One of the major writers of nineteenth-century France, Victor Hugo was the most prolific and influential figure of French Romanticism, writing poetry and verse-drama as well as his acclaimed novels. Hugo enjoyed an early success with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a high romantic melodrama set in the year 1482. Frollo, the corrupt archdeacon, is foiled in his efforts to kidnap the gypsy Esmeralda by the hunchback, Quasimodo, whose love for the girl redeems the evil deeds he has performed in Frollo's service. An influential politician, Hugo was elected to the French Assembly in 1848, but was forced into exile in Guernsey three years later when his royalist and conservative sympathies clashed with the rise of Napoleon III. By the time of his return to Paris in 1870, his allegiances had changed, and he was appointed a deputy and later a senator under the Third Republic as a committed social democrat. Les Misérables (1862) reflects this change in its dense, realist style. The story of the pursuit of the reformed criminal, Valjean, through Revolutionary Paris by the police agent, Javert, is a vivid portrait of its period, and teems with memorable characters and scenes. Hugo's works, despite having become better-known in the adapted forms of musical theatre, film, and animation, remain widely read and enjoyed.
Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Leo Tolstoy. See HISTORICAL WB