Lisa Pasold

The end of the world with Victor Hugo

I went to see LES MISERABLES. Yes, I know the movie has some historical 'foibles' but I love its creative choices. I think Victor Hugo might even approve of his novel's transition through musical theatre into film--he enjoyed using melodrama for effect.

When the June 1832 uprising began, Hugo was apparently in the Tuileries Garden. He heard gunfire coming from Les Halles. A firm supporter of revolutionary ideals--and no doubt curious to see news events first-hand--Hugo left the Jardins. 

 It's possible to retrace part of his route. Start in the Tuileries; for authenticity, write some notes while walking in the gardens. Imagine the surprise of hearing gunfire coming from Les Halles! Unfortunately, the sound would have been unpleasantly familiar to all Parisians of the day. Zigzag up towards rue Montmartre--unlike in 1832, now there are only construction barricades to dodge past. Galerie Vero-Dodat is a good detour if it's raining! At the corner of rue Montmartre & rue Bachemont, walk down to see what's now called Passage Ben-Aiad.

At the time of the fighting, this passage was newly-renovated (1828!) and very fashionable. Hugo must have felt such a mix of emotions, going through the passage, hearing gunfire, knowing barricades were all around him, and seeing all the trendy shops shuttered tightly. Now, unfortunately we can't follow the great writer's exact footsteps because later work on rue Bachemont ruined much of the original Passage du Saumon. Detour around the block to reach rue Léopold Bellan, and the other remaining segment of the passageway Saumon. 

 Rue Léopold Bellan used to be named rue du Bout du Monde. Yes, End of the World street--sort of meaning the "middle-of-nowhere" street, rather than the apocalypse! But it's near here that Hugo found himself locked into the passageway, in the last section of Passage du Saumon (at #9--again, private, so don't try getting in today). Trapped by locked gates at the end of the passage, Hugo took shelter behind some pillars while bullets flew past. That lived experience seeped into his description of the revolt, thirty years later, when he published LES MISERABLES.

(the passage today)