Rouge Hugo

RougeHugo cover
Rouge Hugo. Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2014. 424pp.

Rouge Hugo (Presses du Septentrion, 2014) is the first comprehensive examination of the death penalty and the guillotine in Victor Hugo’s writings and drawings. Here, the object “guillotine” represents the activity of the thinker who questions the death penalty, violence in society, and the limits of justice. At the same time, the object raises the question of its representation. By analyzing how Hugo used the letter H in his texts and drawings and how he inscribed the initial of his own name in his works, I argue that the letter H is the concrete, complementary, incarnation of the guillotine while writing is also the graphic vehicle of thought.

Table of Contents

  1. Dame guillotine
    1. Voir rouge
    2. Portrait de l’artiste en guillotineur
  2. La coupure aux lèvres
  3. L’impie-œuvre
  4. Notre-demoiselle
    1. Dame oiselle
    2. La question verte
  5. Le tout-à-l’égout
  6. L’argot de Hugo
  7. H
    1. L’ombre du nom
    2. Signé Hogu
    3. L’être H

Book Review by Isabel Roche, Bennington College. Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol. 43, no. 3-4, 2015.

In this dense and intense study, Stéphanie Boulard orients and organizes her reading of Hugo’s fictional oeuvre around color. She argues the ways in which the various manifestations of the color red, in particular, carry forward Hugo’s ongoing reflection on the necessary violence of the Revolution and point at the same time to the vitality and creative impulses at work (hence the title, Rouge Hugo). While Boulard treats motifs and themes well known to those familiar with Hugo’s fiction—from the guillotine, sewers and slang, to monstrosity and paternity—the approach has a freshness that is further bolstered by regular exploration of Hugo’s graphic corpus, called upon here not simply to illustrate Boulard’s argument, but to underscore the deeply dynamic interplay among modes of expression.

The body of the study is divided into seven sections, in which Boulard endeavors to show the myriad ways in which the specter of 1793 serves as a generative force in Hugo’s fiction, probing the metaphorical relationships between blood and ink, between the exacting tools of guillotine and pen, and their linguistic and visual mutations.

[…] Analysis of the naming practice and principle employed by Hugo in creating his characters is followed by an evaluation of the ways in which his own name is self-reflexively grafted throughout his body of work, resulting in a complex dynamic between filiation and genealogical and literary heritage. Rouge Hugo adds importantly to recent and past Hugo scholarship; it is a smart study anchored in Boulard’s deep fluency in the work. […].