Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was—and is—altogether too much. A prolific lyric and epic poet of stunning technical mastery, he was also a controversial dramatist (some of his plays have survived as subjects for operas of Donizetti, Verdi, and Ponchielli). He wrote two of the most enduringly popular novels, Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables. Quasimodo the pathetic monster and Jean Valjean the ex-convict tormented by conscience are known—even if approximately and secondhand through numerous stage and film adaptations—to many who have not read the books and probably have no intention of reading them. Moreover, Hugo was a visionary artist not only in word but also with pen, wash, and mixed media. He appears as the bard of every regime except one—and France in his day saw a goodly number. At various times he also served as député and senator. Hugo towers with those...

 
Popular Right Now