Raab in the Guardian (UK)

Victor Hugo's appeal for the poor goes up for sale

Originally published by the Guardian at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/07/victor-hugos-appeal-poor-for-sale-les-miserables

Signed note from the Les Misérables author calling for charity towards ‘the poor of your country’ comes to market in the United States, for $3,000 (£2,000)

A signed note from Victor Hugo, in which the author implores the recipient to “kindly give 100 francs to the poor of your country” (“prière de donner cent francs aux pauvres de votre pays”) has been put up for sale.

Hugo was known as a champion of the poor, focusing his epic novel Les Misérables on the lives of the destitute in Paris, from the prostitute Fantine to the exploited orphan Cosette. Jean Valjean, the novel’s central character, is imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s seven hungry children. The phrase “give 100 francs” was then in common usage to mean “be generous”.

In his will, Hugo stipulated that: “I leave 50,000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse. I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls. I believe in God.”

The Raab Collection in Pennsylvania, which acquired the undated autographed note from a university library, said that although Hugo must have written the sentiment he expresses in the note at other times, its researchers have found only one other example ever to have reached the market.

“We have found only one other example of this type of quote so I think it is fair to say that it was something he said but that his documents that relate to this are rare. We have never carried another,” said Nathan Raab.

Being generous to the poor “was Hugo’s guiding morality and something close to his heart,” according to the Raab Collection. “The message here is clear: it is your duty to help the poor, a message he would honour in his last will and testament.”

Hugo published Les Misérables in 1862. He died in 1885 in Paris and was given a state funeral, although, in accordance with his will, his body was carried in the hearse of the poor.

Le Figaro, devoting the whole of its front page to the news of the author’s death, wrote that “neither in this century, or in the ones which preceded it, has France possessed a poet of this stature, this abundance and this magnitude.”

The Raab Collection is selling the note for $3,000 (£2,000).

More From the Newswire

Join Us

Stay informed about new historical documents, historical discoveries, and information for the educated collector.

Collect. Be Inspired.