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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Biography

Victor-Marie Hugo  was born February 26, 1802 to Sophie-Francoise Tr´┐Żbuchet and Joseph-L´┐Żopold-Sigisbert Hugo. His father was a high officer in Napoleon's army. Soon after Victor's birth his father took a mistress and his mother began an affair with General Lahorie, a Republican conspirator against Napoleon. Victor's parents remain married, however, until 1818 when they legally separated. During the early years of Victor's childhood the family lived in Corsica, Elba, Italy and Spain. In 1809 General Lahorie, who had become close to young Victor, was arrested at Madame Hugo's house and in 1812 he wass executed for treason. In 1817 the fifteen-year old Victor won an honorable mention in a prestigious poetry competition that immediately catapulted the child prodigy to fame. Amid a growing literary reputation he became secretly engaged to a childhood playmate, Ad´┐Żle Foucher. King Louis XVIII awarded Hugo a pension and with his financial future thusly secured he married Ad´┐Żle. Victor's brother Eug´┐Żne, who was also in love with Ad´┐Żle, went permanently insane during the ceremony.

Hugo published his first book of poetry Odes et Po´┐Żies in 1822. He embarked on a long literary career that included the historical novel Notre Dame de Paris: 1482 (1831), the plays Hernani (1830) and Ruy Blas (1838) as well as criticism and political essays. Over the years he engaged in several extra-marital affairs, most famously with Madame L´┐Żonie Biard who went to prison for the affair. As a government official at the time Hugo was immune to prosecution for the affair. In 1848 Hugo was elected to the Assembl´┐Że Constituante (Constitutional Convention) of the Second French Republic and later presided over the International Peace Conference where he suggested the creation of a "United States of Europe." In 1849 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly but soon broke with the Right and declared himself to be a Republican (i.e. liberal) on July 18, 1851. He was forced to flee France and took refuge in Belgium where he lived and wrote in exile for 19 years during which time he refused several offers of amnesty from the prevailing conservative French government. During this time he published several political works which made him the spiritual leader of the exiles. The time in Belgium also allowed him the opportunity to complete what he considered his masterwork, the novel Les Mis´┐Żrables. Upon publication in 1862 the novel was an unprecedented international success.

In 1870 Hugo triumphantly returned to France following Napoleon II's defeat. Hugo was elected to the minority party of the National Assembly of the Third Republic of France but he resigned when his proposals went unheard. In 1876 he was elected to the Senate of Paris where he continued to press for amnesty for the Communards (revolutionaries) and succeeded in preventing Marshal MacMahon from becoming dictator. Hugo suffered a minor stroke in 1878 and ceased to write but in 1880 he secured amnesty for the Communards. On his 79th birthday the nation declared a holiday and six hundred thousand people marched past his window. When he died from pneumonia on May 22, 1885 two million people marched past the Arc de Triumph where his body lay in state.

Les Mis´┐Żrables was the first full-length feature film made in the United States (1905). In 1939 RKO released a silent film version of Notre Dame de Paris starring Charles Laughton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Maureen O'Hara. The film was re-titled as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the work has been commonly referred to using this title since that time. Hugo's life and works inspired the foundation of a Buddhist sect in Vietnam that as of 1996 had more than 1,000 temples with three million followers. Hugo's stature as a writer among literary critics has waxed and waned over the decades but his position as one of the leading figures of the 19th century and one of the great champions of liberty and social uplift in any century is secure.

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