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Je vis dans l'exil; là je perds le caractère de l'homme pour prendre celui de l'apôtre et du prêtre.
Victor Hugo, Journal d'Adèle Hugo

I live in exile; there I am losing the character of a man to take on that of the apostle and the priest.

No writer, before or after 1871, was more forcefully identified with Paris than Victor Hugo, and few celebrated the city as passionately or


as constantly as he. From Quasimodo's defense of the cathedral and the celebrated bird's-eye view of medieval Paris in Notre-Dame de Paris of 1831 to Jean Valjean's dramatic escape through the sewers in Les Misérables of 1862, from the 1827 "Ode à la Colonne Vendôme" of the young liberal royalist to the introduction to Paris-Guide of 1867 by the fervent quasi-socialist republican and to the poems in L'Année terrible, Hugo obsessively returned to Paris again and again.[5] The city was at once his subject and his object. One caricature of 1841 shows him dominating the cityscape, astride the Seine, a pile of (his own) books at his side. In the background appear all the places Hugo had either written about or been associated with in the city, from the cathedral of Notre-Dame to the theaters where his plays had resounding success to the Académie française to which he had recently been elected.

Paris, Hugo never tired of repeating in one colossal form or another, guided the universe. It was, as he proclaimed in the introduction to Paris-Guide, the "focal point of civilization" (XIX) and its history was a "microcosm of general history" (VI). Moreover, Paris owed this centrality to the Revolution. He wrote, "1789. For close to a century, this number has preoccupied the human race. It contains the whole of phenomenon of modernity" (XVIII). Naturally, Hugo took this revolutionary modernity as his own and, sometimes, as himself! The often cited definition of romanticism from the preface to Hernani (1830)—"romanticism, all things considered, . . . is only liberalism in literature"—emphatically proclaimed the connection between the literary and the political that would define the writer's career over the next half century, his politics no less than his literary production. Hugo's pact with Paris was a true covenant, both the product and the sign of his belief in the pivotal role played by the Revolution of 1789 for all of human history.

These associations with the Revolution were clear well before Hugo went into exile in December 1851, immediately after the coup d'état of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte reversed the Second Republic and led, a year later, to the proclamation of the Second Empire. Revolution pervades Hugo's work. Take, for example, Notre-Dame de Paris. Notwithstanding the subtitle of 1482, this is manifestly a novel of 1830. Beyond the chronicle of 1482, beyond the melodrama of love and lust that opposes Quasimodo the hunchback, Claude Frollo the priest, and Esmeralda the gypsy, beyond the recreation of the late medieval


city, Notre-Dame de Paris inscribes the present. Of course, this work has all the trappings of the historical novels made so popular in the 1820s by the many translations of Scott. Although Hugo undertook serious historical preparation for the work, he does not write historical novels. That is, he does not construct a past that exists on anything resembling its own terms. Nor does he claim to do so. Quite to the contrary, and throughout the novel,l he insists upon the living present. "We, men of 1830" is a constant refrain, and Hugo continually opposes fragmented modern Paris with its motley architecture and the organic Paris of the late Middle Ages, which finds its highest expression in the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

Of course, 1830 is not just any year. It is the year of the July Revolution, which erupted just as Hugo began to write Notre-Dame de Paris. The very first lines of the novel situate the writer very specifically in the revolutionary present: "Three hundred forty-eight years six months and nineteen days ago today. . . . "A count forward from the date given later in the paragraph leads the reader to 25 July 1830, that is, two days before the July Revolution broke out. Yet Notre-Dame de Paris represents neither the present, 1830, nor the past, 1482, so much as it reconfigures 1789. As Hugo reaches back to the waning Middle Ages, he looks forward to the Revolution of 1789. The unsuccessful revolt of 1482 represented in the novel, like the successful revolution of 1830 alluded to in the text, makes sense only in reference to 1789, which is the realization of the one and the origin of the other. These explicit references, like Hugo's editorializing more generally, are only superficial symptoms of a more constitutive rationale. The Revolution of 1789 dominates the entire novel, its images, its metaphors. The Bastille looms so large in the novel because its future destruction will commence the Revolution. If Louis XI successfully puts down the Parisians' revolt in 1482, readers of 1830 are never allowed to forget that some three hundred years later, Louis XVI will not be so lucky. Typically the confidence of Hugo's king in the capacity of "my good Bastille" to withstand an uprising forces the revolutionary intertext upon the most obtuse reader.

