A Guernsey House

In the footsteps of Victor Hugo

« Granite to the south, sand to the north; here sheer rock faces, there dunes. An inclined plane of meadowland with rolling hills and ridges of rock; as a fringe to this green carpet, wrinkled into folds, the foam of the ocean. ».

Victor Hugo
Toilers of the Sea Channel Islands Island of Guernsey

Victor Hugo must have covered most of the island's paths during his daily walks on Guernsey. He sang of its beauty in L’Archipel de la Manche [The Channel Archipelago], an introductory chapter that he added to his local novel, Toilers of the Sea.

Yet some places are more marked by his memory than others, such as those where he stayed before he bought Hauteville House: The Hotel de l’Europe, opposite the harbour, where he stayed on his arrival (now a Marks & Spencer store); the first “Hauteville House” at number 20, Hauteville, which in 1864 became Juliette Drouet's house, commonly known as “Hauteville Fairy” but which Hugo referred to by the more meaningful name “Hauteville II”. Prior to this, Juliette lived in La Fallue, in a side alley above Hauteville House, now part of the Pandora Hotel. Victor Hugo also furnished both of these homes for Juliette. The surviving furnishings are preserved in the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris.

In the centre of St Peter Port, Hugo frequented several shops, as well as his barber. His bookbinder was located in Mill Street, to whom he entrusted his manuscripts, which were covered with vellum edged in black, with decorative titles in large red letters. In High Street, the Old Bank building still stands, where Victor Hugo deposited his manuscripts for a time before his return to France in 1870.

Outside the town centre, the Foulon Cemetery holds memories of bereavements that affected Victor Hugo: the grave of Émilie de Putron, the fiancée of his son François-Victor, who died in 1865; Hennett de Kesler, a companion in exile and close friend of the poet on Guernsey where he died in April 1870. There is also the Mauger family tomb. The father, Pierre or Peter was responsible for the refurbishment of Hauteville House and La Fallue, Juliette's house. Peter, the son, built the look-out.

Having got into the habit of bathing in the sea on Jersey, Hugo kept an accurate account of this pastime. His favourite bathing spots were Havelet Bay, below Hauteville House, and Fermain Bay, further down the coast to the south. This is a beautiful cove with a watchtower surrounded by countryside.

There are, of course, the places that the writer mentions in Toilers of the Sea. St Sampson harbour is now an industrial area north of St Peter Port. Pleinmont Headland on the south-west tip of the island is where the “maison visionnée” [watch house] stood. Destroyed during the Second World War, only the foundations remain, among a group of blockhouses built by the Germans.

Heading back east along the south coast are Le Gouffre and Moulin Huet which were popular excursion and picnic spots.

Let’s not forget the island of Sark, which he visited twice while living in Jersey, in 1853 and 1854, and then for a longer time in 1859.

Victor Hugo is remembered by his statue at the top of Candie Gardens, overlooking St Peter Port. The work of sculptor Jean Boucher, this gift from France to Guernsey was unveiled in July 1914 and depicts the island's tireless wanderer.

The life of Victor Hugo

Before exile



Birth of Victor Hugo on February 26, 1802, in Besançon, where his father Léopold is stationed. His father, who was a soldier in the French Revolution and later in the Empire, pursued most of his career under Joseph Bonaparte. In 1797, he married Sophie Trébuchet, a royalist from the Vendée region. The couple have three children, Abel, Eugène and Victor, but do not get along well and go through a long and troubled period before their definitive separation in 1818.


Sophie Hugo and her sons join Léopold in Italy (Naples and Avellino) but the reunion goes badly. Léopold is transferred to Spain. Sophie and her sons return to France and move to the former Feuillantines Convent. This is where Hugo meets Adèle Foucher, who becomes his childhood sweetheart.


The Hugo family spends a year in Spain, where Léopold, who had been promoted to General in 1809, is the governor of several provinces for King Joseph. Victor is placed in the College of Nobles in Madrid.


Hugo writes The Virgins of Verdun, the first poem he would publish in a collection, as part of Odes and Ballads (1826). First draft of Bug-Jargal.


Golden Lily from the Academy of Floral Games, in Toulouse. Publishes Le Conservateur littéraire (The Literary Conservative) magazine with his brothers.


Royal recompense for the ode on the death of the Duke of Berry.


Begins Hans of Iceland. Shortly after the death of his mother, becomes engaged to Adèle Foucher.


They marry on October 12. They will have five children, four of whom survive to adulthood. Publication of Odes et poésies diverses (Various Odes and Poems).


Birth and death of Léopold. Publication of Hans of Iceland. Founding of La Muse française. Hugo becomes a friend of Charles Nodier and starts to attend his salon at the Arsenal Library the following year.


