What Can We Learn About Victor Hugo From Visiting His House Museum?

A privileged view into the literary mind

HUMANITIES, July/August 2014, Volume 35, Number 4

A writer’s digs can serve as an extension of his work. Entering the belvedere on a clear day in Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo lived on the island of Guernsey, blogger Adrian Barlow could see what the great author saw, the northern coast of France. Over a doorway to the dining room, Hugo had carved “EXILIUM VITA EST.” Barlow wondered if instead of “life is exile,” Hugo meant “exile is life.” The painful yet liberating separation from his homeland allowed Hugo to finish his chef d’oeuvre, Les Misérables.

Returning to his own home after the literary pilgrimage, Barlow picked up a copy of the Times Literary Supplement that had arrived in his absence and began reading a review of NEH-funded Photojournalism and the Origins of the French Writer House Museum (1881–1914). The review quotes author Elizabeth Emery’s view that advancements in psychology transformed a writer’s home into “an agent of the unconscious, a privileged window into the working of the fallible literary mind.” Barlow adds, “This sums up perfectly my experience of visiting the Hauteville House.”