The last day of a condemned man by Victor Hugo

the last day of condemned man Victor Hugo

The last day of a condemned man by Victor Hugo

French Literature

Orginal title  Le Dernier jour d’un condamné

Translator – Christopher Moncrieff

Source personnel copy

Well I want to add more depth to the blog over the next couple of years so Victor Hugo is a great choice for this .Victor Hugo was the best known writer of his generation ,he started as a poet and then later developed into novelist he is of course now best known for his novels now ,especially Les miserable and The hunch back of Notre-Dame  .This book was his first novel it also includes the short story Claude Gueux .

Why should what I write here be of use to other ,stop judges from judging ,spare unfortunates ,innocent or guilty ,the agony to which I have been condemned ? What’s the point ? What does it matter ? After my head has been cut off ,what is it to me if they cut off other people’s ?

The narrator wonders why he is writing about his last day

This book is about what it says on the cover and that is the last day of a condemned man ,we met the narrator Unnamed ,we don’t know how he got to be waiting for the guillotine .What we do know is the room he is in the prison and prisoners around him ,what happens on the day of an execution .He is visited by the priest .The narrator comes across a stoic you sense he has fear but is doing his best to bury not to near the end he breaks down and appeal to the crowd for a pardon ,he is driven to this after he has met his daughter earlier and she seems to forgotten her father .The second part of this book is the story of Claude Gueux ,which is a true story of a prisoner ,that due to something happening when he is in  prison  for five-year  ends up  sentenced to death ,a heart-wrenching  book that shows how one simple mistake that is the cause of a death ,it also the intolerance of prison authorities sometimes  .

The man stole .I don’t know what he stole or where he stole it from .What I do know is that  the outcome of this theft was three days ‘ food and heat for the women and child and five-year in prison for the man .

From Claude Gueux a man who stole for his family but end up dead as he fell out with the prison authorities during those five years .

Well I had read hunchback years ago in my teens but  something makes me think it was an abridged version (as it never stuck in my mind a lot as abridged books sometimes do as they cut the soul from some books )which is why I hadn’t maybe got round to Hugo .He was from the romantic movement of writers but this book is more a social justice piece Hugo was against the death penalty and wrote this book to show people how it felt to be on death row .I was reminded at times to the film from the Dead man walking where we see how this narrator described his world and last day at times was very similar too Sean Penn’s characters last day ,the talking to the priest ,the last meal ,the last visit with family and the final walk to the end .Hugo was an influence on many writer ,I can see a huge connection to Dickens another writer that used his books to show the social woes of his day  .So I will try him again soon .

What is your favourite book by Victor Hugo ?


21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 10:56:08

    I’ve yet to read any Hugo, Stu, but this one definitely sounds worth picking up!


  2. Lisa Hill
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 11:10:53

    Another one on my French Lit list, Stu, but not yet. I’m going to finish my Zola project – and La Comedie Humaine – as of today- I only have 5 to go and I’ll have finished!!


    • davidsimmons6
      Jan 19, 2014 @ 15:51:27

      Your “Zola project” rings a bell. Tell us more please! Working through the 20 volume Rougon-Macquart cycle chronologically was a joy for me. Zola’s “tell it like it was” approach was what I liked the most.

      I contemplated doing the same with La Comédie Humaine, but the few Balzac novels I had read didn’t grab me the same way, or at least enough to take on the full series.


