Le confinement avec Victor Hugo

During this period of isolation, we suggest you take the sea air of Guernsey and follow the day-to-day work of the Hauteville House developments through Victor Hugo's notebooks.

On May 20, 1858
“I received this morning in a mysterious way, the news of death of the Duchess of Orleans : -A London illustrated newspaper that I wouldn’t usually receive The Town-Talk, was brought to me. I open it. In the center was a caricature of Bonaparte and these two lines  : The Duchess of Orléans (Hélène) has died this morning the 19 - It is rumoured that the villain of December 2 had her poisoned.
“a. L. M.”
She was a noble woman. ( I don’t believe she was poisoned) who is A. L. M. ?”

Most of the books which are in Hauteville House’s library were sent to the poet by admirers or friends. Very few are the ones sent to him anonymously like this May 15, 1858 issue of the London newspaper the Town Talk. A note inside breaks the news of the death, perhaps the assassination on the Emperor’s order, of the Duchess of Orleans, Hélène de Mecklembourg-Schwerin. The mystery of its author’s identity remains unresolved.


On May 19, 1858

“While writing this note, at 9.30 o’clock this morning, I can see from my window the two funnels boat Ribeyrolles is about to embark on. (Ribeyrolles asked not to be accompanied for the boarding so that nobody gets emotional). He is leaving at ten to ten.”


On May 19, 1858 Victor Hugo said farewell to a companion of exile, Charles Ribeyrolles.

Republican journalist born in the Lot department, Charles Ribeyrolles had fled France in 1849. He settled in London and then Jersey in 1851 where he befriended Victor Hugo and got involved within the community of exiles. In 1855, he was expelled from Jersey due to an article published in his newspaper L’Homme. He, then, spent some time in Guernsey and became a close friend of the Hugo family. In 1858, he left Europe for Brazil where he would die of yellow fever at the age of 48. Buried in Rio de Janeiro, his headstone is inscribed with an epitaph composed by Victor Hugo.


He accepted the exile; he loved the misery;
Fearless, he wished liberty;

He served every rights with all virtues;

Because the idea is a sword and the soul is a force

And the pen of Wilberforce

Comes out from the sheath of Brutus »

May 14, 1857

Dining room’s inauguration. Dined with us six : Terrier - Ribeyrolles - Guérin - Duverdier - Preveraud - Kesler - Cahaigne - Lefèvre, french exiles. Ladies  Duverdier, Preveraud, Allix, Nicolle, Loysel. The gazette of Guernesey ’s and The Star ’s chief editors, MM. Marquand and Talbot.

The dining room played an essential role in the Hugo’s family’s social life. The craft of its intricate decor expressing political and philosophical thoughts, seemed to occupy a great deal of the poet’s time and attention in the first year of the works. As soon as May 14, 1857, the room was thus inaugurated with the family and friends, most of them exiles, as well as two representatives of the local press. From 1862, Victor Hugo would also provide in this room meals for poor children of the island.


May, 11 1870

11th. While I am judged in Paris, and therefore condemned, I am in the meantime painting the frame on which I wrote amongst the flowers and the birds : 

[Robins and sparrows

Come from the air and the sea  

Come all and indulge into Mr Georges’ house] 

 Called the previous day to appear before the Court for his manifesto against the plebiscite, Victor Hugo is keeping busy on the eleventh of May 1870, with preparing Hauteville House for his grandchildren’s first visit : Georges (1 year old) and Jeanne (8 months old) would soon be coming with their parents Charles Hugo (1826-1871) and his wife, Alice Lehaene (1847-1928).


Today, May 8, we are celebrating the “Victory in Europe Day”.

Crucial in the mind of Victor Hugo, the principle of freedom often appears in Hauteville House.

And this engraved poem in the dining room is a good example.

“Small are the people, but great they will be

In your sacred arms, o fruitful mother,

With conquering step, o holy liberty

You carry who holds the world.”


May 7, 1858
Tom has started to build the second part of the bookcases near my door.

May 7, 1858, Hauteville House’s library is under construction by Thomas Gore and James Mac Donald. Located on the second floor stair landing, the library is shaped as a long corridor that leads to the poet’s study. Its bookcases contain more than 3000 books of various subjects.

