Victor Marie Hugo (1802-85) was born in Besançon in eastern France. His father, Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo, was a general in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte and was on the staff of Napoleon's brother Joseph. In 1811, while Joseph was King of Spain, General Hugo was made Governor of Madrid, so young Victor had a taste of life in the highest of ranks of the nobility.
By 1813, however, the French had been overthrown in Spain and a year later Napoleon's empire had collapsed. Victor's parents separated and he went to live in Paris with his mother. He rejected the military career for which he had been destined and began to write, even while he was a teenager. His literary career commenced at the age of fifteen with a poem submitted to a contest sponsored by the Académie Française. By the age of thirty, he had established himself as a master in every domain of literature: drama, fiction, and lyric poetry.
In 1830 he became an enthusiastic supporter of the moderate monarchy of King Louis-Philippe, and around this time he entered the most productive phase of his writing career. Along with numerous poems, plays, and other novels, he wrote the first of his two greatest books, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which was published in 1831. This productive period came to an end after his beloved daughter Léopoldine died tragically in a boating accident and as he became increasingly involved in politics. This involvement climaxed in 1848 with his becoming a member of the Assembly when the Second Republic was formed.
In 1851, when Napolean III overthrew the Second Republic and came to the throne of France, Victor Hugo fled into exile disguised as a workman. He spent much of the next nineteen years on the Channel Islands, where he resumed his interrupted writing career and became a symbol of the French people's opposition to tyranny. It was during this period that he wrote his other famous novel: Les Misérables.
In 1870, with the formation of the Third Republic, he returned in triumph to Paris where he was elected senator in 1878. Though he did not have any real political influence, he was a national hero because of both his literary genius and his long fight for the freedom of the French people. When he died in 1885, he was buried in the Pantheon with every honor the French nation could bestow.
Victor Hugo has been compared with Charles Dickens because of his often bitter humor, his humanitarian compassion, and his breadth of vision combined with the minute accuracy of his characterization. He is nowadays considered one of the greatest French poets ever.
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