Jan 3, 2018
Here are links to some things I mention in Episode 02:
The Preface to Hugo's 1827 play Cromwell, which is also considered the manifesto of his brand of Romanticism, its principles, and what he sees as its place in cultural history: in English or in French.
The novella Claude Gueux (1834). Here we see an early iteration of a story similar to Jean Valjean's, and a plea against the death penalty: in English or in French. Hugo's other novel that dealt significantly with the death penalty, Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné, was published in 1829. Some scholars, including yours truly, have argued Hugo did not initially write this book to engage with the death penalty debate, but rather as a sort of emotional and aesthetic experiment in contemplating extreme suffering and existential anxiety, but that extended consideration of the plight of the central character led Hugo to question the morality of his punishment. In 1832, Hugo added a preface connecting the work explicitly with the social and political question of the death penalty, and throughout his life, he would be a vocal opponent of capital punishment.
For example, in 1859, 3 years before he published Les Misérables and while he was working on it in earnest, he wrote an open letter regarding the impending execution of the American Abolitionist John Brown. We will never know what difference it might have made; it would arrive too late.
Victor Hugo, The Hanging of John Brown, 1860
Hugo was an artist as well as a writer, and he created many ink drawings like this one. Many were related to his crusade against the death penalty, and there are at least three others that closely resemble this one. One of these, which Hugo seemed to favor particularly, was entitled Ecce Lex (Latin: "Behold the law.")