Victor Hugo – select quotes

A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.

A creditor is worse than a slave-owner; for the master owns only your person, but a creditor owns your dignity, and can command it.

A criminal remains a criminal whether he uses a convict’s suit or a monarch’s crown.

A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.

A great artist is a great man in a great child.

A library implies an act of faith.

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.

A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.

Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.

All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

Almost all our desires, when examined, contain something too shameful to reveal.

Amnesty is as good for those who give it as for those who receive it. It has the admirable quality of bestowing mercy on both sides.

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.
~ in Ninety-Three

An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
~ in Histoire d’un crime

Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book.

As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.

Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings.

Because one doesn’t like the way things are is no reason to be unjust towards God.

Being good is easy, what is difficult is being just.

Blessed be Providence which has given to each his toy: the doll to the child, the child to the woman, the woman to the man, the man to the devil!

But listen, there will be more joy in heaven over the tears of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men.

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.

Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn’t every war fought between men, between brothers?

Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education.

Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life.

Conscience is God present in man.

Curiosity is one of the forms of feminine bravery.

Dear God! how beauty varies in nature and art. In a woman the flesh must be like marble; in a statue the marble must be like flesh.

Diamonds are found only in the dark bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him that after descending into those depths after long groping in the blackest of this darkness, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it.
~ from Les Misérables

Do not let it be your aim to be something, but to be someone.

Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.

England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare,but the Bible made England.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
~ in Les Misérables

Every good quality runs into a defect; economy borders on avarice, the generous are not far from the prodigal, the brave man is close to the bully; he who is very pious is slightly sanctimonious; there are just as many vices to virtue as there are holes in the mantle of Diogenes.
~ in Les Misérables

Evil. Mistrust those who rejoice at it even more than those who do it.

Fashions have done more harm than revolutions.

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.

Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive.

God made himself man: granted. The Devil made himself woman.
~ in Ruy Blas

Good actions are the invisible hinges on the doors of heaven.

Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.

Habit is the nursery of errors.

Happiness lies for those who cry, those who hurt, those who have searched, and those who have tried for only they can appreciate the importance of people who have touched their lives.

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.

Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens our heads or our purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls.
~ in Les Misérables

He loved books; books are cold but safe friends.
~ in Les Misérables

He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two.
~ in Les Misérables

He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.

He who is not capable of enduring poverty is not capable of being free.

He who opens a school door, closes a prison.

Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly.

His whole life was now summed up in two words: absolute uncertainty within an impenetrable fog.
~ from Les Misérables

Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man.

How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.

I am a soul. I know well that what I shall render up to the grave is not myself. That which is myself will go elsewhere. Earth, thou art not my abyss!

I don’t mind what Congress does, as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.

I love all men who think, even those who think otherwise than myself.

I met in the street a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, his cloak was out at the elbows, the water passed through his shoes, – and the stars through his soul.

I’m religiously opposed to religion.

I would rather be the head of a fly than the tail of a lion.
~ from Les Misérables

Idleness is the heaviest of all oppressions.

If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away.

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
~ from Les Misérables

In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.”
― from The Toilers of the Sea

Indigestion is charged by God with enforcing morality on the stomach.

Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.

Intelligence is the wife, imagination is the mistress, memory is the servant.

It is a terrible thing to be happy! How pleased we are with it! How all-sufficient we think it! How, being in possession of the false aim of life, happiness, we forget the true aim, duty!
~ from Les Miserables

It is by suffering that human beings become angels.

It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.

It is most pleasant to commit a just action which is disagreeable to someone whom one does not like.

It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie.

It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.
~ in Les Misérables

It is often necessary to know how to obey a woman in order sometimes to have the right to command her.

Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization.

Joy’s smile is much closer to tears than laughter.

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
~ in Les Misérables

Let us say in passing, to be blind and to be loved, is in fact–on this earth where nothing is complete–one of the most strangely exquisite forms of happiness. To have continually at your side a woman, a girl, a sister, a charming being, who is there because you need her, and because she cannot do without you, to know you are indispensable to someone necessary to you, to be able at all times to measure her affection by the degree of the presence that she gives you, and to say to yourself: She dedicates all her time to me, because I possess her whole love; to see the thought if not the face; to be sure of the fidelity of one being in a total eclipse of the world; to imagine the rustling of her dress as the rustling of wings; to hear her moving to and fro, going out, coming in, talking, singing, to think that you are the cause of those steps, those words, that song; to show your personal attraction at every moment; to feel even more powerful as your infirmity increases; to become in darkness, and by reason of darkness, the star around which this angel gravitates; few joys can equal that. The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves–say rather, loved in spite of ourselves; the conviction the blind have. In their calamity, to be served is to be caressed. Are they deprived of anything? No. Light is not lost where love enters. And what a love! A love wholly founded in purity. There is no blindness where there is certainty.
~ from Les Misérables

Life is the flower for which love is the honey.

Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.

Love is a portion of the soul itself, and it is of the same nature as the celestial breathing of the atmosphere of paradise.

Love is the foolishness of men, and the wisdom of God.
~ from Les Misérables

Love is the only future God offers.
~ from Les Misérables

Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.
~ from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Man is not a circle with a single center; he is an ellipse with two focii. Facts are one, ideas are the other.
~ from Les Misérables

Man lives by affirmation even more than he does by bread.
~ from Les Misérables

Many great actions are committed in small struggles.

Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.

Men become accustomed to poison by degrees.

Morality is truth in full bloom.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.

Nature has made a pebble and a female. The lapidary makes the diamond, and the lover makes the woman.

Never laugh at those who suffer; suffer sometimes those who laugh.

Nobody knows like a woman how to say things that are both sweet and profound. Sweetness and depth, this is all of woman; this is Heaven.
~ from Les Misérables

Not being heard is no reason for silence.
~ in Les Misérables

Nothing makes a man so adventurous as an empty pocket.
~ from The Huntchback of Notre Dame

One can no more keep the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. For a sailor, this is called the tide; in the case of the guilty it is called remorse. God stirs up the soul as well as the ocean.
~ from Les Misérables

One sees qualities at a distance and defects at close range.

Our life dreams the Utopia. Our death achieves the Ideal.

Peace is the virtue of civilization. War is its crime.

People do not lack strength; they lack will.

Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.

Prayer is an august avowal of ignorance.

Reality in strong doses frightens.
~ from The Toilers of the Sea

Religions do a useful thing: they narrow God to the limits of man. Philosophy replies by doing a necessary thing: it elevates man to the plane of God.

Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing.

Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.

Society is a republic. When an individual tries to lift themselves above others, they are dragged down by the mass, either by ridicule or slander.

Sometimes he used a spade in his garden, and sometimes he read and wrote. He had but one name for these two kinds of labor; he called them gardening. ‘The Spirit is a garden,’ said he.
~ from Les Misérables

Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.

Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

Success is an ugly thing. Men are deceived by its false resemblances to merit…. They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud.
~ from Les Misérables

Taste is the common sense of genius.

The animal is ignorant of the fact that he knows. The man is aware of the fact that he is ignorant.

The beautiful has but one type, the ugly has a thousand.

The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.

The eye of a man should be still more reverent before the rising of a young maiden than before the rising of a star. The possibility of touch should increase respect. The down of the peach, the dust of the plum, the radiated crystal of snow, the butterfly’s wing powdered with feathers, are gross things beside that chastity that does not even know it is chaste. The young maiden is only the glimmer of a dream and is not yet statue. Her alcove is hidden in the shadows of the ideal. The indiscreet touch of the eye desecrates this dim penumbra. Here, to gaze, is to profane.
~ from Les Misérables

The first symptom of love in a young man is timidity; in a girl boldness.

The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.

The infinite exists. It is there. If the infinite had no me, the me would be its limit; it would not be the infinite; in other words, it would not be. But it is. Then it has a me. This me of the infinite is God.
~ from Les Misérables

The learned man knows that he is ignorant.

The memory of an absent person shines in the deepest recesses of the heart, shining the more brightly the more wholly its object has vanished: a light on the horizon of the despairing, darkened spirit; a star gleaming in our inward night.

The paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor.
~ from The Man Who Laughs

The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.
~ from Les Misérables

The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.

The wise man does not grow old, but ripens.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.

There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.

Those who do not weep, do not see.
~ from Les Misérables

To be perfectly happy it does not suffice to possess happiness, it is necessary to have deserved it.

To die for lack of love is horrible. The asphyxia of the soul.
~ from Les Misérables

To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.
~ from Les Misérables

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

To lie a little is not possible: he who lies, lies the whole lie.
~ in Les Misérables

To love another person is to see the face of God.
~ in Les Misérables

To love beauty is to see light.

To love is to act.

To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.
~ in Les Misérables

To rise from error to truth is rare and beautiful.

To think is of itself to be useful; it is always and in all cases a striving toward God.

Toleration is the best religion.

Try as you will, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love.

We are all under sentence of death, but with a sort of indefinite reprieve.

We must never fear robbers or murderers. They are dangers from outside, small dangers. It is ourselves we have to fear. Prejustice is the real robber, vice the real murderer. Why should we be troubled by a threat to our person or our pocket? What we have to beware of is the threat to our souls.

