Victor Hugo

French novelist, poet, dramatist and politician (1802–1885)

Victor Marie Hugo (26 February 180222 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, widely esteemed as one of the greatest of French writers and poets.

One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.
See also:
Les Misérables
The Hunchback of Notre Dame‎
The Man Who Laughs
Les Misérables (the musical adaptation of the novel)


I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.
You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea.
A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas.
One can no more pray too much than love too much.
Happy, even in anguish, is he to whom God has given a soul worthy of love and of grief!
The best way to worship God is to love your wife.
To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.
To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.
There shall be no slavery of the mind.
The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.
I represent a party which does not yet exist: the party of revolution, civilization. This party will make the twentieth century. There will issue from it first the United States of Europe, then the United States of the World.
Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map.
  • I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.
    • Written at the age of 15 in one of his notebooks (c. 1817), as quoted in The Literary Movement in France During the Nineteenth Century (1897) by Georges Pellissier
  • Behold, then, a new religion, a new society; upon this twofold foundation there must inevitably spring up a new poetry. Previously following therein the course pursued by the ancient polytheism and philosophy, the purely epic muse of the ancients had studied nature in only a single aspect, casting aside without pity almost everything in art which, in the world subjected to its imitation, had not relation to a certain type of beauty. A type which was magnificent at first, but, as always happens with everything systematic, became in later times false, trivial and conventional. Christianity leads poetry to the truth. Like it, the modern muse will see things in a higher and broader light. It will realize that everything in creation is not humanly beautiful, that the ugly exists beside the beautiful, the unshapely beside the graceful, the grotesque on the reverse of the sublime, evil with good, darkness with light. It will ask itself if the narrow and relative sense of the artist should prevail over the infinite, absolute sense of the Creator; if it is for man to correct God; if a mutilated nature will be the more beautiful for the mutilation; if art has the right to duplicate, so to speak, man, life, creation; if things will progress better when their muscles and their vigour have been taken from them; if, in short, to be incomplete is the best way to be harmonious. Then it is that, with its eyes fixed upon events that are both laughable and redoubtable, and under the influence of that spirit of Christian melancholy and philosophical criticism which we described a moment ago, poetry will take a great step, a decisive step, a step which, like the upheaval of an earthquake, will change the whole face of the intellectual world. It will set about doing as nature does, mingling in its creations — but without confounding them — darkness and light, the grotesque and the sublime; in other words, the body and the soul, the beast and the intellect; for the starting-point of religion is always the starting-point of poetry. All things are connected.
    Thus, then, we see a principle unknown to the ancients, a new type, introduced in poetry; and as an additional element in anything modifies the whole of the thing, a new form of the art is developed. This type is the grotesque; its new form is comedy.
  • Ces deux moitiés de Dieu, le pape et l'empereur!
  • Dieu s'est fait homme; soit. Le diable s'est fait femme!
  • La raison, c'est l'intelligence en exercice; l'imagination c'est l'intelligence en érection
    • Reason is intelligence taking exercise; imagination is intelligence with an erection.
      • Unpublished notebook from 1845-50. Published in Seebacher (ed.), Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 10, p. 158 (Laffont, 1989). English translation from Robb, Victor Hugo p. 249 (Norton, 1997).
  • Socialism, or the Red Republic, is all one; for it would tear down the tricolour and set up the red flag. It would make penny pieces out of the Column Vendome. It would knock down the statue of Napoleon and raise up that of Marat in its stead. It would suppress the Académie, the Ecole Polytechnique, and the Legion of Honour. To the grand device Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, it would add "Ou la mort. It would bring about a general bankruptcy. It would ruin the rich without enriching the poor. It would destroy labour, which gives to each one his bread. It would abolish property and family. It would march about with the heads of the proscribed on pikes, fill the prisons with the suspected, and empty them by massacres. It would convert France into the country of gloom. It would strangle liberty, stifle the arts, silence thought, and deny God. It would bring into action these two fatal machines, one of which never works without the other—the assignat press and the guillotine. In a word, it would do in cold blood what the men of 1793 did in fever, and after the grand horrors which our fathers saw, we should have the horrible in all that was low and small.
