Five Fascinating Facts about Victor Hugo

Five fun facts about Victor Hugo, the celebrated author of Les Misérables

1. He had an unusual technique for dealing with writer’s block. While he was writing – or trying to write – Les Misérables, Victor Hugo found himself suffering from colygraphia (that’s our suggested technical word for ‘writer’s block’). So he decided to take all his clothes off, take himself off to a room where he had only pen and paper for company, and force himself to write, without even the distraction of clothes to derail him from his task. His servants reportedly had orders that they weren’t to return his clothes to him until he had written something. He worked on Les Misérables for many years, beginning work on it in the 1840s but not finishing it until 1862.

2. The most popular novel among soldiers in the American Civil War was Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Published in 1862, the book had begun to appear in the US in an English translation before that year was out, and was a huge hit among soldiers fighting in the conflict.

3. And this, despite the fact that Les Misérables was originally something of a critical flop. Now widely regarded as Hugo’s masterpiece, the novel sold well but met with mostly negative reviews Victor Hugowhen first published. The New Englander had this to say: ‘The whole career of Jean Valjean presents a series of impossible cases, of strange incongruities, and stands in continuous antagonism with the principles of truth and honor which ought to be every honest man’s line of conduct.’ Even the New York Times, which praised the novel as ‘remarkable’ and ‘brilliant’, also went on to call Hugo ‘a prosy madman’ – something of a mixed review, after all.

4. Hugo was a foot fetishist. And he wasn’t alone in the world of great writers in being fond of feet – Dostoevsky, Goethe, George du Maurier, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were also podophiles (we’ve had to be careful with the spelling there).

5. Hugo claimed he made love to his wife nine times on their wedding night. According to Edward Behr in The Complete Book of Les Misérables, Hugo’s diary – which he kept compulsively – records that he managed it nine times with his hapless bride, Adèle. Even allowing some room for possible embellishment, it was evidently something of a trial for his poor young wife. Her feelings for her husband, Behr observes, were never to be the same again.

If you enjoyed these fascinating Victor Hugo facts, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

Image: Victor Hugo, c. 1884, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


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  3. Thanks for sharing this! The fact that Hugo took a few decades to write Les Mis makes me feel better about my slow progress on my novel. :)

  4. Reblogged this on LakeShoreWaves and commented:
    Les Miserables is one of my favorite stories of all time and Hugo is amazing.

  5. Maybe Victor had writer’s block during his wedding night!

    • Hmmm … you might be right. I’ve read that after a night of lovemaking, George Sand’s lovers would wake to find her writing furiously at her desk. Don’t know if it’s true, but always possible :)

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  7. Reblogged this on Journey Taker and commented:
    A great post! I’m thinking of trying Hugo’s remedy for writer’s block …

  8. Thanks for posting this!

  9. That was a very interesting read, thank you! :-)

  10. Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
    KMGN: This is a very interesting article. If you love the classics and enjoy reading about authors, you should read this.

  11. Les Miserables is one of my all-time favorite novels. Thank you for posting about its wonderful author.

  12. Nice post. When I read Graham Robb’s biography it was clear that Victor Hugo couldn’t keep his hands off himself. The clothes might have been a distraction to other things.

  13. I enjoyed this. Funnily enough clothes have never been much of a distraction – the builders opposite, the postman, people talking loudly and boringly on their phones outside, a craving for ANOTHER cup of tea, car alarms, burglar alarms, the certainty that what I am writing is drivel…and so on. But clothes, no.

  14. Great post. Hugo’s writer block solution reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s cure for insomnia, as he describes in his Autobiography. Get up in the middle of the night, take off all your clothes, and walk around flapping your arms.

  15. Reblogged this on nativemericangirl's Blog and commented:
    Five fun facts about Victor Hugo…. The Celebrated Author of Les Misérables

  16. shouldn’t it be “colyphobia”, though?

  17. I didn’t know any of these! very interesting, great post!

  18. All very interesting facts. Thanks for sharing!