Victor Hugo and his Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era Writings

Victor Hugo

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  • Ninety-Three by C. Conrad Cady, author of the Alexandre Dumas père Web Site

Ninety-Three by C. Conrad Cady

Paul Meurice's play, Ninety-Three, translated by Frank Morlock, is an exciting and disturbing story of honor. Morlock's fine translation sustains the excitement of the original French.

The story concerns a young Republican, Gauvrain, and his royalist uncle, the Marquis de Lantenac, who are pitted against each other in the war of La Vendee in 1793. The Marquis is staunchly noble and behaves how he believes to be honorable, which leaves little room for forgiveness. Gauvrain believes honor is in forgiveness.

Marat, Robespierre, and Danton appear in a cafe scene in Paris to discuss Republican strategy. They send Cimourdain, a former priest, to oversee Gauvrain, help him depose the Marquis, and to make sure he does not let him go free.

When an enemy soldier is wounded, and Gauvrain does not execute him, the soldier tries to kill him, almost kills Cimourdain, escapes, and causes him difficulties from then on. The play has exceptional battle scenes with shouting and fighting and shots.

Throughout the play, a mother whom fate has badly treated fights to regain her three kidnapped children. Her unflagging loyalty leads her through shooting and near starvation, and in the end she is rewarded.

Should a single good deed remove the sins of past evil deeds? When the Marquis finally saves the children whom he had at first put in danger, at the cost of being captured, Gauvrain faces a choice of whether to execute him for his misdeeds, or let him go.

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  • Victor Hugo CentralAn Excellent site for Victor Hugo information and links.
  • Victor Hugo's Poetryat Poésie française
  • Peter Illi's Victor Hugo WebsiteAn excellent source for Hugo information. Peter is still building the site, so check back periodically to discover new material.
  • Victor Hugo Page
  • Victor Hugo in Memoradum
  • Victor Hugo FanSpaceat Monadnock Review
  • Victor Hugo BiographyIn French

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  • Victor Hugo (1802-1885) by Frank J. Morlock
  • Paul Meurice (1818 -1905) by Frank J. Morlock
  • Louis Joseph Hugo (1777-1853)Victor Hugo's uncle. Article written by Dominique Contant for the Napoleon Series.

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Victor Hugo (1802-1885) by Frank J. Morlock

Hugo was born in Besancon in southern France in 1802. His father was a Bonapartist General, his mother a strong monarchist.

Hugo was something of a child prodigy as a poet, turning out translations of Latin and Greek when he was thirteen, winning prizes when he was in his teens, and by the time he was twenty, a poet with not merely a reputation, but regarded as pretty much France's greatest living poet. At fourteen he said, "I want to be Chateaubriand or nothing." Three years later Chateaubriand himself was calling Hugo that "enfant sublime". By 1823 he had received Royal pensions for his writings.

He came to Paris, and fell under the influence of Charles Nodier (himself an early romantic) and the first Cenacle. He saw the English players and like many of the Romantics, was influenced for the rest of his life by the experience. With Dumas he became the leader of the Romantic movement in the theatre. In 1827, he published his play Cromwell, and the yet more influential, Preface to Cromwell.

In that Preface he developed his theatrical ideas which he derived from Shakespeare of mixing the grotesque with the sublime. His next play, Marion DeLorme was prohibited by the censorship for political reasons. In 1830 he brought out Hernani which was performed by the Comedie Française. Supported by his friends, Dumas, Theophile Gautier, de Vigny, and others there was a veritable battle with the outraged classicists.

The strange thing about the battle was that while the Romanticists tended to be politically sympathetic to Republicanism, the Republicans themselves tended to be very hostile to romanticism in the theatre and actually were strong supporters of classicism. The reverse was the case with Monarchists. Politically conservative, they were more open to theatrical innovation. For the time being at least, for a period of about five years, the romanticists were in the ascendant.

Hugo continued to write plays until 1843 when with the failure of the Burgraves he bid the theatre adieu. His plays were not box office successes. He often envied Dumas who, though a lesser poet, enjoyed far greater success. The reason for his failure was, as an admirer, Andre Breton, observed, "taken as a whole the theatre of Hugo is monotonous and artificial" Balzac, also an admirer and friend remarked, "the characters are not created according to good sense." And after seeing Les Burgraves, "Victor Hugo has decidedly remained the "enfant sublime", and that's all he will ever be." "As history it mustn't be spoken of, as invention, of the last poverty."

But if Hugo had no sense of theatre when he wrote plays, the reverse seems to have been true when he wrote novels. They abound in vivid characters and scenes, which are both striking and seemingly real. When we come to the adaptations of his novels by Paul Foucher and Paul Meurice we are presented with stunning plays, that exhibit none of the faults usually associated with his original dramatic efforts. Foucher, Hugo's brother-in-law began by adapting Notre Dame de Paris. His first adaptation gave it a happy ending. Some years later, he and Meurice readapted it to conform to the novel. When Lamartine read the novel he exclaimed, "it's Shakespearean", which was exactly the reaction this writer had when he translated the Foucher-Meurice version of Notre Dame de Paris. I went further: "Shakespeare might have written this!" And indeed with no loss of reputation.

