French novelist Victor Hugo is best known for writing Les Misérables, the sweeping story of wrongly-accused fugitive Jean Valjean, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which he probably couldn't guess would one day become an animated Disney film. But Hugo, who was born on February 26, 1802, had a life beyond his writing: He was a very accomplished artist, rendering thousands of illustrations, mostly for private exhibition, and spent 15 years in exile for butting heads with Napoleon.
While those details might be interesting, they don’t compare to some of Hugo’s lesser-known but inarguably captivating quirks and facts. Take a look at five things you may not have known about the life of Victor Hugo.
1. HE WAS CONCEIVED AT ALTITUDE.
Hugo’s parents, Leopold and Sophie, were 3000 feet above sea level on Mount Donon when inspiration struck in May 1801. (Leopold, a major, had been battling a rash of smugglers in the mountains.) The elder Hugo was fond of telling his son that his life was destined to be unique as a result, and he was right. Today, the precise location of Hugo’s conception is marked with a stone tablet: “IN THIS PLACE / ON 5 FLOREAL, YEAR 9 / VICTOR HUGO / WAS CONCEIVED."
2. HE WROTE IN THE NUDE.
Perhaps the lack of inhibitions was genetic. As an adult, Hugo would attempt to combat writer’s block by asking his servants to take his clothing and leave him in a room, nude and without distraction. His clothing would only be returned if he had finished writing for the day. If it was very cold, Hugo would allow himself a blanket.
3. HE WAS SEXUALLY INSATIABLE.
Amorous in the extreme, Hugo once boasted of having relations with wife Adele nine times on their wedding night. After she begged off on any further copulation years into their marriage, Hugo bedded hundreds of women. Age did not slow him down, either. At 70, he courted a 22-year-old, and at 80, he was said to have made a successful pass at his maid.
4. HE LIKED TO WATCH.
Hugo’s libido was apparently unsatisfied by his own activities. At his home, he reportedly installed peepholes into guest bedrooms so he could surreptitiously gaze upon the activities of his friends.
5. HE BECAME A SAINT IN VIETNAM.
Some 60 miles outside of the city formerly known as Saigon sits a temple considered to be the home of Cao Dai, a Vietnamese religion with over 5 million devotees. Names like Hugo, Thomas Jefferson, and Joan of Arc are considered saints because they were said to have reached out to the group during séances. There is no report of his spirit making a pass at anyone.