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Sunday, March 12, 2006

la Maison de Victor Hugo

In a quiet corner of the Place des Vosges stands the Hôtel de Roham Guéménée, a grand residence constructed by the King's counsellor and Administrator of Finances, Isaac Arnauld, in 1605. In 1832, Victor Hugo - author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) - , rented an apartment on the second floor of the building, which he and his family occupied for the next 16 years, until 1848. The home is now a museum housing collections of Hugo's drawings, his original manuscripts and other documents, artwork, furniture, and other objects of life tracing a history of the writer's life.

A prolific writer and workaholic, Hugo took up residence in the apartment at the age of 30, the year after he finished Hunchback, during rehearsals of his play Le roi s'amuse (The King Amuses Himself), which was banned after only one performance, for mocking the french nobility. A great many of Hugo's subsequent works, both literary and theatrical, as well as some volumes of poetry, were written in the home over the next 16 years. He also wrote a great deal of Les Misérables while living there.

The house became a salon during the time the Hugos lived there, often frequented by the best and brightest of French society, politicians, and artists from every discipline. Madame Hugo was a great hostess, and the Hugos counted among their many visitors Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, François-René de Chateaubriand, Gioacchino Rossini, Niccolò Paganini, and the young Duke and Duchess of Orléans, Ferdinand-Philippe and Helene Louise.

The home was designated an offical museum in March, 1902, for the 100th anniversary of the writer's birth. In addition to Hugo's own drawings and documents, the house also contains the writer's inkwell, some of his furniture, family portraits, and artwork from the time, including a painting of Hugo's funeral procession at the Arc de Triomphe in 1885. I find the drawings most interesting and notable, as Hugo did not share them with the public during his lifetime, fearing they would draw attention he preferred go to his literary work.

La Maison de Victor Hugo is located at 6, place des Vosges, in the 4th arrondissement, 75004. Admission to the permanent collection is free*, and the ground floor giftshop contains quite a lot of Hugo memorabilia, in both French and English. The museum is open to the public from 10 - 6 every day except Mondays and banking holidays. Metro stops are Bastille (lines 1, 5 and 8), Saint-Paul (1), or Chemin-Vert (8).

*Temporary exhibits generally require a small admissions fee.


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