Who was Victor Hugo?

Part Jean Valjean, part Thénardier.

“I want to destroy human inevitability; I condemn slavery, I chase out poverty, I instruct ignorance, I treat illness, I light up the night, I hate hatred. That is what I am and that is why I have written The Wretched. As I see it, The Wretched is nothing other than a book having fraternity as its foundation and progress as its summit.”

Victor Hugo, 1862

He was one of those bushy-bearded nineteenth-century monsters of egotism, energy and creativity… In British terms, we would have to think of him as Dickens, Tennyson and Carlyle rolled into one: the greatest popular novelist, the greatest modern poet… and the irrepressible conscience of the nation. But there is no English equivalent of the political career he added to this, as a crusading enemy of the death penalty, an implacable opponent of tyranny, a parliamentarian under three different regimes and a patriotic bard. He tried out every permutation of nineteenth century French politics, starting as an arch-conservative and finishing as a left-wing hero. Romantic artists saw themselves as the prophets and guides of humanity: none more so than Hugo.

Like some of the other geniuses with whom he was compared – perhaps more comprehensively than most – he was a danger to those around him, blighting the lives of most of his family, and an incorrigible and insatiable sex-pest specializing in vulnerable women amenable to his fame, money and patriarchal authority.

Christine Donougher – introduction to Les Misérables

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