Paris: City of Light

The Salons of Victor Hugo


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion




Was Victor Hugo himself ever part of the Parisian salon scene?


Following the Restoration and the three-day-long July revolution in 1830, many Parisians believed "high society" no longer existed. The social climbing bourgeoisie began to take advantage of the fallen dynasty, signaling the demise of civilized society. Nevertheless, the Parisian salons still remained the place for witty, stimulating conversation and were generally run by women.


However, a few salons such as Victor Hugo's Cénacle of Romantic writers at place Royale were attended almost exclusively by males and were not led by a salonnière. Hugo's literary salon was dedicated primarily to readings and recitations and did not attract an aristocratic crowd. (Yet, it should be noted that Hugo was raised as a royalist by his mother and it was not until around 1822 that he began to broaden his political views.)


Hugo's salon of the time was labeled, "Romantic," which meant his guests were "rowdy, vulgar, and devoid of any respect for traditional values" (Atwood, 128). In a Romantic salon such as Hugo's, it was not uncommon for the guests to dress "unconventionally" in medieval or Renaissance clothes, smoke cigars, leave their hats on inside, and lounge about with their feet on the tables. Charles Dickens visited Hugo's salon once and described the scene as being "a most romantic a chapter out of one of his own books" (Atwood, 128). In a room full of antique armor, tapestries, coffers, and canopied thrones, romantic plays, poetry and other literary works were recited and received with great emotion by all those present.


Young anxious Romantic writers hoping to follow in the footsteps of Hugo and move forward with their careers were known to linger about Hugo's salon. Comte Antoine Apponyi, a French ambassador at the Austrian embassy said these young writers "flatter Hugo from morning to night and revere him like a God." This simply makes Hugo "vain and fatuous beyond all belief" (Atwood, 136).


Hugo's reference to the Parisian salon in Les Misérables


In Hugo's epic novel, Les Misérables of 1862, he tells a complex story inspired by personal philosophical and life experiences. Specifically, in chapter one and three of book three of Marius, Hugo transports us to the royalist salon of Madame de T. The character Marius Pontmercy is forced to visit this salon regularly with his grandfather M. Gillernormand and aunt. One wonders in reading this excerpt from the novel whether or not the young character Marius is not actually Hugo himself. Through the eyes and mind of Marius, Hugo may be retelling to the reader the story of a salon visit he made as a young boy with his mother.

"The salon of Madame de T. was all that Marius Pontmercy knew of the world...These antique faces and these biblical faces mingled in the child's mind with his Old Testament, which he was learning by heart, and when they are all present, seated in a circle about a dying fire, dimly lighted by a green-shaded lamp, with their stern profiles, their grey or white hair, their long dresses of another age, in which mournful colors could only be distinguished, at rare intervals dropping a few words which were at once majestic and austere, the little Marius looked upon them with startling eyes thinking that he saw, not women but patriarchs and magi, not real beings, but phantoms" (Hugo, 537).


In fact at the end of chapter three, book three of Marius, Hugo actually writes that in the course of his historical narrative he felt it necessary to stop and make a note of "some of the singular lineaments of that society now unknown" (Hugo, 542). The era of the royalist salon registers for him a memory of his dear mother. Although Hugo's political beliefs as a democratic Republican at the time of the novel differ greatly from those of his mother and other royalists, Hugo does not write of them harshly. He says:

"We may smile at it, but we can neither despise it nor hate it. It was the France of former times" (Hugo, 542).


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