes of poetry; four novels, including The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1831); ten plays (among them Le Roi's Amuse, the source for Verdi's Rigoletto); and a variety of critical writings.
Hugo was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1841. The accidental death two years later of his eldest daughter and her husband devastated him and marked the end of his first literary period. By then politics had become central to his life. Though he was a Royalist in his youth, his views became increasingly liberal after the July revolution of 1830: Freedom in art, freedom in society, there is the double goal. Following the revolution of 1848, he was elected as a Republican to the National Assembly, where he campaigned for universal suffrage and free education and against the death penalty. He initially supported the political ascent of Louis Napoleon, but turned savagely against him after being denied a role in government following the coup de'tat of 1851.
Hugo went into exile in Brussels and Jersey, launching fierce literary attacks on the Second Empire in The Story of a Crime, Napoleon the Little, and The Punishments. Between 1855 and 1870 he settled in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. There he was joined by his family, some friends, and his mistress Juliette Drouet, whom he had known since 1833, when as a young actress she had starred in his Lucrezia Borgia. His political interests were supplemented by other concerns. From around 1853 he became absorbed in experiments with spiritualism and table tapping. In his later years he wrote The Contemplations (1856), considered the peak of his lyric accomplishment, and a number of more elaborate poetic cycles derived from his theories concerning spirituality and history: the immense The Legend of the Centuries (1859-83) and its post-humously published successors The End of Satan (1886) and God (1891). In these same years he produced the novels Les Miserables (1862), Toilers of the Sea (1866), The Man Who Laughs (1869), and Ninety-Three (1873).
After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Hugo returned to France and was reelected to the National Assembly, and then to the Senate. He had become a legendary figure and national icon, a presence so dominating that upon his death Emile Zola is said to have remarked with some relief: 'I thought he was going to bury us all!