When I look at this photograph of Victor Hugo’s writing room, the Crystal Room in Hauteville House, St Peter Port, Guernsey, I find it hard to imagine that these surroundings inspired such a dark, literary work as Les Misérables. But of course, Hugo, who was forced to flee his French home in 1851 to live in exile firstly in Jersey, then for fifteen years in Guernsey, although surrounded by light was responding to what he saw as the dark heart of French society at the time. Les Misérables was published in1862 and by the time he was finally able to return to France after a political pardon, Hugo had written some of his best works while living in exile.
Although Hugo was estranged from his homeland during his time on the Channel Islands and he must have suffered as a result of that as well as coping with the loss of two of his children, who had pre-deceased him; Hugo it must be said, was at least able to lead a very comfortable, bourgeois existence while in Guernsey. Not only did Victor Hugo’s wife and family accompany him into exile, so too did his lover, the French actress Juliette Drouet, who gave up her career to be with him.
Hugo’s writing had already made him rich by the time he arrived on Guernsey and bought Hauteville House, now at least, in one of the most desirable areas of St Peter Port. Hugo spent many years completely remodelling the house and it stands today as one of the most idiosyncratic houses I have ever visited.
It is stuffed full of ornate, dark furniture with quirky features, including a recycled door turned into a table, hidden doors behind dark, ornate panelling, a memento mori over the bedhead in the guest bedroom (of all places) and his original writing room so dark and gloomy that even Victor Hugo found it was too dark to work in and had to abandon it for the delightful light-filled room you see in the photograph.
The other photographs you can see here are of Fermain Bay and the surrounding area, which was one of Hugo’s favourite places to walk. There is a cliff path that takes you there from St Peter Port, which twists and turns through forest and then drops away sharply to reveal the stunning rocky coastline on what is one of the most delightful spots on the island.
More photographs of Hauteville House can be found at: http://www.visitguernsey.com/victor-hugos-guernsey