      • Lisa Hill
        Jan 20, 2014 @ 21:38:36

        Hi David, there’s a group at GoodReads doing Zola, and I joined in. ( Prompted by the TV series, I’d just discovered Brian Nelson’s new translation of The Ladies’ Paradise (Oxford World Classics) and on the strength of that, I bought all the other ones he’d translated, so I read The Fortune of the Rougons with them and have just finished His Excellency Eugene Rougon (though I haven’t written the review just yet). The Kill will be next….
        But – funny you should mention that about Balzac – I have also been reading La Comedie Humaine over a long period (4 years maybe), also more or less in the correct order. I did that with a group of great readers in a Yahoo group and we used to do summaries of the stories because as you know, dear old Balzac loves a complicated plot. And all these terrific summaries were locked up behind a virtual wall inside Yahoo groups! To make a long story short, I set up a collaborative blog called at and with the help of Dagny from Vauquer’s Boarding House it has become a go-to blog where you can find everything you ever wanted to know about Balzac, including the order to read him in. (And a very helpful list of characters as well as all our summaries).
        Well… this summer, I’ve done the same thing with Zola at Again it’s a collaborative blog and Dagny, my co-conspirator knows some wonderful people who know all about Zola and were willing to share their expertise like Guy from His Futile Preoccupations, Emma from Book Around the Corner, Nancy from Silver Season, and Jonathan Wright who has taken up blogging as a complete newbie in order to help. The blog is less than three weeks old and already you can see what a great resource it’s going to be. Please, come and visit!

    • winstonsdad
      Feb 02, 2014 @ 15:35:17

      Both of them on my to do list but will in time get to them


  3. Vishy
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 11:23:47

    Nice review, Stu! I haven’t heard of this book. I will keep an eye for it. Out of Hugo’s works, I have only read parts of ‘Les Miserables’. Need to continue from where I left off 🙂


  4. lounima
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 14:58:25

    I agree with you. These two novels of Victor Hugo are very good and Victor Hugo expressed with beautiful words his opinion against the death penalty. These novels are my favorite books of this author but if you not read allready, you should read “Les misérables” which is a very good novel, very good story and very good lesson of humanity.


  5. davidsimmons6
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 15:39:50

    These two works appeared separately 6 years apart, in 1829 and 1834. Since they are both short and deal with similar themes, juxtaposing them in one volume makes sense. I prefer Claude Gueux because it is more of a story about a distinct character.

    As for his full novels, having read four (and a couple more than once), I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite, but push come to shove, I’d say Les Misérables.

    Curiously, Hugo’s poetry doesn’t appeal.


  6. Brian Joseph
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 17:03:24

    By coincidence I am reading Hugo’s Ninety-Three Previously I have only Read Les Miserables. From my limited exposure it seems that Hugo has such a way with riveting narratives and this sounds like no exception. I hope to read this one some day.


    • davidsimmons6
      Jan 19, 2014 @ 17:31:13

      Brian, there’s a “loose cannon” scene in that book that I will never forget reading. It typifies Hugo’s ability to describe. Later on, there’s a battle scene involving a tower that’s memorable, too. I love the way he uses verbs and adjectives in series to enhance images. Enjoy! I did.


    • winstonsdad
      Feb 02, 2014 @ 15:38:00

      Look forward to your thoughts when you do Brian


  7. Amateur Reader (Tom)
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 00:00:04

    Favorite – I don’t even know. Notre Dame de Paris is full of fine things, Toilers of the Sea is full of fine things, Hugo’s ludicrous book about, supposedly, William Shakespeare is full of fine things. And of course the big one has even more fine things, although not necessarily proportionally more. All of them are certainly full of Victor Hugo.

    I never wrote about Notre Dame at Wuthering Expectations, but I wrote a lot about everything else I mentioned above, plus Hugo’s poetry. He is in some ways the greatest poet in the French language.

    stu – this one is definitely not Hugo’s first novel. Has anyone here read one of the predecessors, Hans of Iceland or the wonderfully titled Bug Jargal? I wonder what they are like?


    • winstonsdad
      Feb 02, 2014 @ 15:39:55

      I do wonder what they are like I must misread the wiki entry they may be available online as e book collection never sure of quality of translation but they may be in a collection a lot of other writers have nice collections available


  8. Guy Savage
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 17:46:02

    I haven’t read this one, but I’ve been meaning to read more Hugo. I’ll check it out.


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January 2014


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