Victor Hugo arrives at Guernsey

The Expulsion of Victor Hugo, by Jean Le Pelley, which originally appeared in the Transactions of La Society Guernesaise for 1970. Contains this glimpse into Victor Hugo’s arrival on Guernsey during a storm. I love this portrayal of the great man’s trunk with all his writings being in such jeopardy. In this description Le Pelly quotes Victor Hugo’s son, François-Victor Hugo (known as Tòto) who wrote an account called Normandie Inconnue.

We looked back to where Jersey must be. Indeed we could just see under the cloud the line of the coast floating on the waters. It slid away and disappeared. We saw another line glowing in the darkness ahead… It was Guernsey! … against the raging sea our steamer forged ahead, and an hour or so later slowed up, and then halted, in front of a faery like town, picturesquely staged up steep hill slopes… With its old Norman Roofs, with the proud Gallic cock on its church spire, Saint Pierre Port has indeed an air of home for us French refugees, which is indeed irresistible. The very name is a Welcome; remember that Saint Peter keeps the doors of Paradise!

Now all my father’s precious manuscripts were in one huge trunk which he could not bear to let out of his sight. In the kind of weather we were suffering it was a terrible decision, that of entrusting all these unpublished masterpieces to a little cockle shell of a boat… Father had to decide to gamble twenty years of work and hand it over to the caprice of the waves. He took that chance.

And we climbed down to the boat that waited at the foot of the gangway, swinging ten foot up to us and ten foot away from us with each wave. Two burly matlows slung the trunk carelessly down, and perched it on the bows of the boat, with no more concern that they would have done with a bale of cotton or a basket of cod.

It was dreadful–for some minutes the trunk wobbled on the breakers… I could see the Contemplations disappearing under ten foot of water. But luckily there is a Providence which watches over Poets. Though the storm raged fiercely, more fiercely than ever, we landed safely on the quay.

About Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, plays, libretti, prose, journalism and so on. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.
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