It’s so strangely intimate visiting someone else’s house.
Victor Hugo’s apartment at le Place des Vosges wasn’t exactly what I anticipated. It was all too grandiose, from the papered walls and patterned ceilings, to the heavily carved dark wooden furniture, to the exorbitant displays of paintings, the hanging rows of porcelain, the grand mirrors.
Treading along the polished floorboards, I realized that for years I had pictured him as a second Jean Valjean, living like a Spartan, devout and simplistic. I had imagined him as a Marius – writing consuming him in such fiery passion he had little time for entertaining, let alone enjoying life. And I was wrong. I should have known better than to project onto the author the merits of his creation. At times we write not who we are, but who we can be, who we could have been, who we wish to be. These characters could be completely foreign, sketched out just to try their brains on, like a new pair of shoes in a new style. Egotistically, we envision the world through their eyes until we realize the grass is not greener on the other side.
Nonetheless, you can’t deny that Hugo is still a genius with words. The little fragments of his poetry scattered about the house were more than testament to that. A mere 12 lines plucking away a heartstring.
I suppose that before this visit I thought that in order to write so well from the perspective of a certain character, one must have actually lived that character’s life. Like method acting. Perhaps I was wrong.