A sensitive exploration of sexuality in Hugo’s life and works.
Legendary author Victor Hugo had a very active love life, with numerous mistresses (most famously, Juliette Drouet), and was a regular feature at Paris’s 19th century balls and high society. It’s a well-known aspect of his biography, but where does his sexuality appear in his works? Very little, in fact – there’s no entry for him in France’s ‘Dictionnaire Érotique’. This paradox has led the Maison de Victor Hugo to search out erotic hints and associations in the great man’s life and works, a sensitively executed project that makes for a fascinating exhibition.
Here we learn, for example, that one of the only two sex scenes in Victor Hugo’s works is that between Esméralda and Phoebus in Captain ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’, a violent episode that contrasts with Hugo’s restrained attitude to his fiancé Adèle Foucher, writing to her in 1822 of his ‘happy ignorance’ ahead of their wedding night. These sentiments didn’t get the couple very far, with Adèle quickly falling for her paramour Sainte-Breuve and Victor Hugo joining Juliette Drouet in a whirlwind social life. Such stories are accompanied by nude paintings by Théodore Chassériau and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, plus videos and readings of plays and book extracts that Hugo would have enjoyed while reclining in some 19th century boudoir.