E. Brief mit U.
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Victor Hugo (1802–1885), writer. Autograph Letter Signed, June 5, , Hauteville House, [Guernsey], to Jules Claretie, in French, “Sir, I have just read the last issue of Diogène. When a man builds, or tries to build, as I have, a work that is useful and honest in the face of and in opposition to the immense evil that governs the world, when hatred pursues him and he has become the focus of all the furies, he is grateful to those intrepid souls who fight at his side; but when those brave hearts have at the same time beautiful and radiant minds, he is more than grateful … he is moved … In the struggle for progress you are bringing me the support of your inspired thinking and of your noble and generous style, where everything that is great, pure and true is reflected. I thank you, Sir, for this new and eloquent page on Les Misérables. I thank you for it, not for myself, not for the book, but for those who suffer, whose friend you are, and for an ideal whose champion you have been….” – From 1830 into the 1860's, there were a series of massive political upheavals in Europe. Most were caused by the desire of the peoples of many nations to oust their royal elites and attain a fairer and more representative government. The elites fought back hard and there was fighting in the streets. There was a revolt in France in 1830, one in which Victor Hugo took part. but it led to the disappointing enthronement of King Louis Philippe. There was a widespread liberal revolution throughout much of the continent in 1848 which was crushed. In 1851 France was again in upheaval and Louis Napoleon seized power and proclaimed himself emperor. By 1860, forces in Italy and Germany sought to unify their respective people in national entities and wars were in progress that would soon achieve those goals. Thus, there was both a significant reorientation of the political landscape, the frustration of populist movements, and the rise of nationalism and the modern nation state. Meanwhile, in the United States, brother fought against brother, not against royal elites but on behalf of ideals. – In the world of philosophy and literature, the most important year was 1862. That spring, Victor Hugo released to the public a work of great scope - Les Miserables - that brilliantly examined the nature of good, evil, and the law, in a sweeping story that expounded upon history, politics, morality, philosophy, law, justice, and religion. It had taken 17 years to complete. Press releases had been issued during the six months prior to the launch so it was common knowledge that more than just another novel was to be expected. Commercially, it was an instant success and sales showed that Hugo had managed to do something that no one had done before: he had reached the masses with a work of serious fiction. – The reviews from establishment entities were caustic. As Max Bach stated in his study "Criticism and Politics: The Reception of Les Miserables in 1862," Hugo would do much to "arm his critics." But Hugo's intent was a a topic of some controversy. "Was he sending a social, religious or political message in his novel? The number of critics and their virulence answer this question affirmatively. But what was that message?" This was not clear. The political conservatives and Catholic hierarchy saw in it a direct challenge to established institutions. Each good person stood as an exception against a backdrop of evil and excess. The structures set in place were inherently to blame for the ills of the protagonists. Some considered Les Miserables dangerous. It had planted hope into the minds of the masses. Lamartine rejected its religious conclusions, Baudelaire its philosophy of progress. – Jules Claretie was the great Homme de Lettres of his generation. A frequent writer, he penned his most influential commentaries using nommes de plume. To readers of La France, he was Olivier de Jalin; to L'Illustration, he was Perdican; for Le Figaro and L'Independence Belge, he was Candide. In La Diogene, he was himself. He would go on to head the Theatre Francaise, having written novels, operas and plays. He was in short a leading dramatic critic and subsequently the leading voice in literary artistic expression. In 1862, he was a 22-year-old critic and oft-violent Republican. On April 13, 1862, just days after the work became public, he wrote a review in La Diogene calling Les Miserables one of the greatest works ever written and a coup de force for the downtrodden. When Myriel, the Bishop, asks for his benediction from the 93-year-old homme politique of the Convention, the Catholic press called it defiance and blasphemy; Claretie called it sublime. In so writing, he elicited this letter, in which Hugo lays out his grand motivation, philosophical and moral, behind Les Miserables. It also shows that he saw Claretie not as a simple critic but as a soldier in the army of righteousness, and is highly reminiscent of the emotion and philosophy that have made the play Les Miserables one of the greatest and most beloved hits of all time. Hugo left the world a different place. This letter helps understand how and why.