May 6, 2020

 “Imagine a series of visages presenting in succession every geometrical figure, from the triangle to the trapezium, from the cone to the polyhedron - every human expression, from that of anger to that of lust - every age, from the wrinkles of the new-born infant to the wrinkles of those of extreme old age -  every religious phantasm, from Faunus to Beelzebub - every animal profile, from the jowl to the beak, from the snout to the muzzle. Figure to yourself all the grotesque heads carved on the Pont-Neuf, those nightmares petrified under the hand of Germain Pilon, taking life and breath, and coming one after another to look you in the face with flaming eyes - all the masks of a Venetian carnival passing successively before your eye-glass,—in short, a sort of human kaleidoscope.”

[The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Book 1, V – Quasimodo]

On May 5, 1858, the works were progressing in Hauteville House. The tapestry room located on the ground floor was finished as well as the look-out antechamber in the attic where the poet’s study is situated.
Only furnished at this time with a small table on which Victor Hugo wrote books such as The Legend of the Centuries, the simplicity of this room contrast with the rest of the house.

In 1858, the room still opened onto a roof terrasse on which Victor Hugo would build a conservatory few years later.

MAY the 4th 1869

 "- The first issue of Le Rappel has been delivered"
[Victor Hugo's diary. May 1, 1867 - May 31,1869. French National Library, BNF NAF 13466]

MAY the 4th 1869… Victor Hugo received the first issue of Le Rappel (The Reminder), the daily newspaper founded by his two sons, Charles and Francois-Victor, and three other friends. The newspaper became a platform for the most radical opponents to the Second Empire. It also enabled the poet living in exile to persevere in his political battle against Napoleon III. A letter written by Victor Hugo was even published on the front page of the first issue. A way to show the relentless determination of the poet:
"[…] Le Rappel. I love every sense of the word: Reminder of principles, […], reminder of people’s sovereignty, […], reminder of Equality, reminder of compulsory education; […] Here is our task; I just say this: Here is your work."

30 avril 1869

The lilacs are in full bloom. -Tonight, I have seen the first bat.

Nature observation was an important part of victor Hugo’s daily life in Guernsey. In that respect the poet wrote this note on April 30, 1868.
The bat is amongst the most frequently depicted animals in the Hauteville House. From the ominous symbol of the romantic poetry to the blissful one of the oriental philosophy, the contrast enriches Victor Hugo’s work as far as even down to his home.


29 avril 2020

The family and the friends of Victor Hugo were the true companions of the poet living in exile. Nonetheless, pets such as the dogs Chougna, Lux, Sénat, Clichy, Marquis and the cats Grisette (or Grise) and Mouche, also had their place in Hauteville House.

“Beasts cannot do harm because they do not think. Creatures of nature are slaves to the material and innocent; creatures of humanity are guilty because they are free. Nero commits crimes; a tiger does not”

April 24, 1858
Rivoulon’s N.D. [Notre-Dame] restored by Mauger

Three days after having set the two windows on each side of Hauteville House entrance porch, the carpenter Peter Mauger restores its core piece on April 24, 1858 : a sculpted frame signed in 1832 by French artist Antoine Rivoulon. The painting itself was detached by Victor Hugo from the frame. The latter was included into Hauteville House’s decor.

It is richly decorated with statuettes representing characters from the novel such as Quasimodo or Esmeralda.

Today, April 23, we pay tribute to William Shakespeare (26 April 1564-23 April 1616)

(…) those wraths and those appeasements, that all in one, the unforeseen amid the changeless, the vast marvel of inexhaustibly varied monotony, that smoothness after an upheaval, those hells and those heavens of the unfathomed, infinite, ever-moving deep, - all this may exist in a mind, and then you have Æschylus, you have Isaiah, you have Juvenal, you have Dante, you have Michelangelo, you have Shakespeare ; and it is all one wether you look at these souls or at the sea.(…)
Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare -Partie I, livre premier, II ; Trad. by Melville B. Anderson , 1887.April 22, 1859

Painted the wooden frame of the small stairway’s mirror.

This mirror is located in the small stairway leading to the attic. On April 22, 1859, Victor Hugo painted the frame with flowers and animals motifs and signed it : “Victor Hugo Guernesey 1859”. This frame is ornate in the same style as the frames made the same year by the poet for the series of his drawings called “Souvenirs” which were placed in the billiard room.


