The most important of the French Romantic writers, Hugo is best known outside France for his novels “Notre Dame de Paris”, or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1831), and “Les Miserables” (1862). His literary output was enormous; he first established himself as a playwright, wrote many novels, and is regarded as France’s most important poet. His work often dealt with French contemporary political questions, and he served in France’s legislative assemblies. His political convictions forced him into exile, where he remained for 20 years and where some of his most important work was done. Although his writing covered many themes, the eternal conflict of good vs. evil was central to much of his most important work.
The third son of a general in Napoleon’s army, Hugo’s early years were unstable and marked by constant travel. He started writing at age 14 and founded a literary review at age 17. At age 20 he married a childhood friend, Adele Foucher, with whom he had five children. In 1843 his daughter and her husband were accidentally drowned – Hugo’s resulting grief was channeled into “Les Miserables”. He also outlived his wife and two of his sons. In his later years he was a French national hero, celebrated for his defense of Republicanism. When he died in 1885 he was given a state funeral and buried in the Pantheon.