Victor Hugo:  Exile


After the Revolution of 1848, France was a Republic.  Victor Hugo, who supported this form of government, was active in politics.  However, in 1851, Louis-Napoléon seized power and soon became the Emperor.  Hugo refused to support the Emperor and fled the country.  He lived as an exile for 19 years, first in Brussels, then on the island of Jersey, and finally on the island of Guernsey (islands under the protection of the United Kingdom).   He continued to criticize Napoléon III, writing pamphlets against him. 


In 1859, Napoléon III granted amnesty to all political exiles, which meant that they could return to France.  Hugo refused to return, not wanting to curb his criticisms of the government.  Finally, when the government toppled in 1870 and the Third Republic was declared, Hugo returned home.



From The Letters of Victor Hugo:  From Exile, and After the Fall of the Empire.  1898.  Retrieved 5 November 2007 from


p. 68:


To André van Hasselt.

            Brussels, 6th January, 1852.


            It is not I who am banished, dear sir, but liberty; it is not I whom am exiled, but France.  France is outcast from truth, from justice, from greatness, is France in exile and a stranger to herself.  Let us pity her and love her more than ever.

            I do not suffer.  I look and wait.  I have fought, I have done my duty; I am vanquished, but happy.  A consience at rest is like a clear sky within one’s self.

            Soon I shall have my family with me, and I shall wait quietly for God to restore me my country.  But I will only have her free.

            Ex imo corde.[1]


p. 122:


To Emile Deschanel, at Brussels

            Marine Terrace, Sunday, 11th December, 1853.


            How I should like to be among you again, if it were only for an hour.  Do you still dine at the Aigle?  Do you remember Charles’s tirades against the white asparagus?  and that excellent faro![2] and our pleasant talks! and our hearty laughter!  And our long discourse on the soul and on God, which we put off to another day, which has never come!  And your course of lectures, as the climax of all!  I can see you now at the end of the large room, which was not large enough, seated in your chair with the light on you,--gentle, pleasing, modest, applauded, charming,--surrounded by a crowd of men whose hands clap, and by pretty women whose hearts eat....  My mind goes back to those days as it does to my native land.

            Here, in winter, everything is sombre, dark, violent, terrible, tempestuous, severe.  The rain pours down my window-pane like a stream of silver; all nature plunges with frenzy into the tumult, and I have little to do but to storm like the wind and roar like the sea.

            When you see our convalescent Hetzel, who makes his pallor an excuse for his laziness, tell him to write to me.  Say bravo to Dumas from me for two delightful numbers of the Mousquetaire, which have reached my den.  And you, think of me; write me a nice long letter, marked by that charming feeling, that exquisite style, that profound and gentle mind, which is applauded at Brussels and loved in Jersey.


[1] From the bottom of the heart.

[2] the beer drunk at the Aigle