French Poet – Victor Hugo

I became interested in the history of Victor Hugo and the social issues of his time during my graduate college years. One of my history professors gave me a clipping about the hemp trade and challenged me to find a connection between hemp and Victor Hugo. I found some fascinating information that certainly did connect the two.

Although most peoples of Europe were ignorant of the psychological intoxicating properties of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa (hemp) was utilized not only for its fibers, but also for the oil ground from its seeds and the medical potential of useful cannabinoids in the leaves and flowers of the plant. By the time Victor Hugo was born, hemp had became indispensable to such seafaring nations as France, England, and Spain. Russia who eventually became the world’s major exporter of the fibrous plant, monopolized the hemp trade forcing France, England, and Spain to look to the new world for lands and peoples who could be encouraged to cultivate it. By the time the French poet Victor-Marie Hugo died on May 22nd, 1885 in Paris, France the cultivation of hemp extended throughout the Caribbean colonies all the way to Mexico and New Spain in what is now the state of California.

During the 1800’s there was a great deal of interest in the exotic orient. Many European writers turned to opium to boost their creativity. The use of cannabis soon followed when the French troops of Nepolean who had invaded Egypt to destroy British trade learned to enjoy hashish (since alcohol was unavailable in the Muslim country) and brought it to back Europe. Many artists and writers discovered the highs of this delicious marijuana, consuming hashish and cannabis regularly. From the 1840’s onward, hashish parties were common among the literati of Paris. There are accounts of such well known writers as Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert among others as partaking and actually referred to themselves as members of Le Club des Hashish. They met monthly in Paris to experiment with cannabis edibles while musing about how its psychological intoxicating properties affected their creativity. Many of these artists mentioned hashish in their writings, thus exposing an even larger audience to the recreational uses for cannabis sativa. So here was Victor Hugo, one of the most romantic author of French language, an extraordinary poet, politician, intellectual and playwright, as well as a smoker of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. Nevertheless, Victor Hugo retains a very important position in the history of literature and poetry of the French 19th century.

A quick look at his personal life reveals he had 5 children with Adele Foucher, one of his childhood friend. He was supposedly very close to his children.

Regarding his literary life: At the beginning of his career, and for about 13 years, he exclusively wrote plays. However he is still especially known in the rest of the world for several of his famous novels, Les Miserables” and “Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) that became record breaking plays and well received movies. Ultimately, Victor Hugo’s political views slowly became more important in his life, overtaking his work.

It is important to know that he was raised by a woman originally from Bretagne (French region) with Royalist political views. Yet, in his adult life he decides to convert to a new movement called democracy. He was notably one of the pioneers of what was called “The United States of Europe” and predicted that all the most powerful countries in Europe would one day become united to create a sovereign and powerful State. In this idealized “state,” all citizens would be allowed to vote and and there would be no death penalty. As one state, the continuous cycle of fighting and killing each other during the wars and revolutions that seemed to always occur between different nations and peoples would cease. He also predicted that France and Germany would become the core of this “New State”. Victor Hugo was a fervent advocate of this idea, and was even considered a crazy visionary, especially since, at this time, the French Republic was not very likely to become a bigger entity.

His political views and contributions during the second part of his life, resulted in his being exiled to Belgium later moving to England.  Nevertheless, he did return to France, dying in May 22nd, 1885. The government of the 3rd Republic honored this emblematic character not only by giving him a National Funeral, but also by transferring his body to the Pantheon on May 31st, 1885.

Cromwell (1827)
Les Orientales (1829), (Orientalia)
Le Dernier jour d’un condamné (1829), (The Last Day of a Condemned Man)
Hernani (1830)
Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)
Marion Delorme (1831)
Les Feuilles d’automne (1831), (Autumn Leaves)
Le roi s’amuse (1832)
Lucrèce Borgia (1833), (Lucretia Borgia)
Marie Tudor (1833)
Littérature et philosophie mêlées (1834), (A Blend of Literature and Philosophy)
Claude Gueux (1834)
Angelo, tyran de Padoue (1835)
Les Chants du crépuscule (1835), (Songs of the Half Light)
La Esmeralda (only libretto of an opera written by Victor Hugo himself) (1836)
Les Voix intérieures (1837)
Ruy Blas (1838)
Les Rayons et les ombres (1840)
Le Rhin (1842)

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