In keeping with Notre-Dame de Paris and the many dramas written in the late Restoration and the early July Monarchy, Hugo's exile during the whole of the Second Empire put into practice the revolutionary identification that he had long preached. "Romanticism and democracy are the same thing," he declared in 1854, carrying


Plate 14. 
Frontispiece by D. Vierge to Victor Hugo,  L'Année terrible
(1874). The first illustrated edition of Hugo's collection of 
poems on 1870-71. The year is encapsulated by the German siege at 
top and the burning of Paris at bottom. (Photograph courtesy of 
the Library of Congress.)


his earlier definition of romanticism one step further.[6] No public figure defied the Empire of Napoléon III with greater vehemence or greater personal drama. For eighteen and a half years, from Brussels, from the Channel islands of Jersey and later Guernsey, his diatribes against the man whom he baptized "Napoléon the Little" made him the most visible of those who fled or opposed the Second Empire. Hugo's scorn for the amnesty offered by the emperor in 1859 magnified the original act of exile a hundredfold. In ostracizing "ideas, reason, progress, light," Napoléon III sent "France itself" into exile. "The day that all that comes back," Hugo notes in his diary (19 August 1859), then and only then will he return. From that moment and that decision onward, Hugo's exile was entirely a matter of principle. Although he gave up writing for the theater after the failure of Les Burgraves in 1843, Hugo never gave up drama. He staged and performed his exile. Arguably, it was his best drama—certainly the one with the longest run and with the greatest effect.[7]

The theatrical gestures in which Hugo excelled did not simply publicize an existing or precisely formulated political position. They belonged inherently to a politics of performance. Performance formulated the position. Hugo was, arguably, France's first modern media hero for whom the medium was the message. A famous, widely diffused photograph shows the writer on a rocky promontory above the sea sternly facing France. In 1854, after only three years in exile, he already saw himself "losing the character of a man to take on that of the apostle and the priest."[8]

Hugo's return to France, on 5 September 1870, the day after the proclamation of the republic, resurrects the man in the apostle and the priest. The whole event is a good measure of the successful (re) constitution and manifestation of self as a political symbol. When Hugo's train passed through the Normandy countryside, people lined the train tracks to cheer the returning hero. So dense was the crowd waiting at the Gare du Nord that his party took over two hours to traverse Paris to where he was staying near the Étoile. As Hugo recounts the day in his journal, he had to speak four times. This tumultuous welcome in turn merged into the Hugo legend, thanks to the wide diffusion through newspaper reproductions. In this moment Hugo was Paris. So intense, so passionate, was the conjunction of the writer and the city that it seems perfectly natural that the Société des Gens de Lettres should request Hugo's authorization for a public


Plate 15. 
Victor Hugo in exile. Hugo, in a carefully staged photograph, appears 
perched on the "rock of the banned" ("rocher des proscrits") on the Isle 
of Jersey, where he spent the first years of his exile before settling on the 
neighboring island of Guernsey until the Second Empire came to an end in 
1870. Not until "ideas, reason, progress, light" returned to France would he 
return, he vowed, refusing the amnesty offered by Napoléon III in 1859. 
He had to wait over a decade. On 11  September 1870, barely a week after 
the proclamation of the Third Republic, Hugo entered Paris in triumph. It 
took two hours and four speeches for the returning hero of republican resistance 
and symbol of Paris to make his way from the Gare du Nord to his lodgings 
near the Étoile. (Photograph by Charles Hugo-Auguste Vacquerie from the Musée 
Victor Hugo, © 1993 ARS, N.Y./SPADEM, Paris.)


reading of Les Châtiments, the poems written against the Empire, the proceeds of which would purchase a cannon to defend Paris against the Prussians. And nothing could be more logical than naming the cannon in question the Victor Hugo.[9]

The politics of performance ill serve the practice of everyday politics. Hugo's political career, taken in narrow terms, could not be called a success. Theatricality did not play well within the (comparatively) narrow confines of the Assemblée Nationale to which Hugo was elected in 1848 and again in 1871. The eloquent speeches before the Assemblée Nationale reached no effective audience. In fact, scarcely a month after his election in 1871, he resigned. A bid for reelection later that same year failed miserably. He was vilified, and his house attacked, for opening his home in Brussels to Communards escaping France. He had stood against—against the Empire, against Napoléon III—and from afar. When it came to maneuvering in the arena of practical politics, in the corridors of the Assemblée Nationale, Hugo was at a loss. His grandiloquence moved hearts; it did not pass laws or engineer the programs of a new society.

