claimed to have been a true revolutionary, to have ‘put a red cap on the dictionary’ and proved that there were no ‘special’ words for poetry thus making the vocabulary of literature properly egalitarian and ridding words of any ‘class-consciousness’ they were held to contain. He identified the ‘new’ poet with Danton and Robespierre, going so far as to claim that he and his contemporaries in the 1820s had recreated the atmosphere of 1789 with their assault on the academic bastions where at that time the traditionalists were ensconced, powerful and middle-aged. The romantics were diff erent, free and above all young. Led by Gautier in his pink waistcoat they all rallied in February 1830 to show their support for a play in verse the very opening couplet of which contained an enjambement – Hugo’s verbal gauntlet fl ung at the complacent feet of the literary establishment. A riot broke out in the theatre and at the end of its brief tumultuous run Hernani proved that romanticism had arrived.
II HUGO’S CAREER up to that moment had not been remarkable for upsetting apple-carts. Indeed his relations both with Louis XVIII and Charles X had been cordial and profitable. Then, in August 1829, the latter banned the play Marion de Lorme apparently fi nding that Hugo’s portrayal of Louis XIII refl ected unflatteringly upon himself. The author, piqued, refused the subsequent offer of a royal pension. This was to be the fi rst of many brushes with authority.
In 1830 Hugo was twenty-eight. His father who had died two years before was a professional soldier. Napoleon promoted him to the rank of general and gave him the title of count. Victor grew up knowing the grandiloquence and ultimately the humiliation of the First Empire. General Hugo was a native of eastern France and his wife, born in Nantes, was of Breton stock. With his delight in opposites Hugo was to value highly this geographic discrepancy in his blood. The parents in fact soon became estranged and Victor led a nomadic life with his two brothers, in Spain and elsewhere, before settling in Paris where Victor especially excelled in Latin and philosophy. He soon decided to make literature his career though he was a gifted and original painter and draughtsman who experimented success-