Bright Side

The Story of Victor Hugo’s Beloved Woman Who Spent 50 Years Locked Up Due to Her Love for the Tyrant

Victor Hugo is remembered as one of the most important French classic writers and the author of dozens of immortal novels. On the pages of his books, he embodied the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the capricious beauty of Esmeralda. He also bestowed us with works like Les Misérables and The Man Who Laughs that left a bright trace in the world of literature. One of the first people who read Hugo’s novels was his beloved Juliette Drouet, who was actually re-writing the manuscripts of all of his works for 50 years, but who couldn’t even buy herself a new dress.

We at Bright Side couldn’t just pass by Juliette’s story. She was the woman who got through the dogs and the quicksand together with Victor and who became the victim of slave love, the existence of which is even hard to believe.

A recognized genius and his woman

“The day when a woman who passes in front of you and gives off light as she walks, you are lost; you are in love. There is only one thing to do: think of her so intently that she is forced to think of you.” — said Hugo talking about Juliette. They met each other at the reading of one of his novels, where Juliette played a small role and was 27. There was a love story waiting for them in the future that would bring them endless happiness, the sorrow of betrayal, and disappointment.

Born as Julienne Josephine Gauvain, Juliette’s early childhood years were anything but easy. Her father was a tailor and her mother worked as a housemaid. She was orphaned by her mother few months after she was born and her dad after a year. She was raised by her uncle. After learning literature and poetry, she met sculptor James Pradier around 1825, and soon she gave birth to their daughter, Claire. But he didn’t marry her as his ideas were against marrying models. In 1829, she started her career as an actress and lived a lavish life as a courtesan.

Hugo was charmed by his new companion, but he was embarrassed about one thing — his chosen woman wasn’t a saint. Money from rich sponsors was the only source of income for her — the money she earned she spent it lavishly on herself. But having decided to enter into this autocratic relationship, Juliette was later forced to leave the theater, abandon the role of a kept woman, and plunge into poverty.

From rich woman to poor woman

Hugo didn’t start to provide for his sweetheart, despite the fact he was rich and powerful. In his opinion, sponsoring her would look bad and he despised this kind of woman. He also prohibited Juliette from communicating with anyone or leaving home without his permission. At the same time, the writer was married to another woman and didn’t want to leave his family. He also wasn’t going to break up with Juliette and so, he asked her to work for him as a secretary who would re-write all of his manuscripts.

Rife with jealousy, Hugo’s love often turned into tyranny and he acted like Juliette’s owner. Juliette didn’t resist this and was ready to give her whole self to her beloved man. Meanwhile, Drouet was struggling to survive by pawning her belongings, because she was constantly attacked by lenders. Due to her lack of funds, she often didn’t start a fire in her fireplace and when it was too cold, she would just stay in bed for the whole day. Hugo wouldn’t let Juliette buy anything new.

Worn out dresses and deteriorating state.

Hugo allowed Juliette to love him, but he never forgot about his wife to whom, at the peak of his love story with Juliette, he wrote, “Take a good rest, my Adele, enjoy yourself, and tell all my little darlings to have plenty of fun, and to be very happy. I am always thinking of you all, and I pray God to keep you happy. I love you fondly, my Adele...”

The writer always lived a luxurious public life, but Juliette wasn’t allowed to take part in it. After having finally gotten permission to escort the great writer when he was visiting someone, she would patiently wait for him, like a faithful dog hiding in the corner of a cabriolet. In one of her letters to him, Juliette says, “thanks to you for treating me like a vagrant dog” and “You have been very cruel to me.”

Over the 10 years that Juliette spent in voluntary reclusion, her beauty faded away. She turned into an unattractive lady, at least she thought so. At the same time. she kept praising Hugo and even told him that he doesn’t seem to have aged a day and still has all his charming features.

In 1851, she was delivered some devastating news: with a sense of vicious superiority, one of the lovers of her master had forwarded her Victor’s letters. Juliette read them and learned that Hugo was now in love with another woman, who he was now sending passionate messages to. They resembled the very letters that were the only source of happiness for her, for the past 18 years.

Hugo had hundreds of lovers.

Soon afterward, Hugo was drowning in connections with attractive women. According to some calculations, the writer had over 200 lovers within a 2 year span. He could spend a morning with an easy-going woman, an afternoon — with a popular dancer, and an evening with a noblewoman from high society. But, Juliette still loved him more than anything. She was fading away from cancer and was realizing that her life was coming to an end, but tried to speak very little about it.

Juliette lived a long, but unhappy life and died at the age of 77. The writer didn’t even appear at her funeral because he was worried about what people might think. Hugo himself died 2 years later — at 83. The ceremony of farewell for the author was attended by 2 million people.

What would you do if you were in Juliette’s place?