    • Statement of May 1848, as quoted in Paris Under the Commune : Or, Seventy-Three Days of the Second Siege (1871) by John Leighton
  • Vous tenez à l’exemple [de la peine de mort]. Pourquoi? Pour ce qu’il enseigne. Que voulez-vous enseigner avec votre exemple? Qu’il ne faut pas tuer. Et comment enseignez-vous qu’il ne faut pas tuer? En tuant.
    • You insist on the example [of the death penalty]. Why? For what it teaches. What do you want to teach with your example? That thou shalt not kill. And how do you teach thou shalt not kill? By killing.
  • Un jour viendra où il n'y aura plus d'autres champs de bataille que les marchés s'ouvrant au commerce et les esprits s'ouvrant aux idées. Un jour viendra où les boulets et les bombes seront remplacés par les votes, par le suffrage universel des peuples, par le vénérable arbitrage d'un grand sénat souverain qui sera à l'Europe ce que le parlement est à l'Angleterre, ce que la diète est à l'Allemagne, ce que l'assemblée législative est à la France! Un jour viendra où l'on montrera un canon dans les musées comme on y montre aujourd'hui un instrument de torture, en s'étonnant que cela ait pu être! Un jour viendra où l'on verra ces deux groupes immenses, les États-Unis d'Amérique, les États-Unis d'Europe, placés en face l'un de l'autre, se tendant la main par-dessus les mers, échangeant leurs produits, leur commerce, leur industrie, leurs arts, leurs génies, défrichant le globe, colonisant les déserts, améliorant la création sous le regard du créateur, et combinant ensemble, pour en tirer le bien-être de tous, ces deux forces infinies, la fraternité des hommes et la puissance de Dieu!
    • A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.
      A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!
      A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, facing one another, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together, to reap the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, the fraternity of men and the power of God.
  • One can no more pray too much than love too much.
    • Les Misérables (1862), page 55, as translated by Charles Wilbour and provided by A.L. Bert Publishers. Source: Shawn Thomas (June 24, 2013): Quotes & Illustrations From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Archived from the original on March 11, 2023.
  • Happy, even in anguish, is he to whom God has given a soul worthy of love and of grief!
    • Les Misérables (1862), page 746, as translated by Charles Wilbour and provided by A.L. Bert Publishers. Source: Shawn Thomas (June 24, 2013): Quotes & Illustrations From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Archived from the original on March 11, 2023.
  • The best way to worship God is to love your wife.
    • Les Misérables (1862), page 1190, as translated by Charles Wilbour and provided by A.L. Bert Publishers. Source: Shawn Thomas (June 24, 2013): Quotes & Illustrations From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Archived from the original on March 11, 2023.
  • To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.
    • Les Misérables (1862), page 1190, as translated by Charles Wilbour and provided by A.L. Bert Publishers. Source: Shawn Thomas (June 24, 2013): Quotes & Illustrations From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Archived from the original on March 11, 2023.
  • Il y a maintenant en France dans chaque village un flambeau allumé, le maître d'école, et une bouche qui souffle dessus, le curé.
    • Histoire d'un crime. Déposition d'un témoin (1877), Deuxième Journée. La lutte, ch. III: La barricade Saint-Antoine
    • Translation: There is now, in France, in each village, a lighted torch—the schoolmaster—and a mouth which blows upon it—the curé.
      • T. H. Joyce and Arthur Locker (tr.), The History of a Crime: The Testimony of an Eye-Witness (1877), The Second Day, Chapter III, p. 120
    • Translation: In every French village there is now a lighted torch, the schoolmaster; and a mouth trying to blow it out, the priest.
      • Huntington Smith (tr.), History of a Crime (1888), The Second Day, Chapter III, p. 187
    • Variants: There is in every village a torch: The schoolteacher/teacher. And an extinguisher: The priest/clergyman.
  • Je n'entre qu'à moitié dans la guerre civile. Je veux bien y mourir, je ne veux pas y tuer.
    • I only take a half share in the civil war; I am willing to die, I am not willing to kill.
      • Histoire d'un crime (The History of a Crime) [written 1852, published 1877], Quatrième journée. La victoire, ch. II: Les Faits de la nuit. Quartier des Halles. Trans. T.H. Joyce and Arthur Locker
  • On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées.
    • Literal translations:
    • One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.
    • One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas.
      • Histoire d'un Crime (The History of a Crime) [written 1852, published 1877], Conclusion, ch. X. Trans. T.H. Joyce and Arthur Locker [1]
    • Alternative translations and paraphrased variants:
      • One cannot resist an idea whose time has come.
      • No one can resist an idea whose time has come.
      • Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
      • Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
      • No army can stop an idea whose time has come.
      • Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
      • There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.
      • Many of these paraphrases have a closer match in a passage from Gustave Aimard's earlier-published novel Les Francs-Tireurs (1861):
        • there is something more powerful than the brute force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come and hour struck[1]
        • Original French: Il y a quelque chose de plus puissant que la force brutale des baïonnettes: c'est l'idée dont le temps est venu et l'heure est sonnée[2]
  • Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo! Morne plaine!
  • L'œil était dans la tombe et regardait Caïn.
    • The eye was in the tomb and stared at Cain.
      • La Conscience, from La Légende des siècles (1859), First Series, Part I
  • Vous créez un frisson nouveau.
  • Jésus a pleuré, Voltaire a souri; c’est de cette larme divine et de ce sourire humain qu’est faite la douceur de la civilisation actuelle.
    • Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. Of that divine tear and that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.
      • Speech, "Le centenaire de Voltaire", on the 100th anniversary of the death of Voltaire, Théâtre de la Gaîté, Paris (30 May 1878); published in Actes et paroles - Depuis l'exil (1878)
  • For four hundred years the human race has not made a step but what has left its plain vestige behind. We enter now upon great centuries. The sixteenth century will be known as the age of painters, the seventeenth will be termed the age of writers, the eighteenth the age of philosophers, the nineteenth the age of apostles and prophets. To satisfy the nineteenth century, it is necessary to be the painter of the sixteenth, the writer of the seventeenth, the philosopher of the eighteenth; and it is also necessary, like Louis Blane, to have the innate and holy love of humanity which constitutes an apostolate, and opens up a prophetic vista into the future. In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, animosity will be dead, royalty will be dead, and dogmas will be dead; but Man will live. For all there will be but one country—that country the whole earth; for all there will be but one hope—that hope the whole heaven.
  • Was it possible that Napoleon should win the battle of Waterloo? We answer, No! Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blücher? No! Because of God! For Bonaparte to conquer at Waterloo was not the law of the nineteenth century. It was time that this vast man should fall. He had been impeached before the Infinite! He had vexed God! Waterloo was not a battle. It was the change of front of the Universe!
    • "The Battle of Waterloo", reported in Oliver Ernesto Branch, ed., The Hamilton Speaker (1878), p. 53
  • Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.
    • "Thoughts," Postscriptum de ma vie, in Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography, Funk and Wagnalls (1907) as translated by Lorenzo O'Rourke
  • C'est ici le combat du jour et de la nuit... Je vois de la lumière noire.
    • This is the battle between day and night... I see black light.
      • Last words (1885-05-22); quoted in Olympio, ou la vie de Victor Hugo by André Maurois (1954)
  • There shall be no slavery of the mind.
    • Quoted by Courtlandt Palmer, president of the Nineteenth Century Club of New York, while introducing Robert G. Ingersoll as a speaker in a debate, "The Limitations of Toleration," at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City (1888-05-08); from The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (Dresden Publishing Company, 1902), vol. VII, p. 217
  • Lever à six, coucher à dix,
    Dîner à dix, souper à six,
    Font vivre l'homme dix fois dix.
    • To rise at six, to sleep at ten,
      To sup at ten, to dine at six,
      Make a man live for ten times ten.
      • Inscription in Hugo's dining room, quoted in Gustave Larroumet, La maison de Victor Hugo: Impressions de Guernesey (1895), Chapter III
  • Ce besoin de l’immatériel est le plus vivace de tous. Il faut du pain; mais avant le pain, il faut l’idéal.
    • The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.
      • "Les fleurs," (ca. 1860 - 1865), from Oeuvres complètes (1909); published in English as The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, trans. John W. Harding (1899), Chapter VI: Love in Prison, part II
  • Je représente un parti qui n'existe pas encore, le parti Révolution-Civilisation. Ce parti fera le vingtième siècle. Il en sortira d'abord les États-Unis d'Europe, puis les États-Unis du Monde.
    • I represent a party which does not yet exist: the party Revolution-Civilization. This party will make the twentieth century. There will issue from it first the United States of Europe, then the United States of the World.
      • Océan - Tas de pierres (1942)
  • To divinise is human, to humanise is divine.
    • Les feuilles d'automne (1831)
  • Philosophy is the microscope of thought. Everything desires to flee from it, but nothing escapes it.
  • Les Misérables
  • Aimer, c'est agir
    • To love is to act
      • Last words of his diary, written two weeks before his death, published in Victor Hugo : Complete Writings (1970), edited by Jean-Jacques Pauvert

