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Hauteville House: Victor Hugo’s house on Guernsey

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While visiting Saint Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, a stop at Hauteville House, the home of author Victor Hugo in exile, is a must for literary fans and architecture enthusiasts.

Victor Hugo Sun Room

From the glassed-in sunroom in Hauteville House, Victor Hugo could see the coast of his beloved France while he was in exile. Photo by Cliff Clark

These days, when book fans talk about the island of Guernsey, they are discussing Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrow’s book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But the lovely island town of Saint Peter Port is also the home of a writer with even greater literary credentials.

For 15 years, Victor Hugo, author of such famous works as Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris (the book most refer to as the Hunchback of Notre Dame), lived in exile in Saint Peter Port. His home, Hauteville House, is one of the top tourist attractions on the island.

Tours reveal writer in exile

Victor Hugo left France in 1851 for an exile that would last 19 years. Following a short period of time in Jersey, Hugo came to Guernsey and was instantly captivated by the island.

With funds from his work, Les Contemplations, he purchased his home on this channel island off the coast of France. Originally known as Liberty House, Hugo was able to purchase the building for a pittance because it was reportedly haunted. Located uphill from the waterfront, Hugo renamed the house Hauteville.

Born to be interior decorator

Though known for his writing and poetry, Hugo harbored a desire to be an interior decorator, and Hauteville House represents his unique efforts in this area.

“I missed my vocation,” Hugo is quoted as saying. “I was born to be an interior decorator.”

Certainly Hugo’s efforts are eyebrow-raising. The house, which  remains today as it was in Hugo’s time, is decorated in shades of light and dark, much like the famous author’s stories. Or, as his elder son, Charles, put it, the house is “a three-story autograph, a poem in several rooms.”

A view of France

A guided tour of the house provides almost a literary arc from the shadows of the vestibule dominated by the porch of Notre Dame de Paris to the sun-washed, glass-roofed lookout on the house’s top floor.

The view from this lookout is as inspirational as it is spectacular. The islands of Guernsey lie in the bay of St Malo in the English Channel, about 30 miles from the north coast of France and 70 miles from the south coast of England. On a clear day, it is possible to see the coast of France. It was here that Hugo wrote, standing up and looking at his beloved homeland.

Repurposed materials

Sea chest

Victor Hugo used items he discovered on the island to repurpose for his interior design, particularly sea chests. Photo by Cliff Clark

Because Guernsey is an island with an active port, Hugo utilized items from the ships for his decorating ideas. Many of the features in the home come from items he collected on his excursions around the island, including sea chests, sideboards, carpets, porcelain, mirrors, and crockery. Additionally, Hugo included some hidden elements, such as a hideaway darkroom.

Also, prominent throughout the house, are slogans in Latin, including his motto in exile: Exilium Vita Est (Exile is Life). Hugo’s own VH logo also can be found in the tiles in the dining room.

Beautiful garden

The garden also is a thing of beauty and a place of meditation. The oak planted by the author and dubbed the “United States of Europe” still thrives in the garden, towering over a fountain decorated with snakes.

The house is certainly a tribute to Hugo’s abundant creativity. If you are a fan of literature and interior design with a touch of mystery thrown in, then a visit to the Hauteville House is certainly worth an hour of your time while in Saint Peter Port.

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