We are so lucky in Guernsey to still have the home of Victor Hugo more or less as he left it in 1870 and to be able to see where he stood to write and complete Les Miserables. You might wonder what one of the most famous French writers was doing in Guernsey, why he came and what made him stay for 15 years. Apart from writing plays, poems and novels he was very politically active and opposed Napoleon III who was in power in France. Fearing for his family’s safety, Hugo left first for Belgium, then for Jersey and eventually arrived in Guernsey in October 1855.
Victor Hugo loved Guernsey. He enjoyed walking along the cliffs, swimming in the sea and after a year of renting was able to buy his first home, Hauteville House, after the successful publication of a series of poems. Hauteville House is high above St Peter Port with views of the harbour and other Channel Islands, and on a clear day you could even to see his beloved France. As Victor Hugo travelled, he collected many things from all over the world and spent three years redecorating and remodelling the inside of Hauteville House, creating according to one of his sons ‘a poem in every room’. This needs to be seen to be believed!
As a philanthropist, Hugo invited poor children into his home to provide them with a good meal, cared for the families of shipwrecked sailors and campaigned earnestly against the death sentence. Unfortunately the rest of the family did not settle well in Guernsey and returned to France. Although their beloved patriarch would often came back for long holidays where he would spend time with his grandchildren and continue writing.
Guernsey truly inspired Hugo and it was here that he was at his most prolific. ‘Toilers of the Sea’ which is a lovely dedication to the ‘noble people of the sea’ is set in Guernsey. However when he wrote this he did not know he would soon return to France where he would continue in politics. When Victor Hugo died in 1885 he was granted a National Funeral which was attended by an incredible two million people.
“I dedicate the book to this rock of hospitality and freedom, this corner of old Norman lands where the noble little people of the sea live, on the island of Guernsey. Both harsh and sweet at present my refuge, perhaps my tomb.”
Walking tours to the house throughout the summer take an hour and a half with Gill Girard (email@example.com). Tours inside the house are available daily except Sundays, operated by the French guides in Hauteville House
By Gill Girard