The name and the work of Victor Hugo fill the whole of the nineteenth century. Hugo the poet has been neglected, although few critics would deny that most modern French poetry has in one way or another been marked by him.
It matters little that one of Hugo’s first major collections, LES ORIENTALES, seems to have been inspired by his watching the sun set over Paris. Nineteenth century artists were often to turn to the Orient, observed or only imagined, for their inspiration. In France, certainly, where imaginations had been expanded by the Napoleonic adventure, it was hardly surprising that poets and painters should, around 1830, turn their gaze away from the internal political and social scene. Hugo, like others, seems to have sought in the East a sharpness, splendor, and color that he could not find in the French domestic scene. The technical innovations to be found in LES ORIENTALES indicate that Hugo was fully conscious of the severe limitations on French as a language of poetry, compared to other European languages.
In the 1829 collection, many poems are fascinating experiments with rhyme and rhythm, in which Hugo’s affection for color, contrast, and movement—later to become legendary—is already obvious. The best-known piece in this collection is undoubtedly “The Djinns.” It owes its name to spirits of popular Mohammedan belief, said to be associated both with good and evil, though Hugo considers only their...
(The entire section is 1666 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Poetry of Hugo Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!