December 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Victor Hugo's Plea for the Poor

As anyone who has read or seen Les Misérables will know, a country's poor are roughly treated and greatly in need of the charity of fellow citizens. Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, served a long prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his hungry family. He is changed not by serving time but by the kindness of a bishop who overlooks another theft, which gives Valjean both hope and enough money to amend his life.  

Like Dickens, Hugo was a defender of the destitute. In his last will and testament, he wrote, "I leave 50,000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse. I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls."

Hugo.jpgElsewhere, on little slips of paper, he petitioned others to be charitable too, writing, "Kindly give 100 francs to the poor of your country," and signing his name. One of these mini-messages, seen here at left, is now being offered for sale by the Raab Collection in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Deaccessioned from a US institution, this autographed manuscript has never before exchanged hands, according to Raab. And, "Although Hugo must have written this sentiment other times, our research discloses just one other ever having reached the market." The price is $3,000.

Image Courtesy of the Raab Collection.