It is no wonder, then, that Hugo dwells so exclusively within a symbolics of protest over one of explicit social reform. His central symbol is the Bastille, though not the Bastille placed or remembered as much as the Bastille destroyed. The fall of the prison that symbolized every injustice is the equivalent of many another cultural birth. "Athens built the Parthenon, but Paris tore down the Bastille," Hugo writes, fully confident that the negative juxtaposition makes a triumphant claim. That he makes such a contention in the introduction to Paris-Guide (XVIII) testifies to the centrality of a revolutionary politics in his conception of the city. These politics center on a spatial absence, or the place where the Bastille no longer stands, in a city where Hugo, in exile, no longer lives.

This conundrum of absence also suggests the problem of a politics of performance geared entirely to protest. What could come after successful remonstration in 1870? Hugo, though not his fellow deputies in the Assemblée Nationale, found the answer in his own stupendous identification with Paris. Just as he remained the quintessential Parisian through every moment of exile, so every Parisian could know the glory of the Revolution through the empty space of the Bastille. It was the radical idea of Paris and not the social agenda to be performed there that drew Victor Hugo and sustained his work.


Yet the politics of performance served Hugo, and the republic, well. His inability to cope with practical politics, his ineffectiveness in parliamentary maneuvers—paradoxically, these failings made him an even more powerful symbolic figure. Hugo had stood against the empire. Hence he stood for the republic. Which republic? Whose republic? Hugo stood for the broadest ideology of the republic. Precisely because he could not be restricted to any particular political party or program, he could be appropriated by a Third Republic that had begun under such inauspicious circumstances and that needed legitimacy in a continuing context with both the right and the left. The now legendary Hugo, with republican credentials that none could contest, provided an alibi for those who squabbled over the new political directions to be taken. As on the rock at Jersey, Hugo could be seen from afar. Physical distance, translated into psychic terms, defined Hugo within the contemporary society. The same prophetic stance of Notre-Dame de Paris, which foresaw 1789 from 1482, turned the older writer into the patriarch of the Third Republic, one who viewed contemporary events from above and beyond immediate context.

The sense of remoteness from the present came all the more easily in the striking contrast between the Paris that Hugo left in 1851 and the aggressively modernizing city to which he returned twenty years later. The Paris to which Hugo returned in 1870 was a city transformed. At issue, beyond the comparatively simple matter of moving stones and streets, was a whole new relationship of self and space. Much of the topography would have been unrecognizable. Stranger still, no doubt, was the urgency of change. Haussmannization had recast the city into a dazzling modern and markedly different form. The metropolis of the Second Empire, the frenetic city of La Curée, had replaced the city of L'Éducation sentimentale and Hugo's own Les Misérables, the Paris of the July Monarchy that Hugo knew so well.

Especially in light of Hugo's convictions concerning the inextricability of the political and the literary, it was inevitable that the politics of performance would inform his later writing as well as his public persona. Moreover, it is symptomatic that in none of the major novels about Paris—Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), Les Misérables (1862), and Quatrevingt-treize (Ninety-three ) (1874)—does Hugo deal with contemporary Paris directly. In each case Hugo reads the contemporary city through a vision of the absent city of the past. "The outline of old


Paris shows up under the Paris of today," he writes in Paris-Guide, "like an old text in between the lines of the new" (x). More succinctly than any other single statement, this definition of urban intertextuality correlates text and topography.

Paradoxically, the intertext, old Paris, offers a more powerful means of comprehending the current text, the Paris of the present. As Notre-Dame de Paris fashioned a Paris for the July Monarchy, and Les Misérables for the Second Empire, so Quatrevingt-treize would construct a city for the Third Republic. As the first novel integrated the Revolution of 1830 into Parisian history and the second made a July Monarchy for the Second Empire, so Quatrevingt-treize produced a scenario incorporating the Terrible Year of 1871 into the Third Republic. In this novel the politics of distance performed a revolution made to measure for the Third Republic, a revolution that belonged to a Paris triumphant, a Paris that could keep as its motto the "Fluctuat nec mergitur" that Haussmann had bestowed on it. Hugo's Paris refuted the Commune and at the same time reaffirmed the Revolution. The writer offered a city that harmonized the contradictions of the new republic. "Madness on both sides," Hugo pronounced in April 1871, well before the final disaster. "But France, Paris and the Republic will come out alright."[10]Quatrevingt-treize takes on an impossible task. It seeks to reconcile the irreconcilable by turning the Terrible Year to positive account. With a gesture more audacious still, Hugo restores the monarch deposed by 1871—the Paris created and crowned by the Revolution.

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