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Victor Hugo – Toilers of the Sea

  • Zip/Postal Code: GY1 1DG
  • Listed: May 8, 2014 12:15 pm


World famous French novelist Victor Hugo was honoured with a National funeral by France, when he died in 1885. It is estimated that at least two million people followed his funeral procession, which proved that he was on of Frances most famous authors.
He was also a political activist and monarchist, which resulted in his eventual exile initially to Belgium in1851, then to the Channel Islands in 1852, initially to Jersey then on to Guernsey where he purchased a house in Hauteville St Peter Port, which is now a museum, funded by Paris.

Whilst in Guernsey on the Channel Islands and before eventually moving back to France in 1870, (although he was legally allowed back in the country in 1859) he wrote some of his most famous works, including ‘ Les Contemplations’ (1856), ‘Les Miserables’ (1862) and ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer’ (1866).

‘Toilers of the sea’ is the translated version of ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer’ and is set in the Island of Guernsey. It concerns the story of Gilliatt, a reclusive fisherman who is secretly in love with Deruchette, the niece of a local steamship owner.

Gilliatt eventually rescues the engine of the wreeked steamship, after battling with the elements and a giant sea creature. Part adventure, part romance and intrigue, in lyrical prose, typical of Victor Hugo, evoking the beauty of the island he loved and it’s natural and maritime history.

Maybe I am slightly biased, having been born on the Island, but this is a novel that you really do not what to put down. Anyone with a love of the sea, France and the Channel Islands will be carried away to another century, following this tale of seafaring folk, which also addresses the new industrial revolution of the time. Steamships were classed as devil like ships, spewing out black smoke and could never replace the sail, or so they thought. The steamship turn changes the fortunes of the uncle of Deruchette, despite much local opposition from many Guernsey residents, including clergymen.

Hauteville House

Hauteville House

The tale also takes you across the channel from Guernsey, to St Malo in France, where you will encounter, smugglers, squalor, poverty and deception. Hugos classic novel was written in his glass fronted room at the top of Hautville house, with stunning views from St Peter Port across to France, which must have played a great part in creating such an epic story.

Find a copy of Toilers of the sea


vicro-hugo-toilersof the sea-cover I managed to purchase a new edition for 2011, which is being sold by the Guernsey Press shop in St Peter port. I could not find it on offer on line, but I did find the Facebook page for it, where it says they will sent it to you. But there was no email or contact on the page, so I will find out more information and post it one here.

The forward to the book is written by well know local historian Gregory Stevens-Cox, who gives an eloquent in-site in to Victor Hugo and Toilers of the sea.

Toilers of the sea was a best seller in its time and I am sure will remain so. It is a great credit to the author that book written in 1866 is still being republished.




The code for the book is ISBN 9781906641290 Publisher ELSP £8.99

I have a little more information about my edition in an email from Alpha Wearing, who had the book republished and her husband designed the lovely new cover.

‘I am so pleased to hear that you are reading Toilers, and I hope you are enjoying it as much a I did. With regard to purchasing the book you have found the right place! I had the book re-printed this year in time for the Guernsey Literary Festival, which was in May. The book had been unavailable, except for an American edition on Amazon, and as I am the manager of a local bookshop in Guernsey, where Victor Hugo lived for 15 years, I felt that it should be available from local suppliers. I therefore decided to go ahead and get the book out there for visitors and local, and it has been very successful I am pleased to say.’

‘Anyway to get to answering your question. Firstly you can give my email [email protected] and I can supply the book directly at £8.99 per copy plus postage at cost. If preferred, go to amazon.co.uk and type in the ISBN 9781906641290 in the search box and when the book comes up click on title, when you go through to the next page you will see the cover of my edition.’

This is the link; http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/1906641293/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_0?ie=UTF8&index=0Alternatively it can be purchased from several Guernsey outlets including The Press Bookshop, 8 Smith Street, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, GY1 2JL, email [email protected] which is the shop of which I am the Manager, same terms.

Other copies of Victor Hugo books from Amazon


Hauteville House St Peter Port Guernsey Channel Islands

In March 1927, the centenary year of the Romantic Movement, the house was donated to the City of Paris by the poet’s descendants Jeanne, Jean, Marguerite and François.

Hauteville House Guernsey

Hauteville House Guernsey

Fortunately during the occupation of Guernsey in WW2 by the Germans forces the house was not ransacked. In fact if you read some novels about the German occupation, it was used by some high ranking officers for entertaining. The Germans love of fine art was probably the reason for keeping it as it was and if the war had gone their way, Guernsey was going to remain a tourist destination, as it was before the invasion. Hauteville house might have then become a summer residence for a certain less welcome guest.

Victor Hugo's house in Guernsey

Victor Hugo’s house in Guernsey

Hauteville House in St Peter Port is now a shrine to Victor Hugo and is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Guernsey. As I previously stated it is funded by the city of Paris and many parties French school children have made a day trip across to Guernsey to visit this stunning house. You can find out more about is on Guernsey tourist official Victor Hugo website


Hauteville House – est une maison, actuellement musée Victor Hugo, située au 38 rue Hauteville à Saint-Pierre-Port à Guernesey, île faisant partie de l’archipel anglo-normand.

Victor Hugo acquit cette maison le 16 mai 1856 afin de ne pas être expulsé, la loi guernesiaise interdisant d’expulser les personnes ayant des propriétés dans l’île. Construite vers 1800 par un corsaire anglais, la maison appartenait à un certain William Ozanne mais, ayant la réputation d’être hantée par l’esprit d’une femme qui s’y était suicidée, elle était inoccupée depuis plusieurs années. Selon l’usage anglais, Hugo la baptisa mais non pas Liberté comme il en avait l’intention mais Hauteville. Elle fut transformée, aménagée, meublée et décorée au fil du temps par l’écrivain qui y vécut en exil de 1856 à 1870 et y est revenu pendant l’été 1878.

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