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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Victor-Marie Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besancon, France. His father, Joesph-Leopold-Sigisbert Hugo, was an officer and eventually a general under Napoleon. He lived with his mother after his parents separated and had literary ambitions even as a child. His family lived in Corsica, Elba, Italy, and Spain. At the age of 15, he placed honorable mention in a poetry competition and he gained a reputation as an outstanding poet and writer. By the age of 17, he had founded a magazine with his brother. He married Adele Foucher and published his first poetry collection at the age of 20.
His literary career was off and running at that point. He published Hermani in 1830, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, Ruy Blas in 1838. In 1841 Hugo lost his first daughter and husband to an accident. The incident marked the end of his first literary period. He became involved in politics and became increasingly liberal. He believed in free art, freedom in society and free speech. He supported Louis-Napoleon at first, but turned against him after 1851 and eventually went in to exile for 19 years in Brussels, Belgium.
From exile Hugo wrote severe literary attacks on the second empire. He also wrote Contemplations, a book that is often considered his best work. Toward the end of his exile he also wrote Les Miserables (1862) , Toilers of the Sea, and The Man Who Laughs.
Once the second empire had collapsed under the weight of its own errors, Hugo returned to France in 1870 and was given a prominent position in government, which he later resigned after his proposals were not acted upon. He suffered a stroke in 1878 and his declining health forced him to stop writing.
His death, from pneumonia, on May 22, 1885 was a national occasion. His body "according to his own request," was carried "on a pauper's hearse" and lay in state at the Arc de Triumph where two million people honored him.