Victor Hugo, 1802

Victor Hugo

On February 26, 1802, French Romantic novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France. Outside of France, Hugo is best known for his novels such as Notre-Dame de Paris ( or The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) and Les Misérables. In fact, the latter was made into a highly successful musical and then adapted into a 2012 film. However, in France, Hugo is better known for his poetic works.

Victor Hugo circa 1853-1855, via. I can just picture the photographer saying, “Quick! Act natural!” And then Hugo strikes this pose.

Influenced by the French Revolution of 1789, Hugo’s works are dominated by social and political themes (you know, like Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité). In addition, Hugo’s father was a general in Napoleon’s army. Thus, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Hugo never supported the French monarchy. Instead, he became an advocate for republicanism.

In 1830, the July Revolution broke out in France and a constitutional monarchy was consequently put in place. Hugo would have preferred a republic, but was nonetheless inspired by the themes of equality and freedom that powered the two revolutions. Thus, in 1831, he published The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of his first works that included the social and political themes for which Hugo became known.

Hugo had now made a name for himself in the literary world, and in 1841 was elected to the Académie française or French Academy, a prestigious group that serves as the authority on the French language. Additionally, he began working on Les Misérables, a novel which took about 17 years to write and publish. It makes sense that it took so long considering it consists of five volumes and is one of the longest novels ever written. Ever.

Les Mis was finally published in 1862. The shortest correspondence in history supposedly occurred between Hugo and his publisher. Hugo sent a telegram with only a “?” to ask how well Les Mis was doing, as he was on vacation when it was published. His publisher sent back a “!” to signify that it was a sensation.

Does this look familiar? French illustrator Émile Bayard drew this for the original edition of Les Miserables, and it is used to promote the musical today, via.

In 1851, Hugo fled to Brussels after a coup in France, because he strongly opposed the new monarch, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. He also lived in Britain for awhile in his exile. However, he triumphantly returned in 1870, when a republic was established.

Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885, and was buried in the Panthéon as a national hero who exposed the flaws of society and helped create a republic in France.

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Marie Antoinette Executed, 1793

On this day in 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined for treason.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

Marie Antoinette was the archduchess of Austria, and she married future king Louis XVI in a diplomatic marriage. She was well-liked at first, though her and Louis’ inability to consummate their marriage for eight years was criticized. She soon began to build up a reputation for her court’s opulence and her affairs with other men.

This is Marie Antoinette at 12 years old. At age 10, her mother arranged for her to marry Louis XVI. At 15, she married Louis and became Dauphine of France.


As a queen, the French hated her. She was accused of representing Austrian interests above French interests. Furthermore, Marie Antoinette became known as “Madame Deficit” for her reckless spending, and she was blamed for the country’s economic ruin. Her reputation was further tainted by stories such as her conspiring to steal a diamond necklace (false) and her declaring, “Let them eat cake!” when told that peasants were starving from lack of bread (also false).

At 20 years old, Marie Antoinette had just become Queen of France after the death of Louis XV.

The French Revolution began in 1789, and because Marie Antoinette was accused of forcing Louis XVI to refuse every revolutionary’s decision, she was nicknamed “Madame Veto” (apparently, the French only had one joke back then).

After a change of power, the National Convention was in control of France. King Louis XVI was executed in January of 1793. Marie Antoinette was tried on October 14 of the same year and found guilty of treason. She was executed by the guillotine on October 16.

It is said that Marie Antoinette faced her execution with dignity and poise. Her last words were supposedly, “Monsieur, I beg your pardon” after she stepped on the executioner’s foot.

Executioner Henri Sanson guillotining Marie Antoinette.

Édouard Boubat, 1923

There are certain pictures I can never take. We turn on the TV and are smothered with cruelty and suffering and I don’t need to add to it. So I just photograph peaceful things. A vase of flowers, a beautiful girl. Sometimes, through a peaceful face, I can bring something important into the world.
-Edouard Boubat

French photographer Edouard Boubat was born on this day in 1923 in Montmartre, Paris. He became a photojournalist after World War II with the goal of celebrating life. He studied at L’Ecole Estienne and won the Kodak Prize in 1947. Boubat also won the Grand Prix National de la Photographie in 1984.

Neige a Central Park (Snow in Central Park), New York, 1964

La Partition, Paris, 1982

Paris Pont Des Arts, 1990

Cafe De Flore, Saint Germain des Pres, Paris, 1953

Happy Friday!

Coco Chanel, 1883

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
-Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel (née Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was born on this day in 1883– or 1893 as Chanel later claimed– in Saumur, France.

This style icon known for luxury had a very unfortunate childhood. Her mother died when she was very young. Consequently, her father, who made his living as a peddler, sent her to an orphanage where she learned how to sew.

Before she became a designer, however, she was a singer who became known by her nickname, “Coco.” In her 20s, Chanel was in a relationship with Etienne Balsan, and then his friend, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Her relationships with these men helped give Chanel her start in fashion.

Chanel claims the turning point in her career was when she fashioned a dress out of jersey on a cold day. Jersey had been previously used primarily for men’s fashion. However, Chanel’s jersey dress piqued the interest of many women who asked her where she got the dress. Since then, Chanel has been known for her chic, simple, and comfortable designs that have revolutionized fashion by incorporating elements from menswear. And one cannot forget her famous perfume “Chanel No. 5” which is still popular today.

Chanel was born into poverty, but overcame it through her creativity and connections. Although rags-to-riches stories are popular today, Chanel lied about her past because of her era’s stigma of poverty.

Coco Chanel was no doubt a talented and iconic designer, but many people tend to glorify her and overlook the fact that she was a Nazi sympathizer. That’s right. During World War II, Chanel became involved with a Nazi officer. She lost a lot of face for this, as her relationship was seen as a betrayal of France (part of France was, of course, occupied by Germany at the time). She had already shut down her business due to the depression and outbreak of war, but fled to Switzerland for a couple of years as a sort of self-imposed exile.

Chanel returned to fashion in the 70s and eventually achieved great success. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Further reading:

Did you know that Chanel was a Nazi sympathizer or that she was born into poverty? Do you wear Chanel?