Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Victor Hugo arrives in Guernsey for the first time

15th October 2018
Stormy Sea by Victor Hugo Meaulle engraving from Priaulx Library Collection cropped (c) The Priaulx library

The exiled Victor Hugo was forced to leave Jersey very quickly. Here he describes his arrival in Guernsey in a letter to his wife, Adèle Foucher, who had remained for the time in Jersey. The image is from a set of engravings of drawings by Hugo in the Priaulx Library collection.

  • JERSEY (5 August 1852 - 31 October 1855)
  • GUERNSEY (1 November 1855-5 September 1870)

He arrives a star …

To Madame Victor Hugo

Guernsey, 3 p.m., 1 November [1855].

Dearest, we have made it and are landed, not without a bump or two. Huge swell, wild wind, cold rain, black fog. Jersey is no longer even a cloud, Jersey is nothing; the horizon is empty. I feel as though I am in suspended animation; when you are all here with me life will begin again.

We were well received. There was a crowd on the quayside; silent, but sympathetic, at least so it appeared; everyone had taken off their hats as I passed.

As I write to you I am looking out at a superb view. Even in the rain and fog, the entrance to Guernsey is magnificent. [François]-Victor is in raptures. It is a real old Norman port, hardly any English influence. The consul, wearing a white tie … was present as I disembarked. Someone told me he too had acknowledged me as I went past. It would seem that the local authorities have said they we will be left in peace here, as long as we don’t cause any trouble.  They treat us as though we were common criminals. But bucketsful of water won’t put out volcanoes. [DAB]

À Madame Victor Hugo.

Guernesey, 3 heures après-midi, 1er novembre [1855].

Chère amie, nous voilà débarqués, non sans secousse. La mer était grosse, le vent rude, la pluie froide, le brouillard noir. Jersey n’est plus même un nuage, Jersey n’est rien ; l’horizon est vide. Il me semble que j’ai une suspension d’être ; quand vous serez ici tous, la vie reprendra. La réception a été bonne ; foule sur le quai ; silence, mais sympathie, apparente du moins ; toutes les têtes se sont découvertes quand j’ai passé.

Je t’écris avec une vue admirable sous les yeux. Même dans la pluie et le brouillard, l’arrivée à Guernesey est splendide. Victor était dans l’éblouissement. C’est le vrai vieux port normand à peine anglaisé.

Le consul en cravate blanche (le Laurent d’ici) assistait à mon débarquement. Quelqu’un m’a dit qu’il avait salué comme les autres à mon passage. Il paraît que les autorités locales auraient dit qu’on nous laisserait tranquilles ici, tant que nous ne donnerions pas de secousses. On nous regarde comme des voleurs. Mais les seaux d’eau n’éteignent pas les cratères.

 … and leaves a superstar

  • 1872 Remains in Guernsey for a year (with Juliette Drouet)
  • 1875 One week
  • 1878 Four months (with Juliette and his grandchildren)