While French high school boys had just started the Baccalauréat exams (the equivalent of A Levels) last week, it was time to keep jumping into the works by great authors. Victor Hugo is THE French author! Too hard to sum up the legend in one article. But it may be possible to focus on the father figure.
With his short white hair and long tache and beard, this Santa Claus face could fit a perfect grandfather. The grandad he was wrote the poetic book L’art d’être grand-père (How to be a Grandfather for Georges and Jeanne) is moving proof. But writer/lover/playwright/poet/politician Victor Hugo was also a father. A tribe chief with wife Adele who gave birth to 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls. These female characters are still part of the myth. Adele Hugo’s crazy head inspired authors and director François Truffaut (the one who is adored by Vincent Delerm). Leopoldine inspired her dad, especially in Poem Demain, dès l’aube… (Tomorrow, At Dawn…)
From any memories of secondary school, this piece of art is unique. I am not sure I can name another work that gathers the whole family so easily. I mean when the first words of this poem are uttered, everyone, from granny to daddy, starts reciting the melancholic piece.
Is it really grim? Yes. If you have a look at the words, you can feel the sadness of the passer-by, leaving their hometown for a long journey, a journey stuck in their mind where admiring natural beauty has been forgotten. The passer-by’s only obsessive target is to end their pilgrimage, and to lay down holly and heather onto their daughter’s grave.
True story. Leopoldine was the gloomy muse and caused his devotion for the work. The writer was very fond of his daughter, he named her by her nickname « Didine » or « Didi ». She married at 19 to friend Charles Vacquerie at Paris and, a few months after the wedding, the couple went to Villequier, picturesque village in Normandy on the Seine river. The lovers and some relatives of theirs fancied a boat trip but on their way back home, wind surprised them and even the sailor on board couldn’t save any lives.
If you had the chance, as I did, to visit the place, you would feel a bit emotional when walking by the Victor Hugo museum, watching dark shades of the river (for a darker fate) and paying tribute to the beloved daughter at the cemetery. Believe me, it is even possible to reach the slow heartbeat that helped the author to give rhythm to his poem.