I heard this story numerous times. Allegedly, Victor Hugo would ask every day to a servant to take his clothes so that he would be forced to stay, naked, in his room and work instead of going out and waste time.

When Victor Hugo, the famous author of great tomes such as Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, ran into a writer's block, he concocted a unique scheme to force himself to write: he had his servant take all of his clothes away for the day and leave his own nude self with only pen and paper, so he'd have nothing to do but sit down and write.

Is that story confirmed by any academic source or verified document or is it just a myth?


1 Answer 1


This appears to have been investigated in some depth. The conclusions of the linked article are as follows:

  1. Yes, there is some truth to the story that Hugo locked himself in a room, naked, with nothing but pen and paper to distract him.
  2. However, he was not naked. He just didn't have access to his formal (going out) clothes and chose to (only?) wear a large shawl.
  3. There was no valet involved. He locked away his formal clothes himself.
  4. The source of this anecdote is his wife, Adèle Foucher's memoir, Victor Hugo Recounted by a Witness of His Life, which was published in the 1860s.

The anecdote is included in the introduction to Notre-Dame de Paris:

'He bought himself a bottle of ink and a huge grey knitted shawl, which swathed him from head to foot, locked his formal clothes away so that he would not be tempted to go out and entered his novel as if it were a prison. He was very sad.' This engagingly domestic report on Victor Hugo sitting down in the autumn of 1830 to write Notre-Dame of Paris is by his wife, Adèle, who in the 1860s published a quaintly tinted memoir (dictated, some have hinted, by its subject himself): Victor Hugo Recounted by a Witness of His Life.

  • 2
    Thank you for the link and the very detailed explanation! Marking as accepted ;-)
    – mastazi
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:33
  • 2
    A well-deserved Necromancer badge there!
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 9:09

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