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Prophetic Chattiness

Patrick McGuinness: Victor Hugo, 19 June 2003

The Distance, The Shadows: Selected Poems 
by Victor Hugo, translated by Harry Guest.
Anvil, 250 pp., £12.95, November 2002, 0 85646 345 0
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Selected Poetry 
by Victor Hugo, translated by Steven Monte.
Carcanet, 305 pp., £12.95, September 2001, 1 85754 539 7
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Selected Poems of Victor HugoA Bilingual Edition 
edited by E.H. Blackmore and A.M. Blackmore.
Chicago, 631 pp., £24.50, April 2001, 0 226 35980 8
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... The size and variety of Victor Hugo’s oeuvre – around 200,000 lines of verse, plus dozens of novels, plays and critical works – makes it difficult to get an overview, let alone make a selection. In his Hugoliade, Ionesco suggested that Hugo’s best chance of survival lay in the impossibility of reading everything he’d written ...

Monsieur Apollo

John Sturrock, 13 November 1997

Victor Hugo 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 682 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 330 33707 6
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... writing to his sister in Rouen to tell her of the evening he had spent with, among others, Victor Hugo: I took pleasure in studying him closely; I gazed at him with astonishment, like a casket in which there were millions and a king’s diamonds, reflecting on all that had come from this man now sitting beside me on a small chair, and fixing ...


Norman Stone, 21 July 1983

The Invention of Tradition 
edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £17.50, March 1983, 0 521 24645 8
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... see them raze the ruins and build a ‘city of towers’ on modernistic lines. In a similar way, Victor Hugo remarked of the post-Napoleonic Bourbons that ‘nothing is more decrepit than at the moment of its restoration.’ The editors of this volume might agree with such sentiments. Their book contains knowledgeable and entertaining ...


Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego, 4 May 2017

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’ 
by David Bellos.
Particular, 307 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 84614 470 7
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... Any reflection​ on Victor Hugo risks degenerating into a procession of superlatives. Poet, dramatist, novelist, romantic, reactionary, revolutionary, mystic, miser and indefatigable philanderer: without him French literature, French politics of the 19th century are unimaginable. The scope of his ambition, the range of his genius, the vastness of his output, the extent of his appetite, the audacity of his opportunism and the oceanic immensity of his self-regard prompt awe – as well as sentences like these, cumulative and insistent, as his own so often were ...

Hugolian Gothic

Graham Robb: Gargoyles of Notre-Dame, 25 February 2010

The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame: Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity 
by Michael Camille.
Chicago, 439 pp., £34, June 2009, 978 0 226 09245 4
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... It was Victor Hugo who first brought the water evacuation system of Notre-Dame cathedral to the world’s attention. The central character of Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) was like a living gargoyle, a tortured ‘bundle of disordered limbs’ swinging furiously on bell-ropes, scrambling over the face of Notre-Dame, dislodging the crows, as he leaped ‘from projection to projection ...

Memory of the Night of 4

John Hartley Williams, 11 March 2010

... after Victor Hugo Two bullets to the head, the child had taken. It was a clean, honest, humble, quiet place. In blessing, above a portrait, hung a palm cross. His aged granny stood there, trembling, lost. In silence, we removed his clothes. His mouth hung open, pale, the eye-life drowned in death. Each arm fell useless from its socket ...


Emilie Bickerton, 22 November 2018

The Great Nadar: The Man behind the Camera 
by Adam Begley.
Tim Duggan, 247 pp., £12.99, July 2018, 978 1 101 90262 2
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... mouth and the eyes, which Nadar called ‘two drops of coffee’, betraying some vulnerability. Victor Hugo, side-on, avuncular, or on his deathbed; a glacial Eugène Delacroix; the incredibly joyless Goncourt brothers; a series of portraits of George Sand, who went to Nadar in desperation after a competitor had captured with great vividness her ...
Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, July 1994, 0 571 17196 6
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... or it makes you think you are infallible, or your writing becomes puffed out with self-esteem. (Victor Hugo thought himself superior to both Jesus and Shakespeare.) It is a complication that the imagination can well do without.’ It is the spring of 1993. Gunn is on the list of those who will read at a literary festival in a huge old market building ...

Slippery Prince

Graham Robb: Napoleon III, 19 June 2003

Napoleon III and His Regime: An Extravaganza 
by David Baguley.
Louisiana State, 392 pp., £38.50, December 2000, 0 8071 2624 1
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The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power 
by Roger Price.
Cambridge, 507 pp., £55, January 2002, 0 521 80830 8
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... discourse, haunted by the fundamental unnarratability and incomprehensibility of history’; Victor Hugo is teased and disparaged for his melodramatic portraits of ‘Napoléon le Petit’ and his ‘thundering certainties’, though the effect of Hugo’s mad caricatures can scarcely be described as ...

Give me calf’s tears

John Sturrock, 11 November 1999

George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large 
by Belinda Jack.
Chatto, 412 pp., £20, August 1999, 0 7011 6647 9
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... sweating in the greenhouse effect of early Romanticism. Bright young (male) novelists agreed that Victor Hugo had set off on the right lines in Bug-Jargal or Notre Dame de Paris, but that he’d proved too tame: to out-sensationalise the only moderately sensational Hugo was the way they thought fiction should now ...

At the White Cube

Peter Campbell: Anselm Kiefer, 22 February 2007

... called Aperiatur Terra et Germinet Salvatorem, Rorate Caeli et Nubes Pluant Iustum and Olympe-Für Victor Hugo. That is the White Cube part of the exhibition. Up Duke Street and across Piccadilly, in the forecourt of the Royal Academy, Kiefer (who is an honorary RA) has erected two towers, one of five storeys, the other of six. The work, called ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Napoléon’, 15 December 2016

directed by Abel Gance.
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... survives. The script suggests that Gance borrowed the image of the Convention as a storm from Victor Hugo, but the parallel must be all his. His conclusion of the scene invokes ‘the raging whirlpool of the Reign of Terror’ and ‘a man … being triumphantly carried to the heights of history’. There are many suggestions here. Bonaparte will ...

At Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Nicholas Penny: Flandrin’s Murals, 10 September 2020

... was part of a thirty-year project to repair the church after the Revolution, and was championed by Victor Hugo among others. The recent restoration is a major event which has attracted little notice. Attention is instead focused on what is being undertaken at Chartres and at Notre-Dame, which has garnered astonishing ...

At King’s Cross

Richard Taws: Amalia Pica’s ‘Semaphores’, 24 October 2019

... on familiar rooftops and the thought that it might be used to send sinister secret messages. Victor Hugo wrote that he despised the ‘big black insect’ for its ugliness and meagre preoccupation with the affairs of the world, as well as for the ‘dark terror’ induced by its inscrutable transmissions. Later, Thomas Carlyle described the ...

Robespierre’s Chamber Pot

Julian Barnes: Loathed by Huysmans, 2 April 2020

Modern Art 
by J.K. Huysmans, translated by Brendan King.
Dedalus, 313 pp., £10.99, February 2019, 978 1 910213 99 5
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... say that all Salon pictures were still lifes, even a picture of a heroic battle or a portrait of Victor Hugo – perhaps especially a portrait of Victor Hugo, whose marmoreal fame had turned him into a still life already.This is not, of course, as simple or monumental a story as the professional insiders v. the ...

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