In Pursuit of Love: The Search for Victor Hugo’s Daughter by Mark Bostridge - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

Les Misérables

In Pursuit of Love: The Search for Victor Hugo’s Daughter


Bloomsbury Continuum 288pp £20

Biography, like any other literary form, adapts to meet the changing fads of readers. Currently we like our biographers where we can see them, commanding almost as much significance as their subject. This is certainly Mark Bostridge’s approach in In Pursuit of Love, a biography of Adèle Hugo, daughter of 19th-century France’s most admired writer. A forlorn absorption with an Englishman she met in the Channel Islands had Adèle chasing him to London, and thence to Canada and Barbados. She ended her days in a sanatorium outside Paris for well-heeled mental patients.

Bostridge has proven form as the prize-winning biographer of Florence Nightingale and Vera Brittain, but Adèle is a far more delicate and elusive subject than either of these. The record of her life is littered with gaps, tantalising snippets and muddled recollections. Just as she herself became a dedicated stalker, so Bostridge, following her trail a century later to Nova Scotia and the Caribbean, starts to assume a similar identity, creating a parallel drama for us out of moments of emotional vulnerability in his own life.

The burdens placed on Victor Hugo’s family by his titanic ego and growing international celebrity were intensified by the tragedy that overtook them in 1843 when his elder daughter, Léopoldine, was drowned in a boating accident on the Seine estuary. A few years later, with the fall of the July

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