It was born in Guernsey and made in Guernsey, and it is 150 years old this year. The man who laughs – Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit – is an extraordinary book. If you did not go to the Victor Hugo weekend in Guernsey you missed something very special. Even for those who are not academic the supper on a long table – French style – on the lawn in front of the Priaulx Library catered by Les Cotils and followed by a showing of L’Homme qui rit with English subtitles at the Frossard Theatre was a perfect evening.
Armed with this introduction, the following day was more for those of us who wanted more. Who does not love Les Misérables or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but there is a lot more to Victor Hugo! This time, L’Homme qui rit, or The man who laughs, was the focus. We had world experts who took us on a wonderful journey of understanding from French and moral justice (Myriam Roman) to the Sea (Gregory Stevens Cox – our founder was on top form). We had a talk on Hugo’s very modern ideas on disabilities (Hannah Thompson) and reactions down the years plus examples of different interpretations – the Joker in Batman was inspired by the story (Bradley Stevens and Gérard Pouchain). Gérard Audinet, Director of Maisons de Victor Hugo, Paris, and Hauteville House, also told us how he curated an exhibition on L’Homme qui rit at Victor Hugo’s museum at the Place des Vosges in Paris, including some very interesting objects, amongst which was a stuffed wolf (the wolf is a character in the book!)
Then if you had any headroom left there was supper on the terrace at Les Cotils and an evening celebrating the magical, unforgettable music of Boublil and Schönberg at St. James. The audience was spellbound, and thrilled to hear the story of the genesis of the musical of Les Misérables and thrilled to hear the marvellous singers brought over from London’s West End.
Of course for the French and other visitors on the Friday and the Sunday there were tours of Guernsey and the jewel in Hauteville, Victor Hugo’s house, which has just been renovated. To take one example: the new silk wall covering is superb and the view one of the Island’s best.
In France Victor Hugo is a giant and he lived here in exile for nearly 15 years writing, sketching and making his home unique in the world. He brought his family here, he fed the poor children of St. Peter Port, his mistress lived in the same street and she wrote him thousands of letters. There is much more to him.
Victor Hugo is part of our history, too, and he even dedicated his book The Toilers of the Sea to us – the people of Guernsey. You should have come, but there is always next year.