On this day in 1822, Victor Hugo married Adele Foucher, his childhood sweetheart. The pair will have numerous children, and the marriage will survive notorious infidelities on both sides. The marriage got off to an ominous start, however, when Hugo’s brother suffered a nervous breakdown at the wedding breakfast.
Hugo, who had decided to be a writer during his early teens, published his first collection of poetry the same year as his marriage. It won him a pension from Louis XVIII. The following year, Hugo published his first novel, Han d’Islande. About this time, he began meeting regularly with a group of Romantics. 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 purified by love. The second, Hernani, became the touchstone for a bitter and protracted debate between French Classicists and Romantics. In 1831, he finally finished Notre Dame de Paris, which pleaded for an aesthetic that would tolerate the imperfect, 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 of which were written as vehicles for the 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. His 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 still 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.