Message from Mrs. Anne-Simone Dufief, Professor Emeritus of Literature at the University of Angers
The houses of writers are jewels of our heritage. We are curious to follow in the footsteps of the writers and artists we love. We vaguely feel the need to share their intimacy. Their works open their minds, their homes, their daily life to us, by which they can seem close to us, and in a certain way become our contemporaries despite the decades that have passed. As part of a heritage approach, Mr. Daisaku Ikeda acquired, in 1991, the Château des Roches, a beautiful residence in which Bertin, the director of the Journal des Débats, received his friends; he transformed it into the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo, because the great poet is at home here. When you arrive at Les Roches, in Bièvres, you are immediately seduced by this romantic property. The park, in particular, discovered in the fall, is indeed the setting for the beautiful verses of Hugo “one of those places where our heart feels something living in the heavens that floats and intoxicates it. The perspectives open onto the river, the hills, and a tower in ruins adds to the charm of the place. It looks like the original of some of Hugo’s drawings. On entering the chateau, thanks to the restorations carried out, the furniture chosen, one can believe oneself to be received by the Bertins: the piano in the family living room is open as if a concert was about to begin.
The pieces dedicated to the poet testify to an enlightened pedagogical concern. The director, Mr. Moine, was able to highlight all the facets of Hugo. The windows are lined with photos, objects, newspapers, precious books, often in first edition, with beautiful shipments, relics. They illustrate the various aspects of the poet, the thinker, the novelist, the man of the theater as well as the highlights of a life marked by glory, mourning, exile and political commitments. “Those who live are those who fight” we read in Les Châtiments. It is this fight that is the engine of Hugolian creation, an antagonism between two principles in search of harmony.
The exhibition halls bring Hugo into dialogue with other writers, permanently or during temporary exhibitions, thus making it possible to situate the man and the work in this so long nineteenth century which he occupies almost entirely, to the point that in this Napoleonic year we can adhere to this declaration by Émile Augier: « Will the nineteenth century be that of Napoleon or of Victor Hugo ? The bets are open. »
The Literary House of Victor Hugo also conceals priceless treasures because its founder and director are collectors who have built up an exceptional literary collection. We were dazzled on entering the office safe where manuscripts of all the world’s great authors are preciously preserved, from the 13th century, a Divine Comedy by Dante, printed in 1512, to the writings of writers almost contemporaries like Malraux. This collection is so important that some pieces have been classified as « National Treasure ». We were able to see the corrected proofs of Les Misérables, Contemplations, La Légende des Siècles and the draft of a general amnesty project for the Communards, “to erase all traces of the Civil War”. We are also very moved to read the last words written by Hugo three days before his death: “To love is to act”.
A visit to the Literary House of Victor Hugo is not to be forgotten; it is an exciting and attractive place, where you can feel the constant involvement of the founder and his team.