Monday, March 25, 2013

Hugoliad or The Grotesque and Tragic Life of Victor Hugo by Eugene Ionesco

If you’re anything like me then you are a very busy person.  And by “busy” I mean you work, sleep, and spend way too much time on the internet.  Regardless, I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like.  So, for this week of reviews I have decided to highlight five books that are under 200 pages.

With the current interest in Les Miserables I thought I would cover a book about that novel’s famous author, Victor Hugo.  Hugoliad or The Grotesque and Tragic Life of Victor Hugo is a tough book to describe.  It’s sort of a biography, sort of a novel, and just short of libelous.  Playwright Eugene Ionesco spent most of his career writing about the absurdity of life and Hugoliad is no exception.  He took the most tragic and scandalous events from Hugo’s life and put them under an exaggerated microscope.  In these 82 pages (not counting preface and prologue) you will find how Hugo’s mother set him on the course of literary fame, how he begged his noble wife, Adele, to help him conceal his newest affair from his older mistress, and a dizzying scene where a mostly nude Hugo hides under a bed from a jealous husband and a police officer.
The focus of the book shifts around.  It begins in Hugo’s childhood but from there it jumps to major events (women) and actions in his life.  In between there are small sections where Ionesco discusses his theory of “authentic” poetry (not Hugo) and provides evidence that Victor Hugo spent a great deal of time constructing a mythos about himself by postdating tragic poems to tragedies in his personal life and currying the favor of royalty and critics.  The image of Victor Hugo is not a rosy one but the remarkable wit with which Ionesco lampoons the famous author makes it much funnier than it should be.
For a more straightforward discussion of Victor Hugo’s life and work you could try Victor Hugo by Laurence M. Porter or if you would like to read more from Eugene Ionesco you can check out Rhinoceros, and other plays from the VBPL catalog.

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