Discovering Guernsey: Hauteville House and the exile of Victor Hugo
Hauteville House lies moments from the East coast of St Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey, and less than 10 minutes walk from the Duke of Normandie Hotel.
It is a building that rises triumphantly from its beautiful gardens to overlook the sea, its exterior resplendent in white and punctuated by quirky sash windows and a winding external staircase.
However it is the interior design of this house and the historical legacy entrenched within it that makes the residence formerly known as 38 Hauteville Road a worldwide tourist destination.
Between 1855 and 1870 the house was occupied and renovated by one of the greatest literary and political figures of all time, Victor Hugo.
Born in eastern France in February 1802, Hugo was a revered poet, novelist and dramatist famed for his penning of ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ (the latter better known in the UK and America as ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’).
He was also an outspoken political force – a nationalist, humanist and monarchist. However his allegiance to the crown waned before and during the French Revolution of 1848, where he was afforded a position in the Republican government.
It was Hugo’s new-found enthusiasm for Republicanism that would lead him to Guernsey. When Napoleon III’s ‘Coup d’état’ in the winter months of 1851 saw the monarchy regain control of France, Hugo’s very public criticism of the new king saw him exiled.
Following failed settlements in Brussels and neighbouring Jersey, Hugo arrived on the shores of St Peter Port in 1855.
He occupied Hauteville House in May 1856 and for the following 14 years he transformed the building extensively, completely re-furnishing and re-decorating the house, which comprises four levels with a top floor featuring a glazed deck offering views across Saint Peter Port and on to the islands of Herm and Sark.
The interior design is eccentric and varied, dominated by intricate wood panelling, artworks, and furnishings with beautiful stained windows offering an eerie balance of dark and light.
It was here that Hugo penned one of his most famed works, ‘Les Misérables’, painted regularly and became a prolific publisher of poetry. Although the house has undergone restoration the evidence of his writing and painting are commonplace throughout.
In 1927, to celebrate the centenary year of romanticism Hugo’s ancestors gifted the house to the City of Paris, and it remains in the preserved by the city and open to the public from April to September every year.
This is a must visit attraction for visitors to Guernsey.