Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Bella Juliette

A Love Story




Real Life


"The day when a woman who passes in front of you and gives off light as she walks, you are lost; you are in love. There is only one thing to do: think of her so intently that she is forced to think of you."
---Victor Hugo's comment on Juliette Drouet


Julienne Jospehine Guavain, later known as Mademoiselle Juliette, was born on the 10th of
April in 1806, the daughter of a humble tailor and a housemaid. She grew up in the
suburbs of her father's town, on the road between Fourgeres and Autrain. She was proud of
her humble origins and wrote on an occasion: "I am of the people,", as if in these three
words lay the explanation behind her independence, her fiery temper, and her impulsive

Certainly, Mademoiselle possessed a wild nature; before she met Victor Hugo, Juliette had
at least four lovers. She modeled for James Pradier, who thought himself as her
guardian. He would sign his letters to Juliette, "your friend, lover, and father".
Along with advice, he gave to her a child, Claire, whom Victor later grew to love as his own.
Her lovers also included the millionaire Prince Anatole Demidov-a smutty little man who
set her up in an apartment in the Rue de L'Echiquier, Alphonse Karr, a journalist who
borrowed all her money and never paid it back. To insure herself against poverty,
Juliette made her lovers overlap (
Robb, 181), and it was she who taught Victor the
actress's proverb "A woman who has one lover is an angel, a woman who has two lovers is a
monster, and a woman who has three lovers is a woman"
(Robb, 181)

To Paris society, she was a typical courtesan, a mediocre actress, a
brilliant dresser, and a fluent spender, equally familiar with pawn-shops and casinos,
physically confident with boisterous sense of humor, unashamed to show her plebeian
origins, and of course, amazingly beautiful.

And indeed, Juliette was beautiful. Her age, condition, manner of life, had made of her a
woman, while her smile and movements kept her still a girl. Her face presented a perfect
image of calmness and purity. Theophile Gautier once wrote this fulsome description of
her to please Victor Hugo:

"Madamoiselle Juliette's countenance is of a regular and delicate beauty; the nose
chiseled and of handsome outline, the eyes limpid and diamond-bright; the mouth moistly
crimson, and tiny even in her gayest fits of laughter. These features charming in
themselves, are set in an oval of the suavest and most harmonious form. A clear, serene
forehead like the marble of a Greek temple crowns this delicious face; abundant black
hair with wonderful reflections in it, brings out the diaphanous and lustrous purity of
her complexion…" (
Gimbaud, 26)

Juliet had known many lovers, but her one desire had remained unmet since she first
dreamed it at sixteen. She yearned to become the passionate companion of an honest man.
She gave herself to her lovers, and many lovers she had during her lifetime, but in her
eyes it was clear that she still sought that perfect one whom she could love and be
assured that that love would be returned. She needed Hugo as much as he needed her.

Juliette entered Hugo's life at a time when he was deepest in despair. Love and
friendship had failed Victor Hugo altogether, and he was disillusioned to find that the
love of his life had betrayed him. Adele, his childhood sweetheart, had betrayed him, and
this betrayal was too painful for him to bear: " I have acquired the conviction that it
is possible for the one who possesses all my love, to cease to care of me. I am no
longer happy." (
Gimbaud, 22). Hugo describes feeling a sensation of rebirth, an emergence
of a new Victor Hugo because of his new love for Juliette. She was among the cast in
Lucrece Borgia at the Porte-Saint-Martin. Hugo gave her a minor part of the Princess
Negroni. She was more beautiful than she was talented, and proved to be a clumsly
actress, but Hugo, blinded by love, was oblivious to this fact. Exactly a fortnight after
the premiere, on February 16, 1833, Juliette became Hugo's mistress. Adele's betrayal
killed the Romantic poet's heart, but Juliette's love brought him back.

Hugo placed Juliette in an isolated house at Les Metz, a hamlet two-and-a-half miles away
from his home with Adele. Nearly everyday, they met halfway between the two; at an old
hollow chestnut tree in the woods, and in the hollow trunk Juliette used to leave her
messages and Hugo left his letters and poems there.

However, their love was far from the ideal love that Hugo wrote about. There were many financial problems in their relationship. An especially recurrent problem was one of finance. Because of her
extravagant tastes in clothing, Juliette was up to her neck with debts and creditors.
When she confessed she was in debt to Hugo, the miser, this brought on daily quarrels
between the lovers.

However, their love proved to be resistant to argument and quarrels. The love was sincere
and the love was mutual. On 19, February, the first anniversary of their love affair,
Hugo assured her: "Heaven has made my hands to mend your half-ruined life, my soul to
understand your heart, and my lips to kiss your feet" (
Richardson, 69). He loved with
such fervor that he came to believe that he must redeem her. For nearly two years, he
was to practice his half-religious, half-philosophical theories on the courtesan.
Juliette became a Romantic heroine, a fallen woman whose salvation lay in a single
heartfelt love.