Victor Hugo in Guernsey

Victor Hugo came to live in Guernsey in 1855 when he was in exile from his native France. He had fled his home country when Napoleon III came to power after a coup d’etat.

Despite settling in Guernsey, he first stopped in Belgium, from where he moved on to Jersey. However, he was forced to leave Jersey because of his involvement with an ex-patriot newspaper that had made disparaging remarks about Queen Victoria.

Victor Hugo’s home on Guernsey

Hugo settled in St Peter Port, where he set up home at Hauteville House. The grand, white building on a hill out of town, has a glass writing room at the top, which would have given the author stunning views of Herm and Little Russell.

As a supporter of the ideals of a united Europe, Victor Hugo planted an oak tree in the grounds of Hauteville House, proclaiming his belief that by the time it was mature Europe would be a united country with a single currency. We can see now that he was far ahead of his time, but he would no doubt be a great supporter of the European Union today. That tree is now known as the United States of Europe Oak.

Hauteville House featured in an episode of the Channel 4 television gameshow, Treasure Hunt, in 1984. It also appears on the Guernsey edition of Monopoly.

Victor Hugo’s work on Guernsey

The view that Hugo would have enjoyed from his writing room may well have been the inspiration for one of his most famous books, The Toilers of the Sea, which he wrote while living on Guernsey. It was dedicated to the island and, indeed, was about the island, too. It was first published in 1862 and, although successful, wasn’t considered a master work like its predecessor, Les Miserables.

The Rock Hudson film The Sea Devils, which opened in cinemas in 1953, was loosely based on the story of The Toilers of the Sea.

However, Hugo didn’t only write novels during his time on Guernsey. He also indulged in some journalism and campaigning for social change. He reported the messy execution of John Tapner, the last man hanged on Guernsey, and argued in favour of the building of a lighthouse on Les Hanois reef. Eventually, Trinity House indeed agreed to build Les Hanois lighthouse, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1860.

Victor Hugo’s legacy in Guernsey

Victor Hugo stayed on Guernsey for 15 years, eventually returning to France at the end of Napoleon III’s reign. Following his death in 1885, aged 83, his home in Guernsey, Hauteville House was bequeathed to the city of Paris. Since 1927, Hauteville House is open to the general public as a tourist attraction.

Guernsey thus still benefits from Victor Hugo’s association with the island, and his presence is still felt today, thanks to a larger-than-life statue of the man, which was unveiled in Candie Gardens in 1914.

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