Victor Hugo and Guernsey8th November 2016
A new digital project based upon the book, Victor Hugo's Guernsey Neighbours, by Gregory Stevens Cox, MBE, MA (Oxon), Ph.D. The publication of the book was timed to coincide with the Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival which took place in Guernsey in May, 2016. From this festival was born The Victor Hugo in Guernsey Society. The Festival celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of Victor Hugo's great novel, Les Travailleurs de la mer, or Toilers of the sea, which with its references to actual people and localities demonstrates a detailed knowledge of and interest in the island, and an understanding and empathy for Guernsey's culture and inhabitants, unparalleled until the publication of G B Edwards' Ebenezer Le Page in 1981. Hugo was not only influenced by Guernsey in writing this novel, however, but absorbed everything around him in his new home, and the legacy of Guernsey can be detected in every aspect of his life and work. The intention of this project, hosted by the Priaulx Library, is that it should collect and examine that island influence, and we welcome any contribution.
Exiles: Hennett de Kesler
Sir William Butler
John Farrell, Hugo's fount of knowledge?
Samuel Pasfield Oliver
The Tchîco, Guernsey's spectral black dog
The Priaulx Library Victor Hugo Collection
Tapner The Guernsey reaction to Hugo's intervention
Hauteville House just after Victor Hugo's death, by Léon Daudet
Revue Spirite 1865: The spiritists and Emily de Putron
Revue Spirite 1867: The Revenant of Zealand
Without doubt it is somewhat indiscreet to repeat what goes on at a private gathering; but we cannot resist reporting some flattering words on Guernsey that were spoken there. The writer was present on Monday evening at a dinner party at the house of the illustrious Victor Hugo—it was his name day. There were a few Guernsey people amongst the guests. At desert, M Victor Hugo rose and announceed that although it was not the French way to propose toasts at a private gathering, it was an English custom he very much approved of. He then gave one of his usual magnificent speeches, from which is taken the following extract. Unfortunately your writer cannot emulate the beautiful language it was expressed in word for word, but here is the gist:
Victor Hugo’s opinion on Guernsey, July 26, 1856
‘Jersey believes itself to be as superior to Guernsey as does Paris to any provincial city, and looks down upon Guernsey from the height of what it believes to be its greatness. For me, I had, despite myself, absorbed this notion and believed that the people of Jersey were right. But it did not take me long to realise my mistake. I find Guernsey much more beautiful than Jersey; it is true that this is entirely attributable to natural causes; but what is down to the Guernsey people, is that they are infinitely more intelligent, polite, and civilised than the people of Jersey. I have found in Guernsey politeness, helpfulness, sense, probity everywhere; the courts administer justice, which is saying quite a lot these days.
There is one thing of which I am certain, which is that as soon as you have finished building this fine port that I am watching grow, as it were, beneath my window, once the railway from Paris to Cherbourg is completed, Jersey’s prosperity will pass to here, and Guernsey will be able in its turn to look at Jersey from the height of its greatness.’ [DAB]
Opinion de M Victor Hugo sur Guernesey
July 26, 1856
Il y a de l'indiscrétion sans doute à raconter ce qui s'est passé dans une réunion privée; mais nous ne pouvons résister au désir de rapporter les paroles flatteuses pour Guernesey qui y furent prononcées. Nous assistons lundi soir à un souper chez l'illustre Victor Hugo—c'était sa fête. Quelques Guernesiais étaient au nombre des convives. Au dessert, M Victor Hugo se leva et dit que quoique ce ne fût pas une habitûde française de proposer des toasts dans une réunion particulière, c'etait une coutume anglaise qu'il approuvait beaucoup. Il prononca un magnifique discours—comme il sait en faire—dont nous donnons l'extrait suivant. Nous regrettons infinement de ne pouvoir le rapporter dans le beau langage où il fût débité; mais en voici la substance:
Jersey se croit aussi supérieur à Guernesey que Paris à une ville de province, et traite Guernesey du haut de ce qu'il croit sa grandeur. Moi-même, j'avais, malgré moi, imbibé cette idée et croyais que les Jersiais avaient raison. Mais je n'ai pas tardé à être détrompé. Je trouve Guernesey beaucoup plus beau que Jersey; il est vrai que c'est une circonstance entièrement due à la nature; mais ce qui est dû aux Guernesiais c'est qu'ils sont infinement plus intelligents, plus polis, plus civilisés que les Jersiais. J'ai trouvé à Guernesey la politesse, l'obligeance, la raison, la probité partout; la justice y est administrée; c'est beaucoup par le temps qui court.
Je suis assuré d'une chose; c'est que aussitôt que vous aurez achevé ce beau port que je vois en quelque sort croître sous mes fenêtres, que la voie ferrée de Paris à Cherbourg sera complétée, la prospérité de Jersey passera ici, et Guernesey à son tour pourra regarder Jersey du haut de sa grandeur.
Ce coin de terre est humble et me plaît ; car l’espace
Est sur ma tête, et l’astre y brille, et l’aigle y passe,
Et le vaste Borée y plane éperdument.
