Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Victor Hugo In Guernsey


The days of January have been filled with lots of reading and sourcing of materials for my up and coming solo art exhibition in Neilson Hay Library in Bangkok this September. I'll be showcasing a collection of artworks of an owl named Ophelia (also a historian apprentice)  and her time travel adventure impressions of France in the 19th century :D

Ophelia definitely has France's greatest writer of his age or some would say of all time, Victor Hugo on her list of  French people whom she would love to meet as she goes back into time.  A certain set of political circumstances during the second empire forced Victor Hugo, then a celebrated poet and writer, to leave France and live in exile that was to last nineteen years (1851-1870). First he lived in Brussels,then Jersey,then Guernsey. I was in particular very curious to find out how he spent his fifteen years in Guernsey, away from the tiresome and weary life of politics and the freedom to be himself. With the royalties earned from his remarkably successful first edition of  Les contemplations, the writer poet bought the Hauteville House for a sum of 24,000 francs. Through this purchase he acquired Guernsey citizenship with all the security attached to it.



Portrait of Victor Hugo while he was in Jersey, he was in his early 50s. Photo found in the book,The Life And Times Of Victor Hugo.


My deep curiosity in Victor Hugo's exile chapter led me to purchase this little booklet "Description Of Victor Hugo's House In Guernsey and Historical Notes" by Jean Sergent, I believe this booklet was printed in the 1960s. What I love most about this 16 pages booklet is its' casual approach of writing and inclusion of intimate details, it's like having a short film of Victor Hugo's exile chapter playing right before your eyes. Here are some of the notes which I extracted from the booklet:

"Hugo's mode of dressing was simple, his clothes were loose, but without carelessness. He liked low and soft-necked shirts, loose ties, broad-sleeved coats. When not exposing his bare head to the open air, because of rain or scorching sun, he wore a very large brimmed hat."

"He worked standing up and took long walks on most afternoons; his aim was to live near to Nature as possible. "

"Every morning, after a cold shower, he would sit at the breakfast table and while eating he would start to complete some drawings, then he would begin work in the strange study, looking like a lighthouse, at the top of the house and from which is easily seen St. Peter Port and its harbour, all the north of Guernsey, the sea, the nearby islands and, by the clear weather, the coast of France."

"However, it is certain that during the fifteen years spent at Hauteville House, Victor Hugo has written many works of good quality, most composed of several volumes, such as La Legende des Siecles (1859), Les Miserables (1862), William Shakespeare (1860), Les Chansons des Rues et des Bois (1865), Les Travailleurs de la Mer (1866), L'Homme qui rit (1869)....."




"Now let us go back to the year 1856 and the settling down of Victor Hugo at Hauteville House. His aim, as we said before, was that his house should not resemble any other and also that shapes, styles and colors should be in keeping with his tastes and thus surround him with some kind of spiritual comfort favourable to his work."

"All his spare time during the last months of 1856 and for most of the year 1857 was devoted to the purchase in antique shops of sideboards, chests,benches and cabinets, which he would hardly use as they were, but had them dismantled, reassembling them according to his ideas, not conforming to any known style......At that time the shops of Guernsey were still well supplied with goods obtained from centuries of piracy; French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian furniture could be found freely in the Island...."

"Thus we may say of Hauteville House that its' complete appearance is due to the creative power and the restless life of its' master. It tells about him as the cocoon tells of the insect. For its evocatory power as well as for its perculiar beauty one cannot visit Hauteville House without being moved, without feeling the emotion of entering the intimate abode of a very great man."


Hauteville House is unique, the tapsestry room is my favourite. The house looks more like a museum to me, a work of art and poetry by the master. So intrigued was I with the style and decor philosophy that I started a small collection of Hauteville House postcards from the early 1900s. I have not completed the entire collection of all the rooms in the house, below are 7 postcards of 7 different rooms.

The Red Drawing Room

The Blue Drawing Room

The Tapestry Room

The Dining Room

The Oak Gallery


The Study



The Resting Room

 Hugo lived in Hauteville House until 1870, when he returned to France after the fall of the Second Empire, but he stayed here again for a year in 1872-73, for a week in 1875 and for four months in 1878.

In March 1927, the centenary year of the Romantic Movement, the house was donated to the City of Paris by the poet’s descendants Jeanne, Jean, Marguerite and Fran├žois.

1 comment:

  1. hi ellen,
    love your blog..i'm an assemblage artist myself-soon relocating to thailand..see a sample of my work www.facebook.com/simonpetkovicitsalive

    ReplyDelete