Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo by Andre Maurois

Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo

Andre Maurois
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I had been told that Olympio was the place to begin for the classic Hugo biography. It may be that my notion of classic biography is different than others or just that time has eroded some of the power of this 1950s biographical effort. In any case, I found it sorely lacking in the main elements that I expect from a literary biograph. I learned very little about the major influences on Hugo as a poet, or the tradition in which he was writing. On the other hand, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about which mistress inspired which poem.\r\n\r\nWorse, Maurois insists on taking sides between the many and various Hugo women. Juliette Drouet may well have been an interesting figure in the life of the poet, but as a reader I was uninterested in the fact that Maurois found her the best of the women because she was so loyal and submissive. Surely every biographer has his or her bias and I suppose that there is something to say for revealing that bias openly. Still, it felt irrelevant and petty. It made me doubt the scholarship of the book as a whole. \r\n\r\nI do enjoy gossip intermixed with my biographies. Relationships are part of what shape the writers that we study. However I expect that aspect to be seasoning (unless love is the reason the subject is famous) rather than the main ingredient. The book does have a number of strong points, among which is the judicial and liberal use of source material such as letters. \r\n\r\nDepending on what you are after as a reader, you may get more out of Olympio than I was able to. I certainly wish that I had gotten a more recent biography, one that focused more on the writing and less on the manhood.