We need those who pray constantly to compensate for those who do not pray at all.
~ from Les Misérables

We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.

What a grand thing, to be loved! What a grander thing still, to love!

What makes night within us may leave stars.
~ from Ninety-Three

What would be ugly in a garden constitutes beauty in a mountain.

When a man is out of sight, it is not too long before he is out of mind.

When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.

When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.

When God desires to destroy a thing, he entrusts its destruction to the thing itself. Every bad institution of this world ends by suicide.

When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.

When it comes to hatred, one woman is worth ten men.

When love has fused and mingled two beings in a sacred and angelic unity, the secret of life has been discovered so far as they are concerned; they are no longer anything more than the two boundaries of the same destiny; they are no longer anything but the two wings of the same spirit. Love, soar.
~ from Les Misérables

When you get an idea into your head you find it in everything.
~ from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

When you’ve done all you can do, go to bed. God is still up.

Whether true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do.
~ from Les Misérables

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.

Woe, alas, to those who have loved only bodies, forms, appearances! Death will rob them of everything. Try to love souls, you will find them again.
~ from Les Misérables

You ask me what forces me to speak? a strange thing; my conscience.”
~ from Les Misérables

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.
~ from Les Misérables

You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do no bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.
~ from Choses Vues 1849-1885

You who suffer because you love, love still more. To die of love, is to live by it.


“Do you know what friendship is?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ replied the gypsy; ‘it is to be brother and sister; two souls which touch without mingling, two fingers on one hand.’

‘And love?’ pursued Gringoire.

‘Oh! love!’ said she, and her voice trembled, and her eye beamed. ‘That is to be two and to be but one. A man and a woman mingled into one angel. It is heaven.”

~ from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame


Throughout the month of May, every night, in that poor, wild garden, under that shrubbery, each day, more perfumed and dense, two human beings composed of every chastity and every innocence, every flowing with all the felicities of Heaven, closer to archangels than men, pure, honest, intoxicated, radiant, glowed for each other in the darkness. It seemed to Cosette that Marius had a crown, and to Marius that Cosette had a halo. They touched, they gazed at each other, they clasped hands, they pressed close together, but there was a distance they did not pass. Not that they respected it; they were ignorant of it. Marius felt a barrier, Cosette’s purity, and Cosette felt a support, Marius’ loyalty. The first kiss was also the last. Since then, Marius had not gone beyond touching Cosette’s hand, or her scarf, or her curls, with his lips. Cosette was to him a perfume, not a woman. He breathed her. She refused nothing, and he asked nothing. Cosette was happy, and Marius was satisfied. They were living in that ravishing condition that might be called the dazzling of one soul by another. It was that ineffable first embrace of two virginities within the ideal. Two swans meeting on the Jung Frau.
~ from Les Misérables


Algebra applies to the clouds, the radiance of the star benefits the rose–no thinker would dare to say that the perfume of the hawthorn is useless to the constellations. Who could ever calculate the path of a molecule? How do we know that the creations of worlds are not determined by falling grains of sand? Who can understand the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely small, the echoing of causes in the abyss of being and the avalanches of creation? A mite has value; the small is great, the great is small. All is balanced in necessity; frightening vision for the mind. There are marvelous relations between beings and things, in this inexhaustible whole, from sun to grub, there is no scorn, each needs the other. Light does not carry terrestrial perfumes into the azure depths without knowing what it does with them; night distributes the stellar essence to the sleeping plants. Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw. Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow’s beak breaking the egg, and it guides the birth of the earthworm, and the advent of Socrates. Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has a greater view? Choose. A bit of mold is a pleiad of flowers; a nebula is an anthill of stars. The same promiscuity, and still more wonderful, between the things of the intellect and material things. Elements and principles are mingled, combined, espoused, multiplied one by another, to the point that the material world, and the moral world are brought into the same light. Phenomena are perpetually folded back on themselves. In the vast cosmic changes, universal life comes and goes in unknown quantities, rolling everything up in the invisible mystery of the emanations, using everything, losing no dream from any single sleep, sowing a microscopic animal here, crumbling a star there, oscillating and gyrating, making a force of light, and an element of thought, disseminated and indivisible dissolving all, that geometric point, the self; reducing everything to the soul-atom; making everything blossom into God; entangling from the highest to the lowest, all activities in the obscurity of a dizzying mechanism, linking the flight of an insect to the movement of the earth, subordinating–who knows, if only by the identity of the law–the evolutions of the comet in the firmament to the circling of the protozoa in the drop of water. A machine made of mind. Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat, and whose last is the zodiac.
~ from Les Misérables




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