(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Olympio’s Sadness” is Hugo’s realization that nature, endlessly beautiful, can be seen as cruel to human beings, whose beauty, in love and as part of nature, is fleeting and cannot, or will not, be sustained by nature: “How little time it takes for you, Nature, with your unwrinkled brow, to change everything, disregardingly, and, in your acts of transformation, to snap the mysterious threads that bind our hearts.” Hugo saw himself as an Olympian, both in his unorthodox religiousness, which was closer to Greek paganism than to Christianity, and in his sense of personal greatness. For him, sadness was not the opposite of happiness but the comprehension of happiness, even as he considered the true light of the religious soul to be implicit in the darkness and not external to it.

The poem was composed in October, 1837, and is rich in autumnal resonance; but the day is bright with light, and the sky is unvaryingly clear. The external light brings the poet no joy. Joy is to be remembered only in the natural things—birds, streams, the sky, lakes, and such—that have no remembrance but are themselves remembered and, in being remembered, are for lovers “the shadow of love itself.” The thirty-eighth, and last, stanza locates the soul in a pitch-black night, where the holiness of memory, the essence of human happiness, sleeps in the shadow.

In making this sentimental journey to the scene of his early days of love with his mistress...

(The entire section is 442 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brombert, Victor. The Romantic Prison: The French Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Brombert, Victor. Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Grant, Richard B. The Perilous Quest: Image, Myth, and Prophecy in the Narratives of Victor Hugo. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1968.

Hugo, Victor. Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (Being the Last of the Unpublished Works and Embodying the Author’s Ideas on Literature, Philosophy, and Religion). Translated by Lorenzo O’Rourke. New York: Haskell House, 1971.

Maurois, André. Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956.

Maurois, André. Victor Hugo and His World. Translated by Oliver Bernard. New York: Viking, 1966.

Porter, Laurence M. Victor Hugo. New York: Twayne, 1999.

Raser, Timothy. The Simplest of Signs: Victor Hugo and the Language of Images in France, 1850-1950. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.

Richardson, Joanna. Victor Hugo. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976.

Robb, Graham. Victor Hugo. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.