*Channel Islands. Group of islands off the coast of Normandy (known to the French as the Normand Islands) that alternated between British and French control after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Victor Hugo’s vignettes of early nineteenth century maritime life are set primarily on Guernsey and Jersey, the two principal islands in the group. Possessing an unusual microclimate, the islands are legendary for their mild winters and frequent light rainfall, which makes them ideal for cultivating vegetables and fruits, but Hugo’s novel is more concerned with the lives of the islanders who reap their harvests from the sea. Thus, the moderate comforts that might be reflected in the material life of the islanders who dwell ashore year round are not apparent. Rather, the challenges and dangers of the sea, frequently symbolized by the threatening names of spaces separating the islands from the mainland, shape the vignettes that Hugo chooses for the subjects of his stories.
*Douvres (dew-VRUH). Treacherous rocks that jut out of the sea about fifteen miles south of Guernsey. The arduous ordeal of Hugo’s protagonist Gilliatt, who is shipwrecked on one of the rocks, underlines the power of immense forces in nature, such as shattering waves pushed by heavy winds. At the same time, Gilliatt’s entry into the struggle of individual creatures at his feet, where crabs devour helpless tidepool...
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