Ce parterre modeste et ce haut firmament
Sont à moi ; ces bouquets, ces feuillages, cette herbe
M’aiment, et je sens croître en moi l’oubli superbe [from L'Art d'etre grand-père]
The closing words of L'Archipel de la Manche
There is an an autumn season for the fall of prejudices. It is when monarchies begin to decline. This time has come. The civilisation of the Channel Islands is moving forward and will not stop. This process of civilisation is happening from within, which does not mean it is not hospitable or cosmopolitan. In the 17th century it was jolted by the repercussions of the English Revolution, and in the 19th century of the French Revolution. Independance has twice shocked it to the core. In addition, all archipelagos are free. Mysterious work of the sea and the wind. [DAB]
'Il y a un automne pour la chute des préjugés. C’est l’heure du déclin des monarchies. Cette heure est arrivée. La civilisation de l’archipel normand est en marche et ne s’arrêtera pas. Cette civilisation est autochthone, ce qui ne l’empêche point d’être hospitalière et cosmopolite. Elle a reçu au dix-septième siècle le contrecoup de la révolution anglaise et au dix-neuvième le contre-coup de la révolution française. Elle a eu deux fois le profond tremblement de l’indépendance. Au surplus, tous les archipels sont des pays libres. Mystérieux travail de la mer et du vent.'
Foreword to Victor Hugo's Guernsey Neighbours: Toucan Press, 2016.
The subject of a biography inevitably takes centre-stage and we get to know her/him in three dimensions. Meanwhile the other characters flit fitfully across the stage and are often no more than one-dimensional names. This is particularly true of Victor Hugo and his years in Guernsey. I very much wanted to learn more about the people who surrounded the author in his years of exile. Who were they? How did they live? What did they do? What were their attitudes, hopes, and fears? What did people think about them? How did they fit into the Hugo jigsaw? This monograph is a summary of my research.
People need to be understood in an historical context. There are several books that are very useful for understanding Guernsey in Hugo’s day. Dr Rose-Marie Crossan’s doctoral thesis 1814-1914: Migration and Modernisation (Boydell, 2007) is an exhaustive study that throws light on important economic and social issues, not least the life and work of French migrants who settled on the island in the 19th century. She has subsequently researched and published Poverty and Welfare in Guernsey 1560-2015 (Boydell, 2015) and this is indispensable for any discussion about les misérables of Guernsey. A work that deserves to be better known is that by Henri Boland—Les Îles de la Manche (Paris 1904). Boland worked at the Guille-Allès Library, St Peter Port, and his book provides a thoughtful account of the islands.
There are two essential works for understanding Hugo—the magisterial biography by J-M Hovasse which reaches the year 1864 in volume 2 (we eagerly await the publication of volume 3); and Victor Hugo on Things That Matter [there is a copy in the Priaulx Library], edited by Marva A. Barnett (Yale University Press, 2009). It is instructive to read about Hugo’s thinking on justice, poverty, education, crime and punishment, liberty, religion, God….and to compare his thoughts with those of his friends and neighbours in Guernsey.
A wonderful project is to be found on the website—Édition des Lettres de Juliette Drouet à Victor Hugo.
Under the direction of Professor Florence Naugrette some 22,000 letters written by Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo are being transcribed, edited, and made available on-line. Juliette made references in her letters to Guernsey people and, thanks to the technology of the site, it is easy to locate references to Guernsey individuals.
This monograph is a summary of my research. In due course it will be presented to the Priaulx Library where it will serve as the basis for a website. In that way corrections, revisions, and new information can be added to this basic corpus of material. Dear reader, please see this as a humble beginning - and please contact the Priaulx Library if you have any relevant information to add.
It only remains for me to thank the following for their help: Mrs Bott, Mrs Corbin, Mr Creasey, the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, and the Priaulx Library for their kind permission to photograph items in their keeping; Amanda Bennett and her colleagues at the Priaulx Library; Dr Ogier and the staff at the Island Archives; Jason Monaghan and the staff of Candie Museum; Ron Cosens for help with images of Arsène Garnier material; Mr Jackson for his excellent photographic service; the encouragement of Melissa Mourton, David de Garis, and Roy Bisson of the Victor Hugo in Guernsey Society; the late Geoffrey Grigson who encouraged my early research; John Collins, for ideas and suggestions; Richard Platt, for kindly reading a draft ( errors that remain are mine alone); and finally Creeds the printers at Bridport, for their professionalism and patience.
Gregory Stevens Cox
Bourde de la Rogerie, A. Victor Hugo à Guernesey, Avranches 1944
De Havilland, Mrs James. 'Recollections of Victor Hugo in Guernsey' (n.d. c. 1909)
Hugo, V. 'Agenda' in OEuvres complètes. Vide Massin, infra.
Massin, J. ed. OEuvres completes: Club français du livre, Paris 1972.
(Abbreviated as follows: Massin xii/1234 = volume 12 p.1234).
The Comet: an English-language newspaper published in Guernsey.
La Gazette de Guernesey: a French-language newspaper published in Guernsey.
The Star: an English-language newspaper published in Guernsey.
Copyright and moral rights in all text, photographs and other material whatsoever from Victor Hugo's Guernsey Neighbours: Toucan Press, 2016, are asserted by their author, Dr Gregory Stevens Cox, unless otherwise acknowledged. Copyright for all other material remains with its authors and/or owners, represented by the Priaulx Library, Candie Road, Guernsey. The copyright owner in this case is Dinah Bott unless otherwise acknowledged in the text. Please contact Dinah Bott at the Priaulx Library for further information.