Collection: BC MS 19c Drouet: Juliette Drouet Letters to Victor Hugo

Archive Collection icon Archive Collection: Juliette Drouet Letters to Victor Hugo

Details

Title: Juliette Drouet Letters to Victor Hugo

Level: Collection 

Classmark: BC MS 19c Drouet

Date: 1833-1903

Main language: French

Size and medium: 440 letters

Persistent link: https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/499359 

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Description

Letters from Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo. 440 letters, partially covering the years 1833 - 1851. Also included are two letters (1903 - 1906) relating to the collection whilst in the care of John Eliot Hodgkin.

Formerly kept with BC MS Letters Misc 1 Hugo.

Administrative or biographical history

Juliette Drouet (1806-1883) was the long term mistress of Victor Hugo. Born as Julienne Gauvain, she took the surname of her uncle, and then chose Juliette as her stage name after she had started an acting career. She perhaps lived as a courtesan during the 1820s and became the mistress of James Pradier, with whom she had a daughter (who died in 1846).

She followed a lover to Brussels in 1827, where she started acting. Back in France, she met Victor Hugo in 1833 during the repetition of his play Lucrèce Borgia. However, her career rapidly faded thereafter and she completely stopped acting in 1838. She then moved to be near Hugo, living in several apartments not far from his home. She followed him into exile in Jersey, then Guernsey, after the coup of Napoleon III in 1851; they returned to France at his fall in 1870. Since Hugo's wife had died in 1868, she lived with Hugo from 1873 until her death ten years later.

Throughout their 50 year relationship, Drouet wrote several letters a day to Hugo, who even encouraged her to do so. The correspondence therefore counts a staggering number of 20,000 letters – one of the largest in the history of literature. She did not expect a reply for her letters; they were somewhat used as a diary, in which she told about her day to Hugo, who picked the letters at each visit. Juliette often used a peculiar tone, by coining new words or writing in slang. She also added humoristic drawings (four letters in the Leeds collection have one).

As the letters have been dispersed after her death and because of their specific words and other peculiarities, it has traditionally been difficult to use the letters for academic studies. A research project lead by Pr Florence Naugrette at the University of Rouen is currently (May 2016) transcribing the whole collection to allow this. Many details, notably about the names mentioned in the descriptions, can be found on the website of the project: juliettedrouet.org

Provenance

After the death of Juliette Drouet in 1883, Victor Hugo - who considered that letters belong to their writers - decided to give them to Juliette's only heir, her nephew Louis Koch. Although Koch had promised that he would give them to the French National Library, he never did. Instead, he discreetly sold many of the letters to private collectors. The fact that several other of Drouet's letters are now located in American Universities (such as Yale, Harvard, or Syracuse, as well as the Morgan Library) suggests that Koch specifically sold the letters to foreigners to limit the risk of a scandal in France. The letters he had not sold at his death (still 16,228 letters) passed through the hands of several prominent bibliophiles, before the French National Library finally bought thecollection in 1969 from the heirs of Louis Icart, their last private owner.

About a thousand letters have been collected by the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris; in addition, several dozen are now - as mentioned above - in American libraries and smaller French museums.

With 440 letters, the University of Leeds owns the best collection of Juliette's letters outside France, and is the third largest in the world. They were sold by Louis Koch to John Eliot Hodgkin (1829-1912), a British engineer and collector, probably in the 1890s. He mentioned them in his book detailing his outstanding collection ('Rariora', London, 1902). In 1914, after his death, this collection was dispersed in several separate sales at Sotheby's, but the letters do not appear in the booklets, so they were probably directly bought from Hodgkin's heirs by an autograph dealer, who in turn sold them to Lord Brotherton at the end of the 1910s, or beginning of the 1920s. Brotherton then bequeathed his collection to the University of Leeds in 1930.

When we compare the contents of the Leeds collection with the other collections in the USA, it seems that Louis Koch mostly sold letters dating from the final years of the July Monarchy (1830-1848) and the French Second Republic (1848-1851); several important gaps have indeed been found for these years in the collection of the French National Library. Since Louis Koch could have sold up to 6,000 letters to private collectors, there are still several thousands of them in private hands - and regularly come up at auctions.
In addition, the Leeds collection contains several letters sent to Victor Hugo from female admirers and - for some - probably other mistresses. Their history is not known; they might have been bought from Louis Koch by Hodgkin as well. There are also three letters from Hugo, whose history is also not known before their bequest by Lord Brotherton. These letters as kept separately at BC MS Letters Misc. 1/Hugo.

Finally, two letters from the French journalist Auguste Beaugeard to Hodgkin have been added to the collection as they deal with the Drouet letters.

Arrangement

The letters are arranged chronologically, and divided into series by year.

Access and usage

Access

Access to this material is unrestricted.

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