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Victor Hugo

French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Marie Hugo was born in Besancon, France, on February 27, 1802.  He is best remembered today for his epic novels, Les Misérables (1862) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831).  But over the course of his lifetime, Hugo published dozens of works of drama and literature.

Hugo's father was a general in the French Army and served under Napoleon Bonaparte.  His family traveled extensively while Hugo was young, moving for a time to Spain and Italy before his parents separated.  After that, Hugo went to Paris to live with his mother, and it was there that he began to make a name for himself as a writer.  He published his first play at the age of 14, and it received high praise from the Académie Française.  He published two early novels, Han d'Islande and Bug-Jargal, in his twenties. 

Hugo had worked for years translating the poetry of the Roman writer, Virgil, and he published the first translations in 1822.  He was rewarded lavishly by King Louis XVII for his work, after which he was introduced to the Royal Court, where he met and married the daughter of the minister of defense.

Although he earned widespread fame for his play, Hernani (1830), he became even more famous with the publication of his touching novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), which tells the story of a gypsy girl named Esmeralda and the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her.  Hugo cemented his fame in history after writing the epic tale, Les Misérables, which tells the story of Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

As he grew older, Hugo became interested in politics.  In 1848, after a revolution helped form the Second Republic, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly.  Just a few years later, he was forced to flee France after a coup d'etat by Napoleon III threatened his life.  After leaving, he journeyed to Brussels before moving to Jersey and then to Guernsey in the English Channel.  He remained expatriated from France for 20 years.  It was during this time that he penned Les Misérables.

After the sudden death of his daughter and her husband, Hugo became reclusive, refusing to publish anything for nearly a decade.  He returned to France when the Third Republic came into power, but he left again during the time of the Paris Commune, which ruled that city for a brief time in 1871.  Hugo again took up residence in Brussels, but he was expelled for sheltering defeated revolutionaries.  He moved to Luxembourg, but when the Paris Commune collapsed, he returned to France and was elected to the Parliament.

Victor Hugo's last years were marked by public veneration and acclaim.  When he died in 1885 at the age of 83, more than three million spectators followed his cortege to the Pantheon, where he was buried alongside other celebrated Frenchmen.  Although his death came at the end of a century of war, civil conflict, brutal insurrections, and social injustice, he always believed in the triumph of good over evil. 

In his pleas for tolerance and non-violence, Hugo became synonymous with the symbols of a new and democratic France.

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