Publication of Nouvelles odes (New Odes). Birth of Léopoldine.


Named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and invited to the coronation ceremony at Reims, which he glorifies in his Ode sur le sacre de Charles X (Ode on the Coronation of Charles X).


Publication of Odes and Ballads. Birth of Charles.


Publication of Cromwell. The play, which was impossible to stage because of its breadth, nonetheless had a preface that became the veritable manifesto of the Romanticism led by Hugo. At his home on Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, he played host to the “Coterie,” most notably the painters Louis Boulanger, Achille and Eugène Devéria.


His play Amy Robsart is refused. Birth of Victor (who will be known as François-Victor, starting in 1849).


Publication of Orientalia, a collection of poems that will crystallize Romantic imagery and inspire numerous painters, followed by The Last Day of a Condemned Man, a vibrant plaidoyer against the death sentence. His new play Marion de Lorme is prohibited.


Success of Hernani in spite of the legendary “battle” that opposed Classicists and Romantics. Victor Hugo has too many visitors and is obliged to leave Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs and move to Rue Jean Goujon. This is where Adèle is born.


Publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which, in addition to his poetry and plays, consecrates Hugo as the major Romantic novel writer. Creation of Marion de Lorme and publication of the collection entitled Autumn Leaves.


Prohibition of Le Roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself) after opening night, since the play is considered offensive to royalty. The trial that follows is determinant for Victor Hugo’s political passion concerning the issue of freedom. The family moves to Place Royale (now Place des Vosges).


During rehearsals for Lucrèce Borgia, Hugo meets Juliette Drouet, who will become his mistress and, until her death in 1853, will live near him. The play is an immense success. It is followed by Marie Tudor.


Juliette and Victor adopt the habit of making a summer journey in France. Hugo makes many drawings in his notebooks of these trips. The publication of Claude Gueux confirms Hugo’s commitment to abolishing the death sentence and his awareness of the problem of misery.


Staging of Angelo, Tyrant of Padua and publication of the collection entitled Songs of the Half Light.


Les Voix intérieures (Inner Voices). On the occasion of the marriage of the Duke of Orleans, son of Louis Philippe, Hugo is promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honor. The prince and his wife present Hugo with the painting by Gillot Saint-Evre entitled Inès de Castro. Travel to Belgium.


Ruy Blas is staged at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, founded with Alexandre Dumas to present the Romantic repertoire.


Travel to Alsace, the Rhineland, Switzerland, Provence and Burgundy.


Les Rayons et les Ombres (Beams and Shadows), last poetry collection before 1853. New trip to the Rhine Valley; numerous drawings.


After several failures, Hugo is elected to the French Academy.


Publication of Le Rhin (The Rhine), a travel diary with a conclusion that announces Victor Hugo’s interest in politics.


Les Burgraves. Léopoldine marries Charles Vacquerie. Six months later, they drown accidentally in the Seine near Villequier. Victor Hugo is shaken by the news, which he learns about in the newspaper on his return from a trip to Spain. He will not publish further works until 1852.


Is named Peer of France. Following the scandal of adultery with Léonie Biard, he begins to write Les Misères (Miseries), which will become Les Misérables.


Loyal to the royal family, he advocates the regency of the Duchess of Orleans during the 1848 Revolution but later supports the Republic, although he turns down a ministry in the provisional government. In June, he is elected Deputy of Paris to the Constituent Assembly. Speech on the national workshops, against the death sentence and for freedom of the press. The apartment on Place Royale is very briefly occupied by insurgents; the family leaves it, first for Rue d’Isly and then for Rue de La-Tour-d’Auvergne. Hugo supports the candidacy of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte for President of the Republic.


Hugo is elected as the Deputy of Paris to the Legislative Assembly. Speech on misery. Presides over the Convention on Peace.


Speech on the freedom of education, the theater and the press and for universal suffrage. He prolongs his summer vacation and installs a real studio in Juliette Drouet’s home, where he makes some of his greatest drawings.

During exile



On December 2, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte stages a coup d'état since his term cannot be extended; Hugo tries in vain to oppose this action and organizes a resistance. Under threat, he leaves for Brussels on December 11, the start of an exile that will last nineteen years.


Order expelling Hugo from France. Publication in Brussels of Napoleon the Little, which will oblige him to leave the country in August. The family sells the furniture from the apartment on Rue de la-Tour-d’Auvergne to follow him in exile. They are reunited in Jersey, where Hugo is installed at Marine Terrace.


Experiment with rotating tables. Les Châtiments (Punishments). Protests against the execution of John Tapner on Guernsey and draws The Hanged Man, which would henceforth be on display in his study.


