Follow in the footsteps of Victor Hugo through Paris with us! For the next few weeks, you can read our blog posts to go on a Grand Tour without a passport at The Curio of Norfolk, LLC. (That should give you enough time to get a passport ordered!)
At the end of each post, please find some travel tips to plan your own Hugo trip abroad with a little insider knowledge - collectively we’ve lived, worked, studied, and played in Europe for decades and love to share what we’ve discovered.
Through the prism of Victor Hugo and his contemporaries, we will present highlights of an era called The Long Nineteenth Century, as defined by historian Eric Hobsbawm, utilizing books, prints, and various objet from The Curio’s collection.
Although this historical period started with the first shots of the French Revolution in 1789 (not at the Bastille…), we will start our journey in the 1830s, when Hugo first found success. We will then continue until the end of this so-called long century in 1914, the beginning of World War I.
Who is Victor Hugo?
Sarah Bernhardt paying homage to Hugo. From Victor Hugo's Novels Illustrated, 2nd edition. Ask us about our 5 volume set! Yes the famous image of Cosette is in this set.
From Notre Dame de Paris, renamed by the first translator Frederic Shoberl as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 to Les Misérables in 1862, Hugo’s body of work is as influential today as it was in his time. Born in 1802, Hugo witnessed the majority of the 19th century before his passing in 1885.
On his death, France endured a period of national mourning, and he was honored with a burial in the Panthéon - another invention of that century. Appropriately to the length of his life (and to the length of his books), we shall endeavor to emulate the style of this grand literary master.
Born to a royalist Catholic mother and a Napoleonic General father, who, because of his loss in Spain is not included on the Arc de Triomphe, Hugo grew up in the most tumultuous and longest century the world had ever seen.
Because of Napoleon’s heavy hand upon the French educational system, many citizens were literate. The press was also abundant and had varying degrees of freedom. The migration of people to cities because of industrialization and the hazard of continual war made Paris a loud, dirty, and tempestuous place, filled with a variety of people from all walks of life. And Victor Hugo came across all types in one way or another.
After the sizzle of the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo was driven not to be seen resting on his laurels. He turned to the theatre...
Hugo’s banned play Lucrèce Borgia
Victor Hugo, Lucrèce Borgia (Brussels: E. Laurent, 12 February 1833)
… Specifically, he became involved in productions at Le Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. On the 2nd of February 1833, Lucrèce Borgia premiered - with Hugo’s soon-to-be-mistress-for-life Juliette Drouet playing a minor role, Princess Negroni.
Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), an Italian of Spanish descent, was romantically demonized in the 1800s. She was the daughter of an illicit affair between a Spaniard who later became Pope and a courtesan. She was from a bellicose family that supported strategic marriages. And she was thought to be involved in a passionate affair with her brother Cesere, the youngest Cardinal ever to be elevated to the position and put there by their father, the newly-elected Pope Alexander IV.
Hugo utilizes Lucrezia as a foil for the Italian Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily (1782-1866), Queen of the July Monarchy, who was born in Naples and the granddaughter of Charles III of Spain. She was old enough to remember her Aunt Marie-Antoinette when her head was still attached to her body and to have seen that nearly every foreign war fought by France was against any one of this woman’s family members, from Austria to Spain.
Maria had seven brothers, and although there is no evidence of a particularly close relationship with any of them, the insinuation was enough. As were the parallels with Lucrezia’s life and personality, which any theater-goer of the time would have understood but which was just subtle enough to prevent the police from closing the production immediately. It was figured out, though, and the theater was closed and fined on the 8th of February.
The foreward by the publisher is dated 12 February 1833.
The Curio of Norfolk has a copy of Lucrèce Borgia that was published in Brussels in Belgium on February 12, 1833. Given that the production was so quickly shut down, publication of the banned play in France would have been dangerous. This copy was produced in Brussels and likely smuggled back to Paris right away to meet the demand for copies. Such cat and mouse games were usually won by the vicious claw of the state...
Our copy of Hugo’s Lucrèce Borgia is very small and may have been used by someone while watching the play or by an actor to memorize lines. It is paper bound, and the book block is in good condition. The spine is worn away but the binding is still in tact. The front cover was carefully reattached to the book at some point in the mid to late 20th century. The covers and pages are yellowed, worn, and dog-eared in places, but overall the book is readable and clean.
The Hugo Tour, Part I
Victor Hugo's Novels Illustrated, 2nd edition, in five volumes.
When actually in Paris, the first stop for any Hugophile should be L’Hôtel de Rohan-Guéméné on the Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement. He wrote Lucrèce Borgia and started Les Misérables here on the second floor. Since 1903, the hôtel has been a museum dedicated to his work. The collection includes some of the drawings that he avoided displaying in his lifetime due to fear of them overshadowing his literary oeuvre. This will surely show you another side to Victor Hugo.
Nearby is the Museum of the History of Paris, Musée Carnavalet, on the 23, Rue de Sévigné in the 3rd arrondissement. This museum will open again in 2020 after a complete renovation. We hope that the moquettes or models of Paris across the century that can be seen here will survive the renovation.Since you are on The Right Bank, the rive droite, anyhow, consider following Hugo’s path further to Le Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin at 18, Boulevard Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement. The theater is still in operation. And it is conveniently around the corner at 5 bis, Boulevard Saint-Martin, where he “consecrated moments of his time” in the evening with Juliette, according to their letters, starting on February 16, 1833.