Things Seen (1830-1846)

  • À quelle heure, s'il vous plaît?
    • At what hour, please? retort to Victor Cousin, after he claimed he could pinpoint the start of the (perceived) decay of the French language: 1978.
      • Choses vues , Séance du 23 Novembre 1843
  • Vous avez des ennemis? Mais c'est l'histoire de tout homme qui a fait une action grande ou crée une idée neuve. C'est la nuée qui bruit autour de tout ce qui brille. Il faut que la renommé ait des ennemis comme il faut que la lumière ait des moucherons. Ne vous en inquiétez pas, dédaignez! Ayez la sérénité dans votre esprit comme vous avez la limpidité dans votre vie.
    • You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.
      • Villemain (1845)

Full text online

  • It is time, we repeat, that this monstrous slumber of men's consciences should end. It must not be, after that fearful scandal, the triumph of crime, that a scandal still more fearful should be presented to mankind: the indifference of the civilized world. Book I, III
  • At certain epochs of history, there are pleiades of great men; at other epochs, there are pleiades of vagabonds. But do not confound the epoch, the moment of Louis Bonaparte, with the 19th century: the toadstool sprouts at the foot of the oak, but it is not the oak. Book I, VI
  • At certain epochs in history, the whole human race, from all points of the earth, fix their eyes upon some mysterious spot whence it seems that universal destiny is about to issue. Book I, VI
  • Alas! of what is France thinking? Of a surety, we must awake this slumbering nation, we must take it by the arm, we must shake it, we must speak to it; we must scour the fields, enter the villages, go into the barracks, speak to the soldier who no longer knows what he is doing, speak to the labourer who has in his cabin an engraving of the Emperor, and who, for that reason, votes for everything they ask; we must remove the radiant phantom that dazzles their eyes; this whole situation is nothing but a huge and deadly joke. Book I, VI
  • Let us sum up this government! Who is at the Élysée and the Tuileries? Crime. Who is established at the Luxembourg? Baseness. Who at the Palais Bourbon? Imbecility. Who at the Palais d'Orsay?...And who are in the prisons... in the exile? Law, honour, intelligence, liberty, and the right. Book I, VI
  • The present government is a hand stained with blood, which dips a finger in the holy water. Book II, X
  • We who combat them are "the eternal enemies of order." We are—for they can as yet find nothing but this worn-out word—we are demagogues. In the language of the Duke of Alva, to believe in the sacredness of the human conscience, to resist the Inquisition, to brave the state for one's faith, to draw the sword for one's country, to defend one's worship, one's city, one's home, one's house, one's family, and one's God, was called vagabondism... The man is a demagogue in the nineteenth century, who in the sixteenth would have been a vagabond. Book II, XI
  • This tribune was the terror of every tyranny and fanaticism, it was the hope of every one who was oppressed under Heaven. Whoever placed his foot upon that height, felt distinctly the pulsations of the great heart of mankind. There, providing he was a man of earnest purpose, his soul swelled within him, and shone without. A breath of universal philanthropy seized him, and filled his mind as the breeze fills the sail; so long as his feet rested upon those four planks, he was a stronger and a better man; he felt at that consecrated minute as if he were living the life of all the nations; words of charity for all men came to his lips; beyond the Assembly, grouped at his feet, and frequently in a tumult, he beheld the people, attentive, serious, with ears strained, and fingers on lips; and beyond the people, the human race, plunged in thought, seated in circles, and listening. Book V, V
  • From this tribune, incessantly vibrating, gushed forth perpetually a sort of sonorous flood, a mighty oscillation of sentiments and ideas, which, from billow to billow, and from people to people, flowed to the utmost confines of the earth, to set in motion those intelligent waves which are called souls. Book V, V
  • Two great problems hang over the world. War must disappear, and conquest must continue. These two necessities of a growing civilization seemed to exclude each other. How satisfy the one without failing the other? Book V, VII
  • Now it is all over. The great work is accomplished. And the results of the work!...Get all you can, gorge yourselves, grow a fat paunch; it is no longer a question of being a great people, of being a powerful people, of being a free nation, of casting a bright light; France no longer sees its way to that. Book V, IX
  • Now there is no more noise, no more confusion, no more talking, no more parliament, or parliamentarism. The Corps Législatif, the Senate, the Council of State, have all had their mouths sewn up. Book V, IX
  • Be proud, Frenchmen! Lift high your heads, Frenchmen! You are no longer anything, and this man is everything! He holds in his hand your intelligence, as a child holds a bird. Any day he pleases, he can strangle the genius of France. Book V, IX
  • The orator resumes: "And if it should happen some day that a man, having in his hand the five hundred thousand officeholders who constitute the government, and the four hundred thousand soldiers composing the army, if it should happen that this man should tear up the Constitution, should violate every law, break every oath, trample upon every right, commit every crime, do you know what your irremovable magistrates, instructors in the right, and guardians of the law, would do? They would hold their tongues." Book VIII, IV
  • From every agglomeration of men, from every city, from every nation, there inevitably arises a collective force. Place this collective force at the service of liberty, let it rule by universal suffrage, the city becomes a commune, the nation becomes a republic. This collective force is not, of its nature, intelligent. Belonging to all, it belongs to no one; it floats about, so to speak, outside of the people. Conclusion, Part First, II
