"He who opens a door, closes a prison." - Victor Hugo
Victor Marie Hugo (1802-1885) was a poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman and human rights activist. He is best remembered in his native France for his poems, and is considered by some to be France's greatest poet. Outside of France, he is best known as the author of the novels Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (aka The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).
When Hugo was two, Napoléon was proclaimed Emperor; when he was seventeen, the Bourbon Monarchy was restored. This dramatic political contrast was mirrored in his own family - his father, an atheist republican, was a high ranking officer in Napoléon's army; his mother was an ardent Catholic Royalist, and was the key influence on the young Hugo's life. As a result he grew up a committed conservative royalist but became more liberal as time went on, eventually becoming a passionate supporter of republicanism.
When Louis Napoléon (Napoléon III) seized power in 1851, establishing an anti-parlamentary constitution, Hugo, a member of the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly, was among those to declare him a traitor to France - thus Hugo spent the best part of two decades living in exile in Brussels, Jersey and Guernsey, before returning to France and politics in 1870.
He died at the age of 83, and was mourned as both a great figure in literature but also as a statesman who shaped democracy in France. More than two million people joined his funeral procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon, where he is buried, sharing a crypt with Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola. The avenue where he died in Paris now bears his name, as do streets in most large towns and cities across France.
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