Victor Hugo on his Deathbed, 1885

Victor Hugo on his deathbed in 1885
Victor Hugo on his deathbed, 1885.
Credit: Museum of Photographic Arts // Public Domain

This photo depicts the world-renowned French author, Victor Hugo, sitting upon his deathbed in 1885. Hugo was a titan in the Romantic literary movement of the 19th century, having composed vast swathes of everything from poetry, to novels, to political speeches, and even to funeral orations during his lifetime. He was renowned by the French public, and outside of his creative endeavors, he had also regularly involved himself in political life, becoming elected to the National Assembly of the Second Republic, and years afterward to the Senate of the Third Republic.

During the interim period between the Second and Third Republics, Hugo voluntarily lived outside of France in exile due to a strong disgust towards Napoleon III’s imperial regime. After returning to France in 1870, he spent the remainder of his life there, continuing to compose written works and participate in political matters. He was so beloved as a national treasure that the street in which he lived was renamed “Avenue Victor-Hugo”, and letters that were addressed to him could simply begin with “To Mr. Victor Hugo, in his avenue” rather than with a full formal address. To celebrate his 80th birthday, colossal parades were held in Paris, with over 600,000 people in attendance marching past his home.

When Hugo finally died in 1883, a state funeral was declared in his honor, despite Hugo having requested a pauper’s funeral. Over two million people had attended, and Hugo was interred in the French Panthéon. Despite the grandeur and size of the funeral going against his wishes, he was still buried in a pauper’s casket, as he had requested.

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