‘Maison’ is French for ‘house’. In this case the word is slightly misleading. While no palace, though sited in the Place des Vosges – originally known as Place Royale – the site is no simple domicile. These sprawling apartments were the home of the famed writer between 1832 and 1848. Hugo fled from the revolution in that year.
Hugo was the author of such well-known (if less widely read) works such as Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also penned lesser known, but far superior works, such as Ninety-Three and The Man Who Laughs.
A treat even for those with only a passing interest in literature, the Victor Hugo museum is chock full of drawings, mementos, 19th century furniture and more. The Chinese salon from Hugo’s house on Guernsey has been relocated here, as well.
The square outside the house is a delightful beginning. Lined with brick houses, arcades and a garden, it’s easy to imagine the author approaching along cobblestoned streets.
As he neared, he would have seen (as visitors can today) a large red and white brick facade atop several large arches. The top of the house displays classical Greek ornamentation typical of the period.
Inside, along with first editions of the writer’s works, is a painting of his funeral procession at the Arc de Triomphe. At the time of his death his fame and popularity were so great that millions came to mourn his passing.
There are also portraits of his family. Alongside are drawings and documents showing the life story of Hugo and the many artists he knew as friends. Balzac and Dumas, Paganini and Liszt, Musset and many more dined here. Even Dickens and the Duke of Orleans paid visits.
Inaugurated as a museum in 1903, several years after the author’s death, the layout is not exactly as it was during his lifetime. Much of the furniture was auctioned off in 1852.
Nevertheless, the second floor apartment bears a great resemblance to what it was then. It is easy to imagine the great writer at his desk, where his inkwell and handwriting samples can still be seen. Here he wrote several of his masterpieces, including Ruy Blas and Songs of the Twilight.
The rooms also house works displaying the author’s lesser known talents, such as original drawings and photographs. There are even items of furniture designed by Hugo, who learned the craft working in the theater.
Exiting down the creaking staircase and out again to the Place des Vosges, be sure to have a croissant on a bench and take your time viewing the many buildings of the Marais district.
Constructed during the early 17th century there are nearly 40 large ‘maisons’ here. Viewing them, one can easily forget that modern bustling Paris is only a few blocks away.
The museum is easy to get to via the metro (subway). Exit at Chemin-Vert, Saint-Paul or Bastille.