Hugo, Adèle (1830–1915)

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Hugo, Adèle (1830–1915)

Daughter of Victor Hugo who was the subject of the film The Story of Adele H. Name variations: Adele Hugo. Born Adèle Hugo in Paris, France, on July 27, 1830; died in France in 1915; second daughter and youngest child of Victor and Adèle (Foucher) Hugo (1806–1868); sister of Léopold II (b. 1823, who died as an infant), Léopoldine Hugo (1824–1843), Charles Hugo (b. 1826), and François-Victor Hugo (b. 1927).

The tragic story of Adèle Hugo, youngest daughter of Adèle Foucher Hugo and the celebrated French novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo, was the subject of the haunting François Truffaut film The Story of Adele H (1975). Starring Isabelle Adjani , the movie was based on the book Le Journal d'Adele Hugo, by Frances V. Guille , who discovered Adèle Hugo's coded diaries in 1955. (An earlier account of Adèle's story was also part of a book by Paul Chenay, a nephew of Mme Hugo, published in 1890.) The movie picks up Adèle's life in 1862 and traces her obsession with an English lieutenant by the name of Albert Pinson.

Truffaut's film, for which Isabelle Adjani was nominated for Best Actress by Hollywood's Motion Picture Academy, indulged his passion for movies based on true stories. He once wrote: "I had been fascinated by the creative process of using real-life events as the basis for a fiction story that would not distort the authenticity of the source material." In the film, he introduces another love interest for Adèle in the form of a well-meaning Canadian book clerk, who supplies her with the reams of paper for her journal and letters and also recognizes her as the daughter of Victor Hugo. However, when he presents her with a copy of Hugo's latest work Les Miserables, it only increases her mental distress. She is determined to distance herself from her father because she feels she will only be a disappointment, unable to fill the void left by the death of her sister. Truffaut was granted permission for the film project from the estate of Victor Hugo only after he promised that the writer would not be physically represented on the screen.

Much of what has been written about Adèle is found in various biographies of Victor Hugo and also focuses on the dramatic events of her love affair. She is described as a musically gifted but somewhat sullen child, who spent hours absorbed at the piano. She also lived in the shadow of her older sister Léopoldine Hugo , who drowned with her husband in a boating accident shortly after her marriage in 1843, at age 19, leaving her parents inconsolable. During the lengthy confinement of the family's exile at Hauteville House at Guernsey beginning in 1856, Adèle's depression deepened. In a letter to her husband, Mme Hugo expressed growing concern over her daughter's condition. "In the well-nigh cloistral conditions of our present existence, she is forced in upon herself. She thinks a great deal, and her ideas—often erroneous, since nothing flows in from the outside to modify them—become like burning lava."

The passion of Adèle's life at this time was Lieutenant Pinson, whom she met in Jersey and became obsessed with, at one point even telling her father that she was engaged. (Victor, a fierce nationalist, was hardly pleased at the thought of a foreign son-in-law.) During Christmas 1861, after much prodding by Mme Hugo, Pinson was invited to the Hugo home, at which time he and Adèle evidently agreed to part. The separation threw Adèle into a deep despair and fueled her obsession. Taking advantage of her mother's absence in Paris during the summer of 1863, she followed Pinson to his garrison assignment in Halifax, Nova Scotia, hoping to rekindle his affections. She wrote home that she had married Pinson, when in truth the young soldier had no interest in Adèle and had, by some accounts, married another. Leading an isolated life in Halifax, Adèle became more and more delusional as she stalked Pinson each day outside his barracks. She finally wrote home telling her family that Pinson had deserted her, after which her father sent her a monthly allowance. Although Adèle acknowledged receiving the money, she sent word that she did not want her relatives to look for her. She eventually followed Pinson to the island of Barbados, without notifying anyone of her whereabouts. There, alone, with no money, she lapsed

into a further state of mental and physical deterioration. According to André Maurois, it was not until February 1872 that she was identified and brought back to France by Céline Alvarez Baà , a black woman of some influence in the colony. Maurois claims that Adèle spent her remaining years at Saint-Mandé, an asylum, where she lived in a bewildered yet contented state, playing her piano and enjoying occasional outings to the Horticultural Gardens and the Bon-Marché. Maurois adds that the poverty of her experience in Barbados caused her "to conceal, like a dog, everything that was given to her."

In a differing account by Matthew Josephson, Adèle's brother François-Victor fetched her home from Nova Scotia in 1864. "After a time she was quietly sent to an asylum in France," he writes, "where she lingered in an obscurity of life and reason for more than fifty years, until her death in 1915."


Josephson, Matthew. Victor Hugo: A Realistic Biography of the Great Romantic. NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1942.

Maurois, André. Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1956.

Nash, Jay Robert and Stanley Ralph Ross. The Motion Picture Guide. Vol. VII. Chicago: Cinebooks, 1985.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts