On February 27, 1802, Victor Marie Hugo was born in France, the son of a Napoleonic officer.
By 17, Hugo had earned three prizes for poetry at Toulouse. The King awarded Hugo a royal pension after Hugo’s Odes and Poetry appeared in 1822. His first drama, Cromwell, was published in 1827.
After devoting nearly two decades to stage writing, Hugo turned to fiction. His novel, known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was published in 1831, featuring a villainous priest.
It has been turned into several movies and dramatizations, including a Disney cartoon (which interestingly turned villain Claude Frollo into a layperson).
Les Miserables was published in 1862 in ten languages. The epic tale has spawned several movies. A French musical opened in 1980. The English version debuted in 1985, and its Broadway debut was in 1987.
Hugo was forced to flee to Belgium following Napoleon III’s coup d’etat. He eventually returned to France when the Republic was proclaimed, and was elected a senator of Paris in 1876.
Although his spiritual views wavered over his long and tempestuous life, Hugo was anti-clerical, freedom-loving, and generally considered to have been a rationalistic deist. He died in 1885.
In his 1881 play Ninety-three, Hugo wrote: “An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.”