Poetry & Novels

Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Algernon Charles Swinburne, King of Sark

22nd March 2019
Like the French artist Auguste Renoir, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne visited Guernsey and Sark in order to follow in the footsteps of his hero and fellow poet, Victor Hugo. He fell in love with Sark and wrote poems describing his time there, so much so that he declared he would like to be king of the island. The portrait of a young Swinburne is by Rossetti — Swinburne had a mane of flaming red hair. It was drawn in August 1860 (image from the Rossetti Archive from a print held in the Delaware Art Museum). There is a selection of his Guernsey poems with reference to Victor Hugo at the bottom of this page.

Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Tapner's death mask

8th March 2019
‘Tu ne tueras pas.’ Pas d’exception. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ No exceptions. [Victor Hugo, 19 Feb. 1854, Marine Terrace, Jersey]. This death mask was kept by Victor Hugo in the Billiard Room in Hauteville House along with his famous drawing of Tapner, 'Le Pendu,' or 'The Hanged Man.' The Billiard Room was also home to portraits of the Hugo family, other favourite drawings, and maps of meaningful places in Hugo's life. The importance of these memoirs of Tapner to Hugo is thus obvious: they were a permanent reminder of the cruelty of man to man, and of his (for him) abject failure to save Tapner from the scaffold. In addition Hugo blamed himself for Tapner's execution, believing that his ardent intervention had actually been counter-productive - that the French government had pressed upon their British allies not to give in to Hugo's wishes, and that the British had complied. This striking photograph of the mask is by the late Guernsey photographer Carel Toms, taken in 1975, and is part of the Guernsey Photographic Archive held at the Priaulx Library.

Petition from the single ladies of Guernsey to the King, on the arrival of the Veteran Battalion

23rd January 2017
October 1820. From a commonplace book in the Library, Flowers, from the Garden of Imagination. The compiler of the book is unknown, but there is a cipher on the flyleaf that appears to read 'FDC.' Another poem, To a Lady, is dated 'Guildford, August 2, 1817,' and has the legend, 'On her Friend's leaving Guildford for Ireland, where she is soon to join her.'

Victor Hugo's hairdressers

25th October 2016
In Guernsey in 1858 Victor Hugo became seriously ill with anthrax. It was apparently after recovering from this near-fatal illness that he was persuaded to grow a beard, as a protection for his throat; the first photograph of him sporting a beard was taken on 5 May 1861 on a visit to Brussels, during his trip to finish Les Misérables. For a while he allowed it to grow luxuriantly, but soon smartened it up and adopted the shorter beard now so familiar from photographs. Above is a portrait of one of Hugo's hairdressers, James Le Gallez, by kind permission of Ann Philippo. This is part of the Victor Hugo and Guernsey project.

The wisdom of hindsight, by Madamoiselle Biard

5th October 2015
'Réflexion sage, mais un peu Tardive de Madamoiselle Biard,' by the Reverend Elie du Fresne (b. 1692), from his collected poems, Poésie, written c. 1713-1745. Be prepared for 18th-century attitudes! On the flyleaf of the cover is written, 'These pieces of poetry were copied by her late regretted Father, John de Havilland;' the identity of the Miss de Havilland in question is not known. The illustration is from 'La vieille,' or 'The Old Woman,' a song on just this subject, from Chants et chansons populaires de la France, Paris: Garnier Frères, 1854, in the Library Collection.

A m'en Pierro

17th June 2015
A poem about love, a proposal and marriage, by 'Nannon.' Love conquers all. First published in The Star of June 18, 1881, which provided Guernsey French vocabulary help for readers who might need it. The photograph is a carte de visite style portrait of an unidentified young lady, photographed by Maguire of the Grange, from the Library collection.  If you can tell us who this 'Nannon' was, please let us know!

My little brothers: Christmas with Victor Hugo, 1862

From the Gazette de Guernesey, Saturday 27 December, a report on Hugo's Christmas party for deprived children; a letter from Hugo to his wife, whose idea it all was in the first place; and another to the French publisher Castel, in which he plans to donate the proceeds of a new book of drawings to his poor Guernsey protégés. The editor of the Gazette at this time was Hugo's friend and disciple, Guernseyman Henri Marquand. The photograph accompanying this article is dated 1868 and while it is thought to be by Arsène Garnier, it is possible that the photographer was a Jerseyman named Henry Frankland who was responsible for a set of photographs of Hugo in his garden at Hauteville House in 1868. If it is by Garnier, it dates from the end of March 1868, taken only one week after Frankland's visit. This particular photograph was popular with the public at the time; they could buy it in the local shops.

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