  • There is... always, in a large population like that of France, a class which is ignorant, which suffers, covets, and struggles, placed between the brutish instinct which impels it to take, and the moral law which invites it to labour. In the grievous and oppressed condition in which it still is, this class, in order to maintain itself in probity and well-doing, requires all the pure and holy light that emanates from the Gospel; it requires that, on the one hand, the spirit of Jesus Christ, and, on the other, the spirit of the French Revolution, should address to it the same manly words, and should never cease to point out to it, as the only lights worthy of the eyes of man, the exalted and mysterious laws of human destiny,—self-denial, devotion, sacrifice, the labour which leads to material well-being, the probity which leads to inward well-being; even with this perennial instruction, at once divine and human, this class, so worthy of sympathy and fraternity, often succumbs. Conclusion, Part First, III
  • On the day when the human conscience shall lose its bearings, on the day when success shall carry the day before that forum, all will be at an end. The last moral gleam will reascend to heaven. Darkness will be in the mind of man. You will have nothing to do but to devour one another, wild beasts that you are! Conclusion, Part First, III
  • With moral degradation goes political degradation. Conclusion, Part First, III
  • They determined, once for all, to make an end of the spirit of freedom and emancipation, and to drive back and repress for ever the upward tendency of mankind. To undo the labour of twenty generations; to kill in the nineteenth century, by strangulation... Luther, Descartes, and Voltaire, religious scrutiny, philosophical scrutiny, universal scrutiny; to crush throughout all Europe this immense vegetation of free thought, here a tender blade, there a sturdy oak; resuscitate all they could of the Inquisition, and to stifle all they could of intelligence; to stultify youth, in other words to brutalize the future;... to say to nations: "Eat and think no more;".... Conclusion, Part Second, I
  • There was a nation among the nations, which was a sort of elder brother in this family of the oppressed, a prophet in the human tribe. This nation took the initiative of the whole human movement. It went on, saying, "Come!" and the rest followed. As a complement to the fraternity of men, in the Gospel, it taught the fraternity of nations. It spoke by the voice of its writers, of its poets, of its philosophers, of its orators, as by a single mouth, and its words flew to the extremities of the earth, to rest, like tongues of fire, upon the brow of all nations. It presided over the communion of intellects. Conclusion, Part Second, I
  • Now it is all over. The French nation is dead. Conclusion, Part Second, I
  • Let us have faith.
    No, let us not be cast down.
    To despair is to desert.
    Let us look to the future.
    The future,—no one knows what tempests still separate us from port, but the port, the distant and radiant port, is in sight; the future, we repeat, is the republic for all men; let us add, the future is peace with all men. Conclusion, Part Second, II
  • Let us not fall into the vulgar error, which is to curse and to dishonour the age in which we live. However deep the shame of the present, whatever blows we receive from the fluctuation of events, whatever the apparent desertion or the momentary lethargy of mental vigour, none of us... will repudiate the magnificent epoch in which we live, the virile age of mankind. Conclusion, Part Second, II
  • Let us proclaim it aloud, let us proclaim it in our fall and in our defeat, this is the greatest of all ages! and do you know the reason why? because it is the mildest. This age, the immediate issue, the firstborn offspring, of the French Revolution, frees the slave in America, raises from his degradation the pariah in Asia, abolishes the suttee in India, and extinguishes in Europe the last brands of the stake, civilizes Turkey, carries the Gospel into the domain of the Koran, dignifies woman, subordinates the right of the strongest to that of the most just, suppresses pirates, mitigates sentences, makes the galleys healthy, throws the red-hot iron into the sewer, condemns the penalty of death, removes the ball and chain from the leg of the convict, abolishes torture, degrades and brands war, stifles Dukes of Alva and Charles the Ninths, and extracts the claws of tyrants. Conclusion, Part Second, II
  • This age proclaims the sovereignty of the citizen, and the inviolability of life; it crowns the people, and consecrates man. In art, it possesses all varieties of genius,—writers, orators, poets, historians, publicists, philosophers, painters, sculptors, musicians; majesty, grace, power, force, splendour, colour, form, style; it renews its strength in the real and in the ideal, and bears in its hand the two thunderbolts, the true and the beautiful. In science it accomplishes unheard-of miracles; it makes of cotton salt petre, of steam a horse, of the voltaic battery a workman, of the electric fluid a messenger, of the sun a painter; it waters itself with subterranean streams, pending the time when it shall warm itself with the central fire; it opens upon the two infinites those two windows, the telescope upon the infinitely great, the microscope upon the infinitely little, and it finds stars in the first abyss, and insects in the second, which prove to it the existence of God... It annihilates time, it annihilates space, it annihilates suffering; it writes a letter from Paris to London, and has an answer in ten minutes; it cuts off a man's leg, the man sings and smiles. Conclusion, Part Second, II
  • This was the work that the nineteenth century had done among men, and was continuing in glorious, fashion to do,—that century of sterility, that century of domination, that century of decadence, that century of degradation, as it is called by the pedants, the rhetoricians, the imbeciles, and all that filthy brood of bigots, of knaves, and of sharpers, who sanctimoniously slaver gall upon glory, who assert that Pascal was a madman, Voltaire a coxcomb, and Rousseau a brute, and whose triumph it would be to put a fool's-cap upon the human race. Conclusion, Part Second, II
  • O my country! it is at this moment, when I see you bleeding, inanimate, your head hanging, your eyes closed, your mouth open, and no words issuing therefrom, the marks of the whip upon your shoulders, the nails of the executioner's shoes imprinted upon your body, naked and ashamed, and like a thing deprived of life, an object of hatred, of derision, alas! it is at this moment, my country, that the heart of the exile overflows with love and respect for you! Conclusion, Part Second, II

