Victor Hugo had two mothers.
Y. S. Kim
Department of Physics, University of Maryland,
College Park, Maryland 20742
Not far from the Bastille square, there is a museum dedicated to
Victor Hugo. As you know, he was one of the greatest writers and
also one of the greatest thinkers in history. Many people,
including French children, come
to the museum to learn about Victor Hugo.
In the museum, there is a big portrait of his father. There are also those of his grandparents on both sides. As for his mother, there is only a post-card-size drawing of an obscure-looking woman.
What happened? Leopold Hugo was Napoleon's general. He was commanding French troops ready to march into German territory from Strassbourg located near the French-German border. At that time (even these days perhaps), soldiers had to make a bed for their general with two pillows, and hunt for a girl who would sleep with the general in the same bed. As a result, a boy was born from one of those girls, but the girl gave away her son to his father and ran away. This was how Victor Hugo was born.
Victor was raised by the general's wife who presumably came from a high-class French family. If you read "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Les Miserables" written by Hugo, you can see how much passion he had toward his biological mother who came from an underprivileged class. You can also see how harsh his legal mother (general's wife) was to him.
Yet, without the care of his cruel legal mother and the education given by her, Victor could not have become the Victor Hugo as we know. Indeed, Frenchmen/women should also be proud of her. The Victor Hugo museum should display the portrait of his legal mother as well as that of his natural mother. Do you not agree with me? It is my understanding that this museum was set up in 1949. Perhaps Frenchmen could not do it at that time, but is is not too late. The museum should honor both of them now.
I hear complaints from many young foreign-born scientists in the United States. They complain that Americans are too harsh to them when the issue of promotion comes. Their complaints are sometimes justified, but they should realize that Victor had two mothers, and both played indispensable roles for creating one of the greatest thinkers in history.
It is not uncommon for great men/women to have two motherlands. Maria Sklodowska Curie came from Poland, but she became the Curie as we know because she worked in France. The same thing can be said about Frederick Chopin. Before he died, he asked his friends to extract his heart from his body and bring it to Poland to be buried there. Indeed, Chopin's body was buried at the Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris, and his heart was entombed on the wall of the Church of Holy Cross In Warsaw. I am fortunate enough to have visited both places, and have an image of those places in my computer.
I would like to thank Maurice Kibler and Allan Solomon for sending me background materials on Victor Hugo.
Note added on 26 June 2002.
Victor Hugo was born 200 years ago. More recently, Eugene Wigner came to the United States from Hungary. I was fortunate enough to be close to him during his late years, and I was talking with a person with two motherlands. He was born in Hungary one hundred years ago, and Hungary is honoring him by holding an international meeting entitled the Wigner Centennial Conference. Also this year, Princeton University is inaugurating the Eugene and Mary Wigner Assistant Professorship for young theoretical physicists.
There is another person who has two motherlands. I was born and raised in Korea, and I still carry my Korean passport. I came to the United States in 1954, and have been in this country for 48 years (as of 2002). The United States is a great country because there is always a reward for hard work. I have been working hard since my first day in the U.S., and the United States has been very nice to me. My house looks like this on the 4th day of July every year.
If you are interested in a story about one physics viewed from two different Lorentz frames, click here.
Victor Hugo was born in Besancon about 200 km south-east of Paris. His mother's name was Sophi Trebuchet. There is his statue is in the center of the city. In May of 2005, I met a French poet/journalist named Geraldine Gruen there and had a photo with her. She was kind enough to send me the following e-mail.
From: "Geraldine GRUEN"
Subject: News from Paris !
Cher Monsieur Kim,
As I promised it to you last month in Besanšon, I visited your websites. It's huge and I probably will go back there regurlarly to follow you around the world, read the articles, and watch the photographs I had no time to check yet.
I found the picture of Victor Hugo statue. I checked the information about the story you relate on Victor Hugo's "two" mothers. I must say that in the several biographies I read on the Internet there are many contradictions concerning the years 1801/1802 in particular in the rich correspondance Leopold and Sophie were exchanging at this time... So your version is certainly the right version, it's the most probable I read...
About the teaser of your article I cannot let you say that Besanšon was an unknown little town, for this town "Vesontio" was a huge and famous place during the roman empire (there is a text by Jules Cesar describing how the roman troops came into the town)... Anyway, it's not that important.
The mother of my grand-father was born in Besanšon. My grand-father was born in Besanšon, my mother grew up in the area as well, so I must confess that Victor Hugo is one of our regional national heros ! Well, it used to be... Not because of the genetical origins of the poet, just because our new generations do not care about litterature, nor about sciences. I must confess that I am more and more worried about the future education of our children in France, Germany, England... in Europe in a word. It's now all about having fun, watching stupid shows on TV, and debating on polemical and oriented politics and politicians, who less and less speak about making peace or promoting civilian worldwide scientifical progress...
Which I am trying to fight for for more than 20 years now... through my poems. I assume that it was my mother who gave me the willing to write poetry for she was always telling us (me and my sisters) victor hugo's poems by heart when she was cooking in the kitchen...
There are some of my poems on my own website if you want to visit it (6 pieces extracted out of a 200-poem-collection ;( . I also published a sintesis I wrote out of the ICSSUR conference. It's in French, Michel Planat was kind enough to review it for me. I'm sorry the English translation is still in progress...
So... let me know about your coming conferences or leisure trips, it will always be a pleasure to hear from you...
copyright@2006 by Y. S. Kim, unless otherwise specified.