Victor Hugo on Things That Matter

Victor Hugo’s work, so modern in vision, still compels. In Victor Hugo on Things That Matter, Marva Barnett invites English speakers who read French to engage with the thoughts, feelings, and art of a literary genius—and with the beauty and power of his original French. Hugo’s arguments against the death penalty are those used today. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame perennially inspires filmmakers. Les Misérables  remains a popular favorite, both as Hugo’s novel and as the world’s longest-running musical.  But these are just a few waves in the Hugolian sea of ideas. Hugo called geniuses “men-oceans,” saying that looking into their souls was tantamount to plumbing the depths of the sea. With this book, readers see directly into the soul of the man who wrote Les Misérables and imagined Quasimodo—and discover what he has to say about how they might want to live their lives. 

A politically and personally engaged poet, playwright, and novelist, Hugo tackled tough topics: poverty, crime, tyranny and exile, liberty and democracy, peace and revolution. He cared for common people in ways that echo through current concerns, such as those about income disparity. At the same time, he expressed his belief in love and God and unveiled his personal tragedies and deepest emotions in ways that help readers better understand themselves. How did he endure his wife’s affair with his best friend? How did he go on after his beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned? How did he survive, thrive even, during his long political exile?

Victor Hugo on Things That Matter brings a brilliant writer’s inspirational ideas and remarkable drawings to a wider public. Each of the thirteen chapters (“On Love and Passion,” “On Humanity, Progress, and Peace,” and so on) contains accessible, insightful English introductions to the topic and to each poem, prose excerpt, love letter, speech, watercolor. Anyone who studied French in college can find new pleasure in the language and a new literary friend in Hugo.

View the Table of Contents »
View an excerpt: Chapter 5, “On the Mysterious, the Exotic, and the Grotesque.” »
Interview with Marva by UVAToday about the book »
Reviews »
Back cover »

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