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I’ve admired the French novelist, Victor Hugo, for so long that I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t conjure up the image of his distinguished, grey-bearded face in my mind.  Even as a teenager, a poorly translated copy of Les Misérables was sufficient to convert me into an adoring fan.  In my early twenties, my brother-in-law recorded a copy of his cd of the original Broadway musical onto several cassette tapes for me.  For weeks as soon as I finished playing all three tapes, I’d start again at the beginning.  Then a few years ago, my husband gave me a life-altering unabridged version of Les Mis as a gift, and I was completely and reverently smitten with Victor Hugo.  Curious to see if he was perhaps a “one-hit wonder,” I read Toilers of the Sea.  Another masterpiece.  Little did I imagine as a teen that I’d one day see his tomb in the crypt beneath the Panthéon, or visit the house where he lived on 6 Place des Vosges in Paris.  Yet here we were at the Maison de Victor Hugo, the house where he lived for the 16 years that political exile didn’t keep him from his beloved France.

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees. Les Misérables, Victor HugoClick To Tweet
Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

The Maison de Victor Hugo is one of many apartments set in a quadrant of buildings surrounding the Place des Vosges, a park in an upscale area of Paris.

Many of Victor Hugo’s descendants are artists, and a display of decorative plates in the main stairwell outlines the family tree.

Hugo moved into this building, which had long been known as the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, in 1832 with his young bride, Adele Foucher.  Before you exhale a romantic “ahhhhh,” though, know that shortly thereafter, Hugo met Juliette Drouet, a French actress who would become his faithful mistress for decades until she died in 1883, preceding Hugo in death by two years.

Adele Foucher, Victor Hugo's wife, Paris, France

A painting of Adele Foucher, Victor Hugo’s wife, hangs in the antechamber of the home.

The historic Place de Vosges and upscale homes surrounding the park are visible from the antechamber of Hugo’s house. 

Hanging in the antechamber, a painting shows a scene from “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” which Hugo had published the year before moving into the home. In the painting, Esmeralda gives water to the cathedral’s disfigured beast, Quasimodo.

Despite his infidelity, Hugo dedicated himself to the new home with his wife.  A sprawling space with multiple rooms, it was quickly filled with art – paintings done by friends and by Hugo himself, as well as furniture he found and redesigned in a style exactly to his liking.  He loved interior design, slowly creating a space of comfort and beauty for his wife.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

One room in the house, the “Chinese Lounge,” is filled with decorative Asian plates displayed on colorful wall panels that were designed and hand-painted by Hugo himself.

Hugo had a knack for finding old furniture and creating new pieces with a distinctively Gothic style, as is the case with the pieces in the dining room.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

His affinity for the Gothic style is particularly evident in this piece in the dining room.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

With minute attention to detail, the walls and even the ceiling are covered with matching patterned material and tasseled drapery.

The small study holds a writing desk where Hugo used to write standing up and letters Hugo exchanged with loved ones.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

A bust of Hugo by sculptor Auguste Rodin is displayed on a table in the small study.

Hugo is pictured as a younger man in this photo at the Maison de Victor Hugo.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

A photography exhibit by one of Hugo’s descendants is on display.

The last and smallest room we visited in the sumptuous apartment was Hugo’s bedroom.

In it, the same 4-poster bed where he succumbed to pneumonia in 1885 stood against the wall in a single beam of light.

Though he’d been living at 130 Avenue d’Eylau in Paris for several years at the time of his death, his entire bedroom, along with other memorabilia, was relocated to the Maison de Victor Hugo to create the museum.

Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

Hanging on a wall in the bedroom is a portrait of Hugo on his deathbed – his final words, “I see black light.”

I would hardly profess to be Victor Hugo’s greatest fan.  I can’t recite vociferous quotes from his novels, and I’ve never read a single poem of his.  But wandering the same streets that he last walked 137 years ago, visiting places like the Bastille, seeing the intimate quarters – the very same desk! – where he wrote the novel to end all novels – well, that’s just not the kind of thing most folks have the opportunity to do every day.  Now that my little tryst with all things Victor Hugo has ended in Paris, I suppose that seeing Les Misérables performed on Broadway would be the ultimate finale for my obsession.  More likely it would further fuel the fires of fascination that burn ever so brightly for my literary idol.
The Music of Les Miserables

Multiple versions now exist of Les Misérables, but the 10th Anniversary performance has become my favorite, even over the original.

The soundtrack from the 2012 motion picture?  Puh-leeze.  Not even in the same ballpark.

Know Before You Go
  • Ticket pricing is a bit confusing.  Normally entry to the museum is said to be free for the “permanent collections.”  According to their website, “There is an admission charge to the temporary exhibitions (varies between €5 and €7).”  I assumed we would still be able to enter for free to merely view the permanent collections, but this wasn’t the case.  We were required to buy tickets at the entrance, and the price of a single adult ticket was €8.
  • Audio guides are available but cost an additional €5.
  • The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 1000 to 1800.  It’s closed on Mondays and public holidays.
  • Official site for Maison de Victor Hugo
  • If you haven’t read Les Misérables and are looking for a challenge, I’d recommend the unabridged translation by Charles E. Wilbour.  It’s 1280 pages of literary genius, both by Victor Hugo and by the translator.  My copy was a gift from my husband years ago, one of the few things we didn’t sell or give away when we moved to Europe.
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