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Victor Hugo Hardcover – February, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 682 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1ST edition (February 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393045781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393045789
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

It's easy to see why Victor Hugo won the 1997 Whitbread Biography Award. Unintimidated by the epic sweep of Victor Hugo's life (1802-85), British scholar Graham Robb analyzes it with intelligence, wit, and enormous verve. The author wears his learning lightly as he cherry-picks the vast Hugo archives to cogently chronicle his subject's evolution from leading poet of the Romantic revolution (Hernani) to passionate novelist of the downtrodden (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to majestic political exile (The Chastisements), thundering against the tyranny of Louis-Napoleon from the Channel Islands. Victor Hugo is a stimulating, opinionated reassessment of France's most monumental writer.

From Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed biographer Robb (Balzac, 1994) has produced an intensely dramatic biography of Victor Hugo laced with devastating wit and irony, which brings the great Romantic author down to earth from his Olympian heights without reducing him either to a megalomaniac opportunist or to a sheer force of nature. As a National Assembly deputy, Hugo (1802-1885) led assaults on workers' barricades in the revolution of 1848, during which untold numbers of insurgents died. Three years later, as a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist opponent of dictator Louis-Napoleon, he went into exile, first to Brussels and then to England's Channel Islands, where he completed Les Miserables, which Robb considers "the most lucid, humane, and entertaining moral diagnosis" of modern society's corrupt institutions. Returning to France in 1870, Hugo mostly occupied himself with casual sex during the Prussian siege of Paris but also turned out inspirational political poems and pleaded for convicted Communards. A conservative who espoused liberal causes, an upholder of bourgeois values with one foot in the avant-garde, Hugo was full of contradictions, and Robb plumbs the messy reality of his life, illuminating many facets of his personality scarcely known outside France. He gives us Hugo the visionary poet and painter who held seances to commune with the spirits of Shakespeare, Jesus and Socrates; Hugo the sex addict and voyeuristic dandy; Hugo the guilt-ridden father of a schizophrenic daughter; Hugo the apostle of an incoherent new world religion; and Hugo the anarchist playwright, forerunner of Brecht and Beckett. Son of a brutish, philandering Napoleonic general and an erratic mother who dragged her brood into Spanish exile, Hugo, by age 16, saw his family fall apart and a whole society destroy itself. From this wreckage, Robb suggests, he produced prescient novels about the gradual suicides of civilizations, making him a prophet of modernism. In addition to presenting an absorbing account of Hugo's life and a critical appraisal of Hugo's work, Robb enriches his entrancing biography with his own unvarnished, unrhymed, highly effective translations of Hugo's verses. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Graham Robb, whose recent books include "The Discovery of France" and "Parisians," has published widely in French literature and history. His biographies of Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Rimbaud have won critical acclaim and were selected as New York Times Editor's Choices for best books of the year. Robb lives in Oxford, England.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gunther on November 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Graham Robb's magnificent bio of Victor Hugo has won numerous awards, and deservedly so; Robb has steeped himself in Hugo's works and life. It's all there - Hugo's greatness, his megalomania, his politics, his poetics, his personal life - stripped of the many false accretions of previous biographies. Robb sees Hugo clear, and he sees him whole. My only reservation - and I think it is a fairly significant one - is that Robb assumes that his readers are already familiar with Hugo's immense literary output (not just Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Miserables, but dozens and dozens of other books of poetry, novels, biography, politics, etc.). And Robb also assumes that his readers know something about the tortuous and very complicated course of 19th century French politics, from the Revolution to the Third Republic. This is a lot of background to assume of the general reader, and so - by all means get the book, it's the best existing biography of Victor Hugo, but be prepared to do some additional reading if necessary, to fill in the background that Robb takes for granted.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By sda on January 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Graham Robb is one of that rare breed of scholars, who write what they want to, unfettered by institutional constraints, and write to an intelligent, literate audience that genuinely wants to learn. Much of Victor's Hugo's work is inaccessable to the English language audience. Robb's presentation and interpretation of many different aspects of his literary career show how much he enjoyed the Hugo's work, and his enthusiasm excited this reader. He did a masterful job of integrating history, the stange personal life of Hugo, and his massive literary output. This will become a classic source of information about Victor Hugo.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ann Bingley Gallops on April 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is the most enjoyable biography I've ever read, portraying someone who truly was larger than life. It's as complex, entertaining, and riveting as the man himself. Bravo! Now, how can we get Hugo's complete works translated into English?
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