Karen Rollins

Author and Poet Victor Hugo: Guernsey’s famous exile

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Photo: Neveshkin Nikolay / Shutterstock.com

French author and poet Victor Hugo was forced to leave France in 1851, and after first seeking political asylum in Brussels and Jersey, arrived on the shores of Guernsey in 1855.  

While on the island for 15 years he wrote some of his most famous works including ‘Les Contemplations’ (1856), ‘Les Misérables’ (1862), ‘William Shakespeare’ (1864), ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer’ (1866), and ‘L’Homme qui rit’ (1869). 

Victor loved Guernsey and dedicated ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer’ to the island, writing: “I dedicate this book to the rock of hospitality, to this corner of old Norman land where resides the noble little people of the sea, to the Island of Guernsey, severe and yet gentle…”. 

Victor’s home in Guernsey, Hauteville House, is preserved exactly as he left it, so fans can take a tour and enjoy a fascinating glimpse into his island life.  

The place where he penned his works, the Crystal Room, is at the top of the eclectic house and has panoramic views across to his homeland of France. The property was donated to the City of Paris by the writer’s descendants in 1927. 

Victor was a larger-than-life character who had a private life worthy of a novel. He had five children from his wife and childhood friend Adèle Foucher, but he also had several lovers, most notably French actress Juliette Drouet, who moved to Guernsey to be with him in a relationship that lasted 50 years. 

Victor moved back to France after the fall of the Second Empire, but he returned to Guernsey again for various periods of time between 1872 and 1878. He died in 1885. 

The French government gifted a giant statue of Victor to Guernsey in 1914. The limestone likeness is located in Candie Gardens, and shows the writer with a walking stick of bronze, his coat and scarf flying in the wind, while his right hand tugs at his beard. 

Victor described the Channel Islands as “fragments of France which fell into the sea and were gathered up by England” – he certainly found a home away from home in Guernsey.  

Sources: Guernsey Museum and Galleries and Visit Guernsey

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