Victor Hugo on Things That Matter A Reader Marva A. Barnett

Publication date:
21 Aug 2009
Yale University Press
528 pages: 235 x 156 x 22mm
26 b-w illus.
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Victor Hugo on Things That Matter gives English speakers the social, historical, cultural, and biographical context that is essential for enjoying the writing and art of this genius of nineteenth-century France. The book’s topical organization lets readers investigate Hugo’s ideas about private and personal concerns—love, children, grief, nature, God—as well as public and politically important issues—liberty and democracy, tyranny, social justice, humanity, peace, and war. 

Unlike other Hugo anthologies, Victor Hugo on Things That Matter offers introductions and notes in English and includes twenty-five of Hugo’s watercolors and drawings.  Readers will find key Hugo texts in the original French, along with the following supplemental information in English:
  • an overview of Hugo’s importance and his private and public personas;
  • introductions to each chapter;
  • historical and cultural explanatory notes;
  • a time line of Hugo’s life and work;
  • suggestions for further reading.

Marva Barnett is professor at the University of Virginia, where she also serves as director of the Teaching Resource Center.

"Marva Barnett pulls of a neat trick: in grouping Hugo's writings across genres by themes with universal resonance and timeless appeal, it proves that what ought to matter to the modern reader is Victor Hugo. . . . This book . . . succeeds strikingly in showing how and why Hugo still speaks to us today. And this without oversimplifying or ignoring the contradictions inherent in his work; on the contrary, Barnett's meticulously researched and carefully organized reader provides a nuanced picture of Hugo's life and body of work. . . . The strength here is how she artfully presents from the themes selected for each main section Hugo's multilayered and multi-genre engagement with life's biggest questions. . . . This type of project is refreshingly alive, and Barnett;s fluid prose and clear passion for this undertaking additionally demonstrates the pleasure that can be derived for scholars from engaging with a public other than themselves."—Isabel Roche, French Review

"[A] bountiful volume of Hugo's writings. . . . Barnett reveals herself to be exactly the kind of reader that Hugo wanted to attract to his works. The result is both meticulously organized and compellingly informative. . . . Barnett is careful to stress the character of her portrait as representative rather than exhaustive. In turn, this volume stands as both a helpful composite of Hugo's oeuvre and an exciting introduction of what remains one of the modern age's most extensive bodies of literature. Indeed, Barnett structures the vast array on offer with enviable poise, striving for the kind of thematic coherence that should appeal to aficionados and newcomers alike. . . . The kind of invitation for readers to go further that Hugo would have appreciated."—Bradley Stephens, French Studies: A Quarterly Review

"Much carful thought has gone into the book's organisation, making it a pleasure to explore. . . . This theme-based approach  is ideal for realising the author's intention of helping the reader 'make contact' with Hugo the man through his writings and engage with his ideas and thoughts on 'things that matter.' . . . Barnett's overview of Hugo's life and ideas is lively and illuminating, valuable in its own right independently of the anthologized pieces. The author achieves the difficult balance of including a wealth of information without excessive detail or denseness. . . . Throughout, the book is animated with Barnett's own love and appreciation of Hugo's work and what emerges is not just a showcase of the writer's literary creations but an insight into 'one great, intriguing mind.' The reader gains an appreciation not only of the writer but the man himself: his feelings, his character, his thoughts and his ideas that still speak to us today with their enduring optimism. Victor Hugo on Things That Matter is an important step in bringing Hugo to a deservedly wider world readership."—Andrea Beaghton, L'Echo Hugo