Letter To M. Daelli on Les Misérables (1862)

Publisher of the Italian translation of Les Misérables (18 October 1862)
The miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.
In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.
God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man.
  • Vous avez raison, monsieur, quand vous me dites que le livre les Misérables est écrit pour tous les peuples. Je ne sais s'il sera lu par tous, mais je l'ai écrit pour tous. Il s'adresse à l'Angleterre autant qu'à l'Espagne, à l'Italie autant qu'à la France, à l'Allemagne autant qu'à l'Irlande, aux républiques qui ont des esclaves aussi bien qu'aux empires qui ont des serfs. Les problèmes sociaux dépassent les frontières. Les plaies du genre humain, ces larges plaies qui couvrent le globe, ne s'arrêtent point aux lignes bleues ou rouges tracées sur la mappemonde. Partout où l'homme ignore et désespère, partout où la femme se vend pour du pain, partout où l'enfant souffre faute d'un livre qui l'enseigne et d'un foyer qui le réchauffe, le livre les Misérables frappe à la porte et dit: Ouvrez-moi, je viens pour vous.
    • You are right, sir, when you tell me that Les Misérables is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain, to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland, to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs. Social problems surpass frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: "Open to me, I come for you."
  • À l'heure, si sombre encore, de la civilisation où nous sommes, le misérable s'appelle L'HOMME; il agonise sous tous les climats, et il gémit dans toutes les langues.
    • At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing, and which is still so sombre, the miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.
  • Du fond de l'ombre où nous sommes et où vous êtes, vous ne voyez pas beaucoup plus distinctement que nous les radieuses et lointaines portes de l'éden. Seulement les prêtres se trompent. Ces portes saintes ne sont pas derrière nous, mais devant nous.
    • From the depths of the gloom wherein you dwell, you do not see much more distinctly than we the radiant and distant portals of Eden. Only, the priests are mistaken. These holy portals are before and not behind us.
  • Ce livre, les Misérables, n'est pas moins que votre miroir que le nôtre. Certains hommes, certaines castes, se révoltent contre ce livre, je le comprends. Les miroirs, ces diseurs de vérité, sont haïs; cela ne les empêche pas d'être utiles.
    Quant à moi, j'ai écrit pour tous, avec un profond amour pour mon pays, mais sans me préoccuper de la France plus que d'un autre peuple. A mesure que j'avance dans la vie je me simplifie, et je deviens de plus en plus patriote de l'humanité.
    • This book, Les Misérables, is no less your mirror than ours. Certain men, certain castes, rise in revolt against this book, — I understand that. Mirrors, those revealers of the truth, are hated; that does not prevent them from being of use. As for myself, I have written for all, with a profound love for my own country, but without being engrossed by France more than by any other nation. In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.
  • En somme, je fais ce que je peux, je souffre de la souffrance universelle, et je tâche de la soulager, je n'ai que les chétives forces d'un homme, et je crie à tous: aidez-moi.
    • In short, I am doing what I can, I suffer with the same universal suffering, and I try to assuage it, I possess only the puny forces of a man, and I cry to all: "Help me!"
  • Italiens ou français, la misère nous regarde tous. Depuis que l'histoire écrit et que la philosophie médite, la misère est le vêtement du genre humain; le moment serait enfin venu d'arracher cette guenille, et de remplacer, sur les membres nus de l'Homme-Peuple, la loque sinistre du passé par la grande robe pourpre de l'aurore.
    • Whether we be Italians or Frenchmen, misery concerns us all. Ever since history has been written, ever since philosophy has meditated, misery has been the garment of the human race; the moment has at length arrived for tearing off that rag, and for replacing, upon the naked limbs of the Man-People, the sinister fragment of the past with the grand purple robe of the dawn.
  • Dieu se manifeste à nous au premier degré à travers la vie de l’univers, et au deuxième degré à travers la pensée de l’homme. La deuxième manifestation n’est pas moins sacrée que la première. La première s’appelle la Nature, la deuxième s’appelle l’Art.
    • God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art.
