Victor Hugo

Research output: Book/ReportAuthored book


Victor Hugo (1802-85) is an icon of French culture. He achieved immense success as a poet, dramatist and novelist, and he was also elected to both Houses of the French Parliament. Leading the Romantic campaign against artistic tradition and defying the Second Empire in exile, he became synonymous with the progressive ideals of the French Revolution. His State funeral in Paris made headlines across the world and his breadth of appeal remains evident today, not least thanks to the popularity of his bestseller, Les Misérables.

This biography, the first in English for over twenty years, provides a concise but comprehensive study of Hugo’s monumental body of work within the context of his dramatic life. Hugo wrestled with family tragedy and personal misgivings while being pulled into the turmoil of the nineteenth century, from the fall of Napoleon’s Empire to the rise of France’s Third Republic. Throughout these twists of fate, he sensed a natural order of collapse and renewal. This unending cycle of creation shaped his ideas about freedom and roused his imagination, which he channelled into his prolific writing and other outlets like drawing. Such vigour also suggests, as Bradley Stephens argues, that Hugo was too restless to sit comfortably on the pedestal of literary greatness. Reviewed as follows:

'This “Hugo” will surely inspire readers to delve into the wonders of the poetry, drama and fiction created by the pre-eminent public figure of nineteenth-century France' (David Bellos, Professor of Comparative Literature and Author of 'The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables')

'In these troubled times of ours, this book is the antidote we never knew we craved. Comprehensive, refreshingly accessible -- and concise! -- Stephens draws a fascinating portrait. [...] Essential reading in a post-truth era!' ('France Today', April / May 2019, p. 95)

'In deftly detailing Hugo’s busy life, Stephens fills a gaping hole in Hugo studies, giving us an up-to-date, accessible, concise English-language biography of the author who dominated nineteenth-century France—and whose ideas continue to move throughout the world.' (Marva Barnett, Emerita Professor of French, Virginia Tech University)
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherReaktion Books
Number of pages224
ISBN (Print)978-1789140842
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

Publication series

NameCritical Lives
PublisherReaktion Books


  • Victor Hugo
  • French literature


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