Le confinement avec Victor Hugo

Pendant cette période d'isolement nous vous proposons de prendre l'air marin de Guernesey et de suivre au jour le jour les travaux d'aménagements de Hauteville House au travers des carnets de Victor Hugo

April 9, 1859
Jean completes the great bed’s adjustment.

April 9, 1859, the bed located in Hauteville House’s oak gallery is nearly finished. Although it will only be completed few months later -in September- with the engraving of the inscription on its head : NOX MORS LVX (Night Death Light) and the fitting of the bi-front, a cane’s knob given to Victor Hugo by the sculptor James Pradier. Like most of Hauteville House’s furniture, this monumental bed was created from fragments of other pieces of furniture bought in antique shops in Guernsey or elsewhere. It is, for example, composed of : a chest’s front panel depicting Abraham’s Sacrifice at its foot ; various English sculpted wood panels in the taste of the 16th or 17th centuries on its canopy ; and a series of drawers fronts all around its head-board.  


April 8th 1862

 4th lunch for the poor little children. They were 15 of them. I saw a barefoot kid walking down the street. I called him. They were 16 at the end.”
[Victor Hugo's diary October 22, 1862 - December 31, 1862, French National Library, BNF NAF 13451]

In 1862, Victor Hugo established the dinners for poor children. On a weekly basis, a dozen of children in need was invited by the poet to share a substantial meal of meat. Set up in order to improve the physical condition of those young guests, the dinners were held up until Victor Hugo’s return to France in 1870. The poet would even invite them at Hauteville House for Christmas by gathering them around the Christmas tree and by offering them presents such as toys and clothing. Covered by the local as well the international press, this “fraternal deed” would not be limited to the poor children. Victor House made sure to invite “no one, but his doors were ever open to all”.


 April “7th  1859

We placed the Chinese transparent papers of the tapestry room.”

[Carnet de Victor Hugo du 1er octobre 1857 au 12 mars 1859, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF NAF 13451]


As of the start of the year 1858, Victor Hugo arranged the tapestry room situated on the ground floor at Hauteville House. On April 7, the French poet decided to use two rice papers inserted between two glass panels as a transom light at the top of the door leading to the study. This decorative element emphases the eclectic taste of Victor Hugo as well as his attention in enhancing light and transparency effects. The light coming from the study indeed, emphasises the colors of the characters.

The man depicted here is Zhong Kui, traditionally known as a vanquisher of ghosts. Story tells that after Zhong Kui’s suicide, the Chinese Emperor had a dream where Zhong Kui appeared pursuing a ghost. During the 19thcentury, the portrait of Zhong Kui was usually hung up in households like at Hauteville House.

April 3, 1859

I have read to my wife and children the Satyr. Guérin was here.

The reading of his newly composed works to the members of his family and his friends, is the highlight in the exiles’ days. On April 3, 1859, Victor Hugo read to his wife Adèle, and his three children, Charles, François-Victor and Adèle, as well as an exile friend, Théophile Guérin, The Satyr, poem composed for the Legend of the Ages. The creation of this epic poem published for the first time in 1859 matches with the creation of Hauteville House’s decor with which it shares numerous references.

April 2, 1862

Sending of the first two books of the fourth part 5-10

In 1862 Victor Hugo published Les Misérables and also ended the works in Hauteville House. His diaries are filled with references about the double completion of these two works like in April 2, 1862, when he sent by post to his editor in Belgium, the first chapters of the ”Idylle rue Plumet et l’Epopée rue Saint-Denis” (Fourth part). The very same year he had his “cristal room” built on the top of the roof. From this conservatory/study overlooking the ocean, an oval window created onto the floor, gives some light to the staircase below, reminding us the novelist’s words : “Let us return to that cry : light! and let us obstinately persist therein! light! light! (…)” 

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 3ème partie, Livre I, XII-the future latent in the people.

On March 31, 1859


Victor Hugo used for the first time this wash basin hidden in an insertable drawer under the pitch sloped loft. The poet set up his bedroom and study in the attic of Hauteville House. In a small room called by him the look-out, opening onto the garden and the sea, Victor Hugo, always meticulous when it came to hygiene and curious with all medical research of his time on the subject, gathered the only elements of comfort he needed : a low bed, a table on which he could write and a wash basin for his morning ablutions. 

Five years later, he hid it behind a wood panel, part of a diptych, on which he painted a victorious prince kneeling before a princess to whom he offers the three severed heads of a monstrous dragon.

March 27, 1869

Victor Hugo always took care of his works’ manuscripts. In order to do so he entrusted the Guernsey bookbinders Wardley & Arnold and Henry Turner (https://www.priaulxlibrary.co.uk/articles/article/henry-turner-and-dreyf...) with the manuscripts of Les Misérables, Toilers of the Sea, Songs of Street and the Wood, The Man Who Laughs or William Shakespeare above-mentioned in his diary, in March 27, 1869. Victor Hugo bequeathed his complete works and manuscripts to the French National Library where they are still kept. (https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b60009298.r=william%20shakespeare%20victor%20hugo?rk=21459;2)
A similar binding was also created by the Guernsey bookbinder, Arnold, for Victor Hugo’s reference books such as this dictionary by Louys Moréri printed in 1683.

March 23, 1858

Fitting of the gilded window frame.
On , 1858, the fitting by the carpenter Thomas Mauger Gore of a small gilded window frame, at the end of the 1st landing, gives some light to the bathroom hidden behind the door.
Few days before, the upholsterer, Marie Turpin, dressed up the walls using a yellow and blue brocatelle fabric. The tulip lamp will only be put in place in November the same year.

March 22, 1858

Tom Gor and James have fitted the window jambs in the lower sitting room.
Victor Hugo wrote this phrase in his diary on March 22, 1858. Works in his house of exile are already in full swing. The poet makes here reference to the tapestry room, a sitting room located on the ground-floor. The carpenter Thomas Mauger Gore is one of the most important participants in the arrangement of Hauteville House. He is here assisted by james MacDonald.

March 21

We celebrate today the first day of spring with this extract of a poem by Victor Hugo, describing his garden at Hauteville House, Guernsey.

Dans le gazon qu’au sud abrite un vert rideau,
On voit, des deux côtés d’une humble flaque d’eau
Où nagent des poissons d’or et de chrysoprase,
Deux aloès qui font très bien dans une phrase ;
Le bassin luit dans l’herbe, et semble, à ciel ouvert,
Un miroir de cristal bordé de velours vert ;
Un lierre maigre y rate un effet de broussaille ;
Et, bric-à-brac venu d’Anet ou de Versailles,
Pris à l’antre galant de quelque nymphe Echo,
Un vase en terre cuite, en style rococo,
Dans l’eau qui tremble avec de confuses cadences,
Mire les deux serpents qui lui tiennent lieu d’anses,
Et qui jadis voyaient danser dans leur réduit
Les marquises le jour, les dryades la nuit.

Victor Hugo, Dernière gerbe -XVIII MON JARDIN



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