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Victor Hugo


Victor Hugo House

Victor Hugo the famous French writer Victor Hugo arrived in Guernsey with his wife Adele on 31st October 1855 and lived her in exile from 1855 to 1870 following his expulsion from France during the coup d'etat in 1852.  At first he rented 20 Hauteville but later acquired it for his mistress of fifty years Juliette Drouet. He then purchased 38 Hauteville to give himself and family security of tenure and while in Guernsey wrote 'Les Miserables', the inspiration for the west end musical. This fascinating property was given to the city of Paris by Jeanne Hugo and the children of George Hugo in 1927.

On landing in Guernsey on a rough rain-lashed day, it was love at first sight. St Peter Port enchanted him and wrote 'That corner of the old Norman land where live the noble little people of the sea, the isle of Guernsey, stern and gentle, my present refuge, my probable tomb.' He also described St Peter Port as 'A real old Norman port, hardly anglicised at all.' Later he wrote ' A gothic church, streets ancient, narrow, uneven, odd amusing, intersected by steps, clambering up and tumbling down, the houses piled on top of one another so that they all have a view of the sea. And a little harbour where the vessels are stacked together, where the yard-arms of the schooners ever risk smashing into the windows that overlook the quay.'

 

 

Victor Hugo House 38, Hauteville

 


Another of Hugo's best known works, 'Toilers of the Sea' was dedicated to the people of Guernsey. A map entitled the 'Victor Hugo trail' is available from the Guernsey Information Centre and shows the many places in Guernsey that feature in this novel. This includes St Sampsons, the home of several of his characters. He also describes the sea channel that separated the north of island extending to Grande Havre, later filled in. The trail also includes Vale Castle, Houmet Paradis, L'Ancresse and Cobo Bay. A second trail, the southern one, takes in Fermain Bay where Hugo often bathed and continues to the Doyle Column at Jerbourg, Moulin Huet Bay, Le Gouffre, Pleinmont and back into the centre of the island to Bailiff's Cross.

His life was a mixture of literature and politics and used his writings to highlight the plight of the poor of Paris. However how many people realise that he spent a fortune looking after the poor of Guernsey. His immaculately kept diaries and accounts show every amount that he spent and from there we have learned that he used to give away £20,000 per annum to charitable causes. In addition he ran a special dining club for the poor children of St Peter Port. He referred to this as 'Le Diner des enfants pauvres'.

At first he started feeding eight children once a week on a Tuesday but as news of this spread, the numbers increased to forty, with members of his own family serving. In fact he used to go out looking for poor children and would bring them back to be clothed and fed. This led to him becoming known as Guernsey's own Father Christmas. He would be seen walking the streets of St Peter Port and the cliff paths in all weathers. Whereas he had been evicted from Jersey for his drinking and cannabis smoking, the Guernsey people loved him.

Hugo lived in Guernsey for just over 15 years until 9 November 1878. He died in Paris in 1885 and was given a state funeral. He is buried in the Pantheon.

Hauteville House is open 1st April to 30 September Monday to Saturday from 10.00am to 11.45am and 2.00pm to 4.45pm (10.00am to 4.45 pm July & August). Closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Guided tours only (max 15 persons).

 
 
 
 
 
 

  

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