21st May 1927
Hauteville House is bequeathed to the City of Paris
Was Victor Hugo really exiled from France, or just on the run from Napoleon?
Hugo was elected to the French National Assembly in 1848, just three years before Napoleon III siezed power. Napoleon dissolved the Assembly and Hugo declared him a traitor. The writer then fled to Guernsey, by way of Jersey, and set up home at Hauteville House in St Peter Port. He lived there for 15 years and wrote some of his most renowned works on the island, including Les Miserables and Toilers of the Sea.
Whatever his reason for fleeing the country, Hugo was eventually forgiven. He returned to France after Napoleon’s death. By the time of his own death, he was so renowned that he was awarded a state funeral, and more than two million people joined his funeral procession. He is now buried among the great and the good of France, in the Pantheon.
A Victor Hugo museum
Unsurprisingly, France wanted to preserve many artefacts from his life, including his homes in both Paris and Guernsey. The City of Paris applied to the Guernsey Royal Court for permission to acquire Hauteville House and preserve it in his memory. The Royal Court granted permission in May 1927.
The house, including its art and many of Hugo’s personal belongings, had until then been the property of his heirs. They could not sell it (or even give it) to a non-Briton without permission from the Lieutenant Governor.
Paris’s application to acquire it had been made by Baron de Coudenhove, an agent for the French consulate. The consulate itself had plans to turn the house into a museum. The Lieutenant Governor raised no objections, thus allowing the donation from Hugo’s family to go ahead.
The museum finally opened to the public on 14 June 1927. It is still a major tourist attraction today, and there are often queues of visitors at its door.