  • Homère est un des génies qui résolvent ce beau problème de l’art, le plus beau de tous peut-être, la peinture vraie de l’humanité obtenue par le grandissement de l’homme, c’est-à-dire la génération du réel dans l’idéal.
    • Homer is one of the men of genius who solve that fine problem of art — the finest of all, perhaps — truly to depict humanity by the enlargement of man: that is, to generate the real in the ideal.
  • Que l'avenir soit un orient au lieu d'être un couchant, c'est la consolation de l'homme.
  • La musique...est la vapeur de l’art. Elle est à la poésie ce que la rêverie est à la pensée, ce que le fluide est au liquide, ce que l’océan des nuées est à l’océan des ondes.
    • the vapour of art. It is to poetry what revery is to thought, what the fluid is to the liquid, what the ocean of clouds is to the ocean of waves.
  • Ce qu’on ne peut dire et ce qu’on ne peut taire, la musique l’exprime.
Main article: The Man Who Laughs
  • They had done him the honor to take him for a madman, but had set him free on discovering that he was only a poet.
  • It is very fortunate that kings cannot err. Hence their contradictions never perplex us.
Cimourdain knew everything and nothing. He knew everything about science, and nothing at all about life. Hence his inflexibility.
Ninety-Three [Quatrevingt-treize] (1874) as translated by the A. L. Burt Company (1900)
  • Mettre tout en équilibre, c'est bien; mettre tout en harmonie, c'est mieux.
  • Cimourdain was a pure-minded but gloomy man. He had "the absolute" within him. He had been a priest, which is a solemn thing. Man may have, like the sky, a dark and impenetrable serenity; that something should have caused night to fall in his soul is all that is required. Priesthood had been the cause of night within Cimourdain. Once a priest, always a priest.
    Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars. Cimourdain was full of virtues and truth, but they shine out of a dark background.

Meaning:The absence of light does not extinguish the human spirit within, and even though their will be times that you will be tested of your ability you may come out even brighter than you were before. Even though you may have been left in the dark you willbe able to thrive through and become a shining star.

  • Cimourdain was one of those men who have a voice within them, and who listen to it. Such men seem absent-minded; they are not; they are all attention.
    Cimourdain knew everything and nothing. He knew everything about science, and nothing at all about life. Hence his inflexibility. His eyes were bandaged like Homer's Themis. He had the blind certainty of the arrow, which sees only the mark and flies to it. In a revolution, nothing is more terrible than a straight line. Cimourdain went straight ahead, as sure as fate.
    Cimourdain believed that, in social geneses, the extreme point is the solid earth; an error peculiar to minds which replace reason with logic.
    • Part 2, Book 1, Ch. 2


  • He who is a legend in his own time is ruled by that legend. It may begin in absolute innocence, but, to cover up flaws and maintain the myth of Divine Power, one must employ desperate measures.
    • Attributed to Hugo in Old Gods Almost Dead : The 40-year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones (2001), by Stephen Davis, p. 557; but sourced to Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud in Jaco : The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (2006) by Bill Milkowski, p. iii
  • I don't mind what Congress does, as long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses.
    • Though research done for Wikiquote indicates that the attribution of this remark to Hugo seems extensive on the internet, no source has been identified. It seems to be a statement a modern satirist might make, derived from one made circa 1910 by Mrs Patrick Campbell regarding homosexuals: "Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses?"
  • Et la marine va, papa, venir à Malte.
    • And the navy, Papa, will come to Malta.
      • Palindrome attributed to Hugo on the internet, but in no published sources yet found.
  • He who opens a school, closes a prison
    • Also cited as Opening a school is closing a prison
      • This quotation has been attributed to Victor Hugo since the nineteenth century, but the earliest citations attribute the saying instead to French education minister Victor Duruy:
        • Déjà M. Duruy avait posé en fait, qu'ouvrir une école, c'est fermer une prison (1865)[3]
        • English translation: M. Duruy had already suggested that opening a school is closing a prison