 “21st of April.

The two windows on either side of N.D. are completed”

The note “N.D.” of April 21, 1858 refers to the porch known as “Notre-Dame de Paris” the visitor can find in the entrance in Hauteville House. Realized between 1858 and 1859, the structure pays tribute to the historical novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” (1831) composed by the young Victor Hugo. Made out of wood, plaster, glass and adorned with statues, the porch reminds us the writer’s predilection for the Gothic style. The “two windows” are here composed from salvaged crown glass. The whole becomes Hauteville House’s frontispiece, like the one in the Parisian cathedral and the one drawn by French artist Célestin Nanteuil for the 1833 edition of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”.

April 17, 1867, Victor Hugo sent to his Belgium editor Albert Lacroix, the penultimate chapter of his preface to the Paris-Guide. For 3 days, between the 16th and the 18th, the chapters were posted from Guernsey in order to be published on May.Sending to M. Lacroix in Brussels, of the Paris’ preface fourth part (The function of Paris).

This book, written on the occasion of the 1867 International Exhibition, was signed by some of the most famous writers, artists, journalists or historians of the time : Alexandre Dumas, Jules Michelet, Viollet-le-Duc, Théophile Gautier, etc. Victor Hugo who was entrusted with the preface, took this opportunity to affirm his faith in the progress of civilisation and to formulate his European vision. The latter was symbolised in Hauteville House on July 14, 1870, with the planting in its garden of the oak tree of the United States of Europe.

April, 16, 1857

“16- […] gave to Orban in order to buy the Turkich rugs___________________________________96”

[Carnet de Victor Hugo du 31 octobre 1855 au 30 septembre 1857, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF NAF 13446]

Victor Hugo did not hesitate to ask for help for the refurbishment of Hauteville House. Not only his family got involved in the process, his close friends also contributed to the decision making. Like Orbán Bálazs, on April 16, 1857. Born in Transylvania, Orbán Bálazs (1829-1890) took part in the 1848 Hungarian uprising against the Habsburg Empire and was forced to live in exile in Turkey. In 1852, he travelled to London and finally settled in Jersey where he met Victor Hugo. Learned man as well as polyglot, he was often invited by the French poet accompanied by his Hungarian compatriots such as politician Sándor Teleki and fiddler Eduard Reményi. After a brief stay In Guernsey, Orbán Bálazs decided to come home and roam Székelyland for a period of six years (1862-1868). He would visit all villages and survey all parts of his native region. With the basics of photography he would have learned from Charles and François-Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo’s sons), Orbán Bálazs managed to add a large number of photographs to his documentation.

Towards the end of his life, Orbán Bálazs became a member of the Hungarian Parliament and got elected to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1887.

April 15, 1865,

The President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, died following an attack by the conspirator, Confederate and pro-slavery supporter, John Wilkes Booth.
The assumption of an epistolary relationship between Victor Hugo and Abraham Lincoln has been put forward. However no letter has been found. Only the portraits of the two men were kept in their respective personal collections : Victor Hugo Museum in Paris keeps a portrait of Abraham Lincoln while the Lincoln Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has a portrait of the poet.
In March 1865, Victor Hugo received some books sent by the American Government. Not yet identified, these books are likely to be kept in Hauteville House library.


April 14, 1860
Handed 100 francs from the Lacour’s fund, to Duverdier for the Emergency Fund (I still have to give 100 francs)

During his exile, Victor Hugo often mentioned in his diaries the existence of an Emergency fund dedicated to help the exiles and their families in need. The money was given through a relative such as Edouard Guillaume Bonnet-Duverdier (1824-1882) on April 14, 1860. This republican, banned from France in 1849, found refuge in Jersey where he settled, marrying a local woman, Henriette Nicolle. He was the co-founder with Charles Ribeyrolles, of the exiles newspaper “L’Homme”. On October 17, 1855, he signed Victor Hugo’s statement which resulted in him being banned from Jersey. He went to Guernsey and moved in a place nearby Hauteville House where he was often received with his family. In 1863, he moved back to Jersey from where he regularly came back to visit Victor Hugo with his wife and daughter, Marguerite.
Following the end of the Empire, in September 1870, he went back to France where he lived and continued his political fight as a representative for the far left.
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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