Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was the son of a high-ranking officer in Napoleon Bonaparte's Grand Army. A man of literature and politics, he participated in vast changes as France careened back and forth between empire and more democratic forms of government. As a young man in Paris, he became well-known and sometimes notorious for his poetry, fiction, and plays. In 1845, the year that he began writing his masterwork, Les Miserables, the king made him a peer of France, with a seat in the upper legislative body. There he advocated universal free education, general suffrage, and the abolition of capital punishment. When an uprising in 1848 ushered in a republic, he stopped writing Les Miserables and concentrated on politics. But in 1851, when the president proclaimed himself emperor, Hugo's opposition forced him into a long exile on the British Channel Islands. There, in 1860, he resumed work on Les Miserables, finishing it the next year. With the downfall of the emperor in 1870, Hugo returned to France, where he received a hero's welcome as a champion of democracy. At his death in 1885, two million people lined the streets of Paris as his coffin was borne to the Pantheon. There he was laid to rest with every honor the French nation could bestow.
Lee Fahnestock is a translator and writer who lives in New York and Massachusetts. In 2000, the French government made her a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her services to French culture. She has translated four volumes of the poetry of Francis Ponge, including The Making of the Pre, The Nature of Things and Vegetation, and Paul Fournel's novel Little Girls Breathe the Same Air As We Do. With Norman MacAfee, she translated two volumes of the letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beavoir, Witness to My Life and Quiet Moments in a War, as well as Les Miserables. She is writing an extended study of Victor Hugo's Paris. She is active with organizations promoting literary translation and served as president of the American Literary Translators Association.
Norman MacAfee is a writer of poetry, prose, and performance works, a translator, editor, and visual artist. Some of his most recent books are The Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now; The Death of the Forest, an opera by Norman MacAfee to music of Charles Ives; and his selected poems, One Class. In addition to Les Miserables, he and Lee Fahnestock translated two volumes of the letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir (Witness to My Life and Quiet Moments in a War). He translated (with Luciano Martinengo) Poems: Pier Paolo Pasolini; and (with Luigi Fontanella) Daniele del Giudice's novel Lines of Light. He also translated from the French the legendary long-lost manuscript Heroines, by the lesbian surrealist photographer Claude Cahun, in Inverted Odysseys by Shelley Rice. He writes for The Huffington Post. He lives in Greenwich Village.show more