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Victor Hugo was born in France on February 26, 1802. The only systematic education he received was between the years of 1813 and 1818, when he attended school at the Pension Cordier. During that time he experimented with writing, attempting odes, satires, tragedies, elegies, idylls, translations of Latin poets and even one comic opera. In 1819, he and his older brother founded a fortnightly review called Le Conservateur Littéraire. The years that followed saw the advance of the Romantic Movement, and Hugo and his companions became the leaders. During this romantic period, Hugoís most important works were a collection of poems, Les Orientales, and the historical novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
In 1841, Victor Hugo was elected as a member of the French Academy, and by 1845, he had established himself as the leading lyrical poet of France. During this period, he wrote the poems Les Feuilles dí Automne and Les Chants du Crépuscle and the plays Le Rois Amuse (on which Verdiís opera Rigoletto is based), Ruy Blas, and Marie Tudor. After the revolution of 1848, which ended with the abdication of Louis Philippe, Hugo was elected Deputy to the National Assembly. For a short time, he supported Louis Napoleon as President of the Republic, but after the coup díètat of 1851, he turned against him. In order to avoid being arrested, he fled to Brussels and began his exile in Guernesey, which continued until 1870. During these years he wrote some of his most famous works: Les Châtiments (1853), Les Contemplations (1856), Les Misérables (1862), Les Travailleurs de La Mer (1866), and LíHomme qui Rit (1869).
Victor Hugo lived through the siege and capitulation of Paris in 1871. In the following years, he took an active part in the political life of the new Republic. In 1873, he published his last great novel, Quatrevingt-treize. During the last few years of his life, he became a spokesman for his country and was adored by all. Victor Hugo died on May 22, 1885 and was laid to rest in circumstances of unparalleled pomp and ceremony in the Pantheon.
In 1830, the Romanticists, including Victor Hugo, were rebelling against classicism and its insistence on traditional topics and prose that was characterized by order and regularity. They dared to experiment with unlikely subjects, like ugliness, and to employ irregular prose and structure. While writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Hugo chose to use the form of the traditional historical novel, but his approach and his subject matter were new and shocking. Quasimodo, his main character, was a terribly deformed and deaf man who was shunned by all.
Hugoís choice of 1482 as the setting for the novel is highly significant. Louis XI, a character in the novel, helped to dismantle feudalism and bring the Middle Ages to an end. The transitional period that followed the Middle Ages gave rise to civil unrest and generated all sorts of new ideas, making it similar to the Romantic Period in which Hugo lived and wrote. This period of transition at the end of the fifteenth century was a compelling time in which to set an epic novel, especially when the novel challenged traditional, classical literature.