Following the publication by certain outlaws of a letter protesting the rapprochement between Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, Hugo is expelled from Jersey and moves to Guernsey.


Publication of the collection entitled Les Contemplations, whose success enables the purchase of Hauteville House. For three years, Victor Hugo dedicates himself to decorating the home; at the same time he arranges La Fallue, Juliette Drouet’s first home on the island.


Publication of the first series of The Legend of the Ages. Hugo refuses amnesty by Napoleon III. Continuing his combat against the death penalty, he intervenes in favor of John Brown, the American abolitionist.


Hugo dedicates most of his time to writing his novel Les Misérables. Charles leaves Guernsey.


Les Misérables appears and is an immense success. First meal for poor children at Hauteville House. Hugo installs the Lookout (or “Crystal Room”) on the roof of Hauteville House. He adopts the habit of an annual trip with Juliette on the continent.


Publication of William Shakespeare. Juliette Drouet installs herself at Hauteville II.


After the death of his fiancée, Emilie de Putron, François-Victor leaves Guernsey in turn. Charles Hugo marries Alice Lehaene and moves to Brussels, where Madame Hugo is now living. Publication of the collection entitled Songs of Street and Wood.


Publication of the novel Toilers of the Sea, which is a tribute to Guernsey and its inhabitants.


Birth of Georges, the son of Charles, in Brussels, followed by the death of Madame Hugo. The poet accompanies the coffin to the French border.


Publication of a new novel, The Man Who Laughs. Foundation in Paris of the newspaper Le Rappel by Charles and François-Victor Hugo, Paul Meurice and Auguste Vacquerie. Birth of Jeanne, the daughter of Charles.

After exile



On July 14, Hugo plants the oak tree of the United States of Europe in the garden of Hauteville House before leaving Guernsey for Brussels to wait for the fall of the Empire. When the Republic is proclaimed, he returns to France, where he is welcomed like a hero. He installs himself in Paul Meurice’s home. French edition of Les Châtiments. Hugo and his family remain in Paris during the siege.


Elected as a deputy from Paris, Hugo follows the Chamber to Bordeaux, where he resigns one month later. Death of his son Charles. Following this death, he finds himself in Brussels during the Commune but is expelled for having offered asylum to the Communards. He stays in Vianden and then returns to Paris, where he moves to 66 Rue La Rochefoucauld. Victor Hugo frequently welcomes political, literary and artistic celebrities to his home. Georges and Jeanne are associated to every moment of his existence.


His daughter Adèle, who has gone mad, is brought back to France and placed in a rest home. Stays in Guernsey for a year, until July 1873, where he writes his last novel, Ninety-Three. Publication of L’Année terrible (The Terrible Year).


Back in Paris, he moves to Villa Montmorency in Auteuil, then to Juliette Drouet’s home on 55 Rue Pigalle. Revival of Marion de Lorme at the Comédie-Française. Death of his second son, François-Victor.


Release of Ninety-Three and My Sons. Moves to 21 Rue de Clichy.


Publication of the first collections of his political positions and interventions, Deeds and Words I and II.


Elected as a senator, he intervenes in favor of amnesty for the Communards. Deeds and Words III.


Charles’ widow Alice remarries the politician Édouard Lockroy; Hugo keeps guardianship of his grandchildren. Release of The Art of Being a Grandfather and History of a Crime. Revival of Hernani at the Comédie-Française, with Sarah Bernhardt.


Publication of the poem Le Pape (The Pope). Last stay in Guernsey to recuperate following a stroke. Returns to 130 Avenue d’Eylau, which will be his last home.


Publication of La Pitié suprême (Supreme Pity). Revival of Ruy Blas, which becomes part of the Comédie-Française repertoire.


Publication of Religions and Religion and L’ Âne (The Donkey). Celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Hernani.


So-called “Festival of February 7, 1881”, celebrating Victor Hugo’s eightieth year; hundreds of thousands of people parade under his windows to pay him tribute. Publication of The Four Winds of the Spirit. The part of Avenue d’Eylau where the poet lives is renamed “Avenue Victor Hugo”.


Publication of the play Torquemada. Is re-elected to the Senate.


Meeting with Rodin, who wants to make a bust of him. Death of Juliette Drouet on May 11. Writes L’Archipel de la Manche (The Channel Islands), which henceforth serves as a prologue to Toilers of the Sea.


Hugo goes to see the Statue of Liberty in Bartholdi’s workshop. It is his last appearance in public.


Death of Victor Hugo on May 22. On June first, national funeral and entombing in the Pantheon .

Learn more