April 21, 2019
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The home where Victor Hugo penned "Les Miserables" re-opens

Luis Miguel Pascual

Guernsey, Apr. 7 (efe-epa).- French poet and writer Victor Hugo once mused that architecture was thought etched onto stone and his Guernsey house, which re-opens Sunday after restoration work, is an example of how he put this philosophy to practice, his relatives told EFE.

As well as being a famed author Hugo (1802-1885) was a vociferous politician during France's Second Republic calling for universal suffrage, free education for all, advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable in society and demanding an end to the death penalty.

His liberal bent forced him into exile when Napoleon III reached power in 1851 and the writer labeled him a traitor.

After a three-year stint in Brussels and Jersey Hugo finally settled in Guernsey where he set up his lavish home, Hauteville House, between 1856 and 1870.

It was on the choppy waters of the Atlantic, in his new home which he redesigned to his taste, that Hugo picked up his pen again and immersed himself in his writing following several years of hiatus due to his high profile political life.

"The water was an extraordinary muse," Jean-Baptiste Hugo, a distant relative of the writer told EFE.

It was in Guernsey that he finished one of his most celebrated works "Les Miserables" (1862), a historical novel that documents the lives of a series of characters, but in particular of former convict Jean Valjean, through their political struggles and clashes with the law.

He also wrote other masterpieces in his Guernsey home such as "Toilers of the Sea" (1866) which he dedicated to local fishermen.

"With this house, a writing machine was built," Gérard Audinet told EFE, Director of the Victor Hugo Houses in Paris, Guernsey and Saint Peter Port which all belong to the Paris Town Hall.

Following the enormous success of his novel "Les contemplations" published in 1856, Hugo bought his island property and put all his efforts into putting to practice his ideas of " thought written in stone."

His approach to the design process of the house was very hands on.

He regularly gave detailed instructions to the artisans who, for years, worked to bring to life his vision that married a melange of styles, colors and shapes which cemented the building as yet another Hugo artwork.

"This house is a journey to light," Ricardo Giordano said, the architect who has directed the restoration based on hundreds of antique photos and on the descriptions about his home Hugo left behind.

Giordano's aim was to restore the house, as faithfully as possible, to how Hugo would have wanted it, which pivoted around the idea the author had of absorbing all the light and color-palette the island had to offer.

The greens of the lush landscape, the azures of the sea, the soft pastels of the sun, a mishmash of hues that Audinet said were "considered bad taste," at that time but that emerged from the writer's imagination and became a creative hub for the author.

"You cannot know Hugo without visiting this house," Marie Hugo, a relative of the writer, continued. "It represents a dream, a poem, a warm and familiar place."

Highlights include the two spaces he spent the longest periods in and the ones awash with vast amounts of light: the conservatory where he finished " Les Miserables," and the last room to be added to the house, in 1861, which is like a small glass-encased watch tower that aimed to give panoramic views of the horizon and the sea.

He spent many hours of the day in these rooms and welcomed other exiles who fled France due to their political ideologies.

"Victor Hugo told the story of France, but he also fought for freedom," Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris told EFE.

"He was avant-garde: in 1867 he wrote that Paris one day would be the capital of a country that would be called Europe," the Spanish-French politician added.

In exile, Hugo wanted to be as close as possible to his beloved France.

On clear days he could see the Normandy coastline from his Guernsey home, and he longed to return but not before, he said, liberties were re-established with the fall of Napoleon III.

After nearly 19 years in exile he returned to his home country but he never fully abandoned his connection to Guernsey.

He spent three seasons on the island before his death in 1885, the longest of which was between 1872 and 1873 when he sought out the calmness and solitude he needed to write the monumental novel "Ninety-Three," considered his last great work.

Victor Hugo's Guernsey House reopened on Sunday, Apr. 7 for public visits.EFE-epa


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