Next came the adaptation of Les Miserables by Meurice and Charles Victor Hugo, (Hugo's son). This epic play resembles nothing more than a sculpture of Rodin. The figure of Jean Valjean is monumental. Sentimentality, rodomontade, declamation are completely absent. The effect is overwhelming.

Finally, Meurice's adaptation of Ninety Three. It is another epic play in the grand manner. It was the last of Hugo's novels to be adapted in his lifetime. And it was a fitting conclusion.

Hugo, after escaping the early influence of his mother's monarchism, became a lifelong Republican and a sworn enemy of Louis Napoleon. His opposition to the coup d'état of 1852 resulted in his exile to the isle of Jersey that lasted until the fall of the IInd Empire in 1870.

While Hugo will probably continued to be remembered primarily as a novelist and poet, his contributions to the theatre (especially the monumental adaptations of his novels) should no longer be neglected now that translations of those plays finally exist.

See also: The Memoirs of Victor Hugo [Project Gutenberg Ed.]

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Paul Meurice (1818 -1905) by Frank J. Morlock

Meurice had a long and distinguished career as a dramatist collaborating with Dumas, Sand and Hugo, as well as writing plays on his own.

A graduate of the Charlemagne College, he was introduced by Charles Vacquerie to Victor Hugo in 1836 and became his acolyte. He was also on friendly terms with Alexandre Dumas père. He must have been a fairly good diplomat to remain friends with both men who were sometimes at odds from professional jealousy. With Dumas he collaborated on Hamlet, (1848) The Two Dianas, (both novel and play) and Benvenuto Cellini (1852). Benvenuto Cellini later became the basis for the libretto of Saint-Saens opera of the same name.

Dumas regarded Meurice as something of a raffish, happy go lucky type. Considering that Dumas was regarded by most as rather wild himself, this indicates that Meurice must have been lively company to say the least.

The story is told that one day Meurice came to Dumas to borrow 30,000 francs so that he could make a dazzling, advantageous marriage. Dumas was willing but, as he told Meurice, "You know I don't have one twentieth of that sum." "But your signature is worth more than 30,000 francs on a new manuscript." "Yes, but unfortunately, I don't have a new manuscript on hand." Whereupon Meurice extracted from a box he had with him, the manuscript for The Two Dianas in novel form. Dumas thought about it and said, "Leave that here, and come back tomorrow." The next day Meurice had his money and presumably got the girl. Jules Janin told this story to the Goncourts, and Paul Foucher, Victor Hugo's brother-in-law retold a similar version in his memoirs.

For this reason, it has been long argued that Dumas never wrote The Two Dianas although it is published with his works. It has been pointed out that Dumas denied it, but that was when The Two Dianas was being made into a play. Dumas wrote a preface to the play denying authorship, but Dumas was in trouble with his creditors. Meurice paid Dumas père's share to his son Dumas fils. It seems unlikely he would have given Dumas a share if he'd not had a hand in the play and the novel on which it was based.

Meurice was a staunch Republican and wound up spending ten months in prison in 1848 for printing an article on the right of asylum in his paper called L'Evenement. The article was by Charles Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo's son. In 1869 he was a cofounder of the journal Rappel, and handled literary and theatrical criticism. There he worked with the young Emile Zola.

In addition to the beautiful adaptation Ninety Three, Meurice adapted Hugo's Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris. All three plays are very faithful and powerful dramatic works. He also collaborated with Georges Sand on the dramatization of Cadio.

Meurice also wrote a Falstaff (adapted from the tavern scene in Henry IV Part 1), Antigone, Fan Fan Le Tulipe and less familiar titles such as Paris.

In 1896 he published, as editor, The Love Letters of Victor Hugo.

Between 1880-1885 Meurice essentially directed the publication of Hugo's collected works. As Hugo's literary executor, Meurice set up the Victor Hugo museum in the Place de Vosges. He wrote several plays without collaborators including The Lawyer of the Poor (1856), and three novels, La Famille Aubry (1856), Les Chavaliers de l'esprit (1869), and Le Songe de l Amour (1869)

See also Paul Meurice Page

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Correspondence & other writings
[Provided with the assistance of Dominique Contant]

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  • Ninety-Three (1881) by Victor Hugo and Paul Meurice, from Hugo's novel Quatre-vingt-treize. Translated and adapted by Frank J. Morlock, © 2000. Read the Review by C. Conrad Cady.

  • Les Misérables (Paris, 1863) by Victor Hugo and Paul Meurice. Adapted by Charles Victor Hugo and Paul Meurice. Translated and adapted by Frank J. Morlock, © 2000.

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  • Les Misérables (Paris, 1862) [Project Gutenberg ed.] Gives a superb account of Waterloo from the French side. [Comments from Ernest A. Baker's A Guide to Historical Fiction (London, 1914)] 1815-1832.

  • Les Miserables (Paris, 1890-1891) French edition. 5 vols. [Gallica Digital Ed.]

  • Quatre-vingt-treize (Paris, 1892) French edition. [Gallica Digital Ed.]

  • "A Fight with a Cannon" [Gaslight Digital Ed.] originally from the novel Quatre-Vingt Treize (transl. as Ninety-Three), (Book 2, Chapters III-conclusion, IV, V, and VI)

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[Provided with the assistance of Dominique Contant]

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