  • There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
    • Often attributed to Hugo as a paraphrase of a similar idea in his Histore d'un Crime (1877): "One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas", the wording of this famous statement actually more closely resembles a passage from the relatively obscure Les Francs-Tireurs (1861) by Gustave Aimard, p. 68:
      • Il y a quelque chose de plus puissant que la force brutale des baïonnettes: c'est l'idée dont le temps est venu et l'heure est sonnée.

Quotes about Victor Hugo

  • I am reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. A book which I remember of old, but I had a great longing to read it again. It is very beautiful, that figure of Monseigneur Myriel or Bienvenu I think sublime....It is good to read such a book again, I think, just to keep some feelings allive. Especially love for humanity, and the faith in, and consciousness of, something higher, in short, quelque chose là-huat.
  • Hugo, like a priest, always has his head bowed -- bowed so low that he can see nothing except his own navel.
  • In Hugo is maybe where I learned the freedom to be discursive, to trust that there will be readers who can accept long sentences, and long meanings. In the nineteenth century quite ordinary readers could do that.
  • Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.
  • A glittering humbug.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in Henry Brewster Stanton, Random Recollections (1887)
  • ("Who is the greatest French poet?")
    Victor Hugo, alas!
    • André Gide, as quoted in Victor Hugo's Night-Fallen Line by Aleksis Rannit in New Directions, Issue 44 (1982)
  • Victor Hugo has spoken of the nineteenth century as being woman's era, and among the most noticeable epochs in this era is the uprising of women against the twin evils of slavery and intemperance, which had foisted themselves like leeches upon the civilization of the present age.
    • Frances Harper "The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Colored Woman" (1888)
  • I admire Victor Hugo -- I appreciate his genius, his brilliancy, his romanticism; though he is not one of my literary passions. But Hugo and Goethe and Schiller and all great poets of all great nations are interpreters of eternal things, and my spirit reverently follows them into the regions where Beauty and Truth and Goodness are one.
  • For the triumph of the cause of my sex, I hope only that men will be slightly less intolerant and women slightly more supportive of each other. Perhaps, at that point, the prophecy of the greatest poet of our century, Victor Hugo, will be realized: he predicted of woman what William Ewart Gladstone predicted of the factory worker-that the nineteenth century would be the "Century of the Woman."
    • Anna Kuliscioff Il monopolio dell'uomo: conferenza tenuta nel circolo filologico milanese (1894) translated from the Italian into The Monopoly of Man by Lorenzo Chiesa (2021)
  • Victor Hugo in alluding to this effort on the part of woman for the redress of the wrongs and grievances under which she had suffered, says, that as the last age was notable for the effort to gain Men’s Rights, so the present generation would aim to create a revolution in public sentiment which should gain the independence of woman.
  • The first romantics were seers without even really realizing it: their soul's education began by accident: abandoned trains still smoking, occasionally taking to the tracks. Lamartine was a seer now and again, but strangling on old forms. Hugo, too pigheaded, certainly saw in his most recent works: Les Misérables is really a poem. I've got Les Chatiments with me; Stella gives some sense of Hugo's vision. Too much Belmontet and Lamennais with their Jehovahs and colonnades, massive crumbling edifices.
    • Arthur Rimbaud : LETTER TO PAUL DEMENY, 1871. Charleville, 15 mai 1871.
  • I was exposed to Dickens, Dumas, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant, Balzac.
  • Hugo, optimism incarnate, the vatic poet, recognised by God as the only worthy interlocutor, the courageous defender of the Communards...this cantor of the poor, the only one who was- and still is- read by the working classes,... this astonishing man: half priest and half anarchist, incontestable sovereign of the century.


  1. Aimard, Gustave; (tr. unknown) (1861). The Freebooters. London: Ward and Lock. pp. 57. 
  2. Aimard, Gustave (1861). Les Francs Tireurs. Paris: Amyot. pp. 68. 
  3. Journal des Economistes, March 1865, p. 489
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