To reign! the ambition of great souls! To reign like the Emperors of Rome! I wish to emulate them in all their sovereign omnipotence!
“He unites the exactness of the [medieval] chronicles, the majestic grandeur of history, and the all-compelling interest of romance.”
Fans of outlaw stories, if they were ever able to time travel, might travel back to the 1820s and 1830s when Victor Hugo’s outlaw drama premiered.
The fact is, that America is better understood by Europeans than by its own citizens. While she is occupied in self-contemplation and self-admiration—a state of quiescent beatitude originated by amour-propre—we are in a situation which enables us to judge of her with impartiality and calmness.
His style reminds us of Cooper’s most approved nautical fictions, rather than of the coarse and vulgar “yarns” so tediously spun by Captain Marryat. He introduces us to scenes and adventures of stirring and painful interest.
A page of his book an echo to the tablet of his memory; and hence does he occasionally detail minutely those feelings and passions which the generality of authors usually express in one word.
A poem written by Victor Hugo in 1833 and translated by G.W.M. Reynolds: Behold the ball-room flashing on the sight, / From step to cornice one grand glare of light; / The noise of mirth and revelry resounds, / Like fairy melody on haunted grounds.
Translated from the French of Victor Hugo by G.W.M. Reynolds in The Monthly Magazine (1837): A quarter of a century has gone,/Since Gallia welcom’d her Napoleon’s son;/Before th’ imperial consort gave him birth;/And kingdoms trembled at the frolics wild/Which Nature play’d to welcome Valour’s child.
“It graphically traces the special features of class-rule as they have succeeded one another from epoch to epoch, together with the special character of the struggle between the contending classes. The “Law,” “Order,” “Patriotism,” “Religion,” “Family,” etc., etc., that each successive tyrant class, despite its change of form, fraudulently sought refuge in to justify its criminal existence whenever threatened; the varying economic causes of the oppression of the toilers; the mistakes incurred by these in their struggles for redress; the varying fortunes of the conflict;—all these social dramas are therein reproduced in a majestic series of “novels” covering leading and successive episodes in the history of the race—an inestimable gift, above all to our own generation, above all to the American working class.”
If you were a criminal, what would you choose – a life sentence in prison, the death sentence, or to be surgically blinded?
Last week Google celebrated the life of Victor Hugo (1802-85) with some quirky illustrations on its masthead, so I thought I would do the same by writing a post on an early novel by Hugo entitled “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” (1829), which explores the mindset of a man who is about to be hanged.