« La Vallée des Amours »

“The Valley of Loves”

Preamble to the catalog of the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo

A wooded valley, silent, almost wild, bordered by the small road on the hillside which passed in front of the portal of the Rocks: this is how the Bièvre valley looked during the first stay of the Hugo family with the Bertins, in the summer of 1828. « We walked along, writes Adèle, a sandy and shady alley and we arrived at the house, of modest appearance, more extensive than high, of irregular construction, built in a garden which, enlarged little by little, had taken on the proportions of a park. »

Adèle, however, had not stayed with her family this summer, returning to Paris for the best reason in the world: she was about to give birth and Victor, at Les Roches, was walking his four-year-old daughter Didine in the valley. who picked poppies and was saddened to see them die almost immediately.

The following summer, the whole family, with the new baby, was reunited in the Parc des Roches, and it is perhaps there that the union between Victor and Adèle appears, for the last time, cloudless. The dark-haired young woman, whose shoulders and hips are beginning to round out, shares children’s games and questions with Louise Bertin (« Why are you so fat? » they ask her without offending her) and hardly thinks to the couple’s familiar, Charles Sainte-Beuve who, remaining in Paris, discovers with terror that he loves his friend’s wife. Here, Victor smiles, looks at his wife and children with tenderness, works on the island in the middle of the pond and finds Adèle with a faunistic ardor that begins to tire her.

The Hugos were not seen in 1830, the year of Hernani and Notre-Dame de Paris, and when they returned in mid-June the following summer the atmosphere had changed. When the children were away, Adele was silent, thinking of another man, and refusing the one whose name she bore. The latter tried to deceive him by composing a peaceful face: « We are here, he wrote to a friend, in the greatest peace that can be imagined. I assure you that the best here is to let yourself live. It is a valley full of laziness. » But Les Feuilles d’Automne, published in August, lets out the complaint of his wounded love.

Same climate the following year. In the eyes of the Bertins, the couple still seems as united, although now sleeping apart, but Adèle, in the afternoon, goes alone for long walks, no doubt towards clandestine meetings. Meanwhile, Victor, in the Parc des Roches, builds cardboard boats and carriages for his children, which he paints in bright colors.

And it was the summer of 1833 that marked the turning point of fate. The family always seems so united and joyful – nothing, ever, will divert Hugo from his children – but Adèle, in the afternoon, goes to find Sainte-Beuve in a cabriolet stopped at the bend of a country lane and Victor often goes spend the day in Paris to join a dazzling brunette with promising eyes and a splendid body: Juliette Drouet.

The following year, unable to bear it any longer, the poet decided to install his mistress, when the time came, in the valley. In July, they went on a voyage of exploration. After showing him the Rocks and the trees of the park from afar, they went in search of a lodging and found him three kilometers away, going up the valley, in a hamlet dependent on Jouy and which was called les Put. There, a small peasant’s house, white and low, today unfortunately disfigured, Hugo rented it straight away and took Juliette to spend the night at the Écu de France, in Jouy. In the morning, she would write this confession in the form of a report: « Yesterday, July 3, 1834, at ten-thirty in the evening, in the inn of the Écu de France in Jouy, I, Juliette, was the happiest and the proudest woman in this world… »

Extraordinary end of summer for the Hugos, in this Val de Bièvres. While Adèle leaves for her mysterious encounters with the man she will love briefly, but ardently, the author of Pleasure, while at Les Roches Louise Bertin keeps the children, Victor and Juliette, on their side, every after- noon, set off on foot to meet each other and find themselves in the Dead Man’s Wood, silent, deserted, strewn with beds of moss or ferns. Sometimes Hugo is confined to the chateau by an untimely visit, or Juliette detained at the Mets by her daughter; their paths may not even cross. So they leave a note in the hollow of an old chestnut tree, which has since disappeared, and find themselves the next day in the woods with an increased hunger for each other. He is thirty-two years old, she is twenty-eight: they are at the peak of their union of bodies and hearts, and their love will last fifty years.

In this admirable end of summer which tinted the undergrowth of the valley with tawny, they set out to explore, dipping their feet in the river, entering the church of Bièvres, pushing, hand in hand, as far as the still rural valley that was called deep valley. Did Victor explain to his friend that there was once an abbey in the woods there, the name of which passed to the house in Paris where another Juliette lived, mistress of another great writer, Chateaubriand?

The following year, they wanted to find this atmosphere, to which the clandestinity added its exaltation. But the weather was terrible, the whole valley was drowned and the rain gave their chance encounters a melancholy conducive to disputes. At the same time, with the Bertins and more than ever, Hugo was working. But sometimes, after having passed the night at his table in his room in Les Roches, the poet, at dawn, crossed the always open gate, ran through the soaked woods and went, in the little house of the Mets, to surprise Juliette then that she was still sleeping. And they even sometimes braved the elements: « Let us remember, he wrote to her, all our lives yesterday. Let us never forget this terrible storm of September 24, 1835, so full of sweet things for us. The rain was falling in torrents, the leaves of the tree only served to bring it colder to our heads, the sky was full of thunder. You were naked in my arms, your beautiful face hidden in my knees, only turning away to smile at me, and your shirt glued by the water to your beautiful shoulders… »

The Twilight songs, which will appear in the fall, will dare to celebrate this fullness:

« Since I put my lip to your still full cup
Since I have placed my pale forehead in your hands…« 

And Adele ? We have neither from her nor from Sainte-Beuve so many testimonies, their letters having been burned. Simply a summary written before the destruction: « He must be the happiest of men because he is the most loved. She wanted to have him in her arms. She is at Les Roches, she gives him an account of her life… See you in the churches. Carriage rides. Redoubled tenderness and appointments… »

We got into the habit, because the character is often unsympathetic, of despising Sainte-Beuve. But these two beings loved each other. Why refuse them the indulgence, even the understanding that we show to the other couple ? And isn’t it surprising that this valley hosted the meetings of these four exceptional beings ?

From now on, the stays at Les Roches are almost over, where the Hugos will only come occasionally. No holidays here in 1836, because the two families, in Paris, are preparing the creation of the opera La Esmeralda, music by Louise Bertin, libretto by Victor Hugo: a complete failure.

And the following year, the poet wanted to come back here all alone, on a pilgrimage, to see his friends’ park again, the river, the wood of the Dead Man, the old chestnut tree, the house of the Mets now closed, the theater of the end of a love so close to the one where another had blossomed. More than ever a « sound echo », he magnified his memories in one of the most beautiful poems in the French language, this Tristesse d’Olympio which can still be reread on the paths of the valley:

« For no one here below ends and completes
The worst of humans are like the best;
We all wake up in the same place from the dream,
TEverything begins in this world and everything ends elsewhere. »


General Curator of Heritage

Honorary President of the « Writer’s Road »