He is most well known for his seminal epic novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which are among the most well known of French literature worldwide, though he was also an accomplished playwright and poet, as his body of work can tell.
He witnessed all the revolutionary turmoils France went through in the 19th century, which fuelled his sympathy for the common folk (showcased in Les Misérables) and hatred of autocracy. Initially a conservative royalist (his mother had been a devoted if secret supporter of the Bourbons during the First Republic and First Empire), he grew more radical over time. He served in several legislative or constitutional bodies, starting under the July Monarchy, in which King Louis-Philippe created him Viscount Hugo, which came with the right to sit in the upper house; he was a consistently conservative-liberal voice in the Chamber of Peers.
After the Revolution of 1848, he was elected as a conservative to the National Assembly under the Second Republic, though he found himself quickly moving left, and ended up being among those delegates who denounced Napoleon III's 1851 move to establish the Second Empire. Loud in his loathing of that new imperial regime, he was exiled to the Channel Islands (two years in Jersey, then he was expelled after insulting Queen Victoria and moved to Guernsey for fourteen more years). He returned after the Franco-Prussian War ended the Second Empire, and sat first in the National Assembly and then in the Senate of the Third Republic until his death.
Hugo's most famous political causes included the reduction of poverty and advocacy for better education for the masses, as well as advocacy for the abolition of death penalty (which eventually happened in France just a little under a century after his passing). He was also an advocate for copyright and successfully lobbied for the Berne Convention (still today, the main treaty governing copyright internationally) as founder and honorary president of the Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale.
Works by Victor Hugo with their own trope pages include:
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- The King Amuses Himself
- The Last Day of a Condemned Man
- The Man Who Laughs
- Les Misérables
- Ruy Blas
Adaptations of his works include:
- See here for the adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- See here for the adaptations of Les Misérables.
- Rigoletto (1851 opera, based off The King Amuses Himself)
- The Man Who Laughs (1928 and 2012 films)
- Delusions of Grandeur (1971 film, based off Ruy Blas)
Other works by Victor Hugo provide examples of:
- Author Tract:
- He showcased his fight for the abolition of death penalty in some of his works such as The Last Day of a Condemned Man and Claude Gueux.
- Les Châtiments is a huge Take That! against French emperor Napoleon III, whom he despised along with his regime, constantly comparing him negatively to his famous uncle (whose legend Hugo contributed to propagate).
- Cain: The poem "La Conscience" (1853, part of the La Legende des siecles collection) tells of Cain and his family fleeing from God's wrath.
- Ermine Cape Effect: The play Ruy Blas was criticized for having the Queen in full regalia when she confessed her love to the eponymous character. Since it was a climax, he got away by invoking the Rule of Cool.
- Giant Eye of Doom: In the poem "The Conscience", Cain is followed everywhere by an eye.
- Historical Domain Character: Lucrezia Borgia, and many others.
- In Memoriam: His 1856 poems anthology The Contemplations is dedicated to his daughter Léopoldine, who tragically drowned at the age of 19.
- The Musical: The King amuses Himself served as the basis of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto.
- Nasty Party: Lucrezia Borgia.
- Older Than Radio: In his his preface to Cromwell (a preface to one of his early plays, about Oliver Cromwell), Hugo, by then 25 years of age, showed himself as an excellent troper. In 53 pages, he described a lot of tropes in literature and theatre to be found during his time, and all the way back to Homer.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: More on the cynical end especially in atmosphere in tone, even if there are kind and sympathetic characters.