On this day in 1831, Victor Hugo finishes writing Notre Dame de Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Distracted by other projects, Hugo had continually postponed his deadlines for delivering the book to his publishers, but once he sat down to write it, he completed the novel in only four months.
Hugo, the son of one of Napoleon’s officers, decided while still a teenager to become a writer. Although he studied law, he also founded a literary review to which he and other emerging writers published their work. In 1822, Hugo married his childhood sweetheart, Adele Foucher, and published his first volume of poetry, which won him a pension from Louis XVIII.
In 1823, Hugo published his first novel, Han d’Islande. His 1827 play, Cromwell, embraced the tenets of Romanticism, which he laid out in the play’s preface. The following year, despite a contract to begin work on a novel called Notre Dame de Paris, he set to work on two plays. The first, Marion de Lorme (1829), was censored for its candid portrayal of a courtesan. The second, Hernani, became the subject for a bitter and protracted debate between French Classicists and Romantics. In 1831, he finally finished Notre Dame de Paris. In addition to promoting a Romantic aesthetic that would tolerate the imperfect and the grotesque, the book also had a simpler agenda: to increase appreciation of old Gothic structures, which had become the object of vandalism and neglect.
In the 1830s, Hugo wrote numerous plays, many created as vehicles for actress Juliette Drouet, with whom Hugo was romantically connected starting in 1833. In 1841, Hugo was elected to the prestigious Acadamie Francaise, but two years later he lost his beloved daughter and her husband when they were drowned in an accident. He expressed his profound grief in a poetry collection called Les Contemplations (1856).
Hugo was forced to flee France when Napoleon III came to power: He did not return for 20 years. While in exile, he completed Les Miserables (1862), which became a hit in France and abroad. He returned to Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and was hailed a national hero. Hugo’s writing spanned more than six decades, and he was given a national funeral and buried in the Pantheon after his death in 1885.