Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein makes hundreds of letters from Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo available in a critical edition

2021-03-19

Juliette Drouet was the actress who became Victor Hugo’s companion. During 50 years, she wrote about 22,000 letters to him, letters that have been preserved and that give an invaluable insight into Paris and Europe of the 19th century. Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein, from the Department of Modern Languages is part of a project whose purpose is to make the letters intelligible, and available online.

Juliette Drouet (Noël).jpg
Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein is an Associate Professor in French literature at the Department of Modern Languages. She belongs to an international group of researchers who have taken on the task to transcribe, and to scholarly comment, Juliette Drouet’s letters to Victor Hugo. Juliette Drouet wasn’t only Hugo’s mistress, secretary and long time companion. She was also a tireless letter writer and she wrote around 22,000 letters to him between 1833 and 1883.

So far, 12,000 of the letters have been published on the website www.juliettedrouet.org. Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein has gone through 400 of them, which were sent from May to December 1837. The work consists both of transcribing the text and to make the content intelligible. The transcription consists of turning the handwritten text – which is often difficult to interpret – into computer text, according to a strict protocol for punctuation, italicization, etc. The other part, to make the text intelligible, is more of detective work. It requires understanding wordplay and to interpret references to contemporary events, or private issues, which Juliette Drouet knew that Victor Hugo would understand, but that is difficult to decipher for a present-day reader. To explain the content of a single letter, and to put it into context, can sometimes require several weeks of work. But it is labour that gives valuable results.

“For a long time, Juliette Drouet’s letters have been simply considered as expressions of her devoted, passionate love for Hugo, and only a small fraction of them have been published as selected pieces. Thanks to the publication of the entire corpus, we are discovering that they are an invaluable historic testimony of 19th-century society, especially in political, artistic and intellectual circles and discussions, says Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein. They bear witness to social norms, women’s situation, everyday events, habits and customs in Paris and other parts of Europe during Victor Hugo’s exile. The letters also shed light on Victor Hugos creative process, from the first drafts to the publication of the works, since Juliette Drouet was his first reader, critic, copyist and  – not least – muse. Juliette Drouet’s letters also offer a significant amount of material for linguistic and literary studies, thanks to her distinctive style and playful treatment of the language’s functions.”

The transcribed and annotated letters are published gradually on the website, which is administered by CÉRÉdI (Centre d’études et de Recherche Éditer/Interpréter), Université de Rouen-Normandie in collaboration with CELLF (Centre d’Étude de la langue et des littératures françaises), Université Paris-Sorbonne, under the leadership of professor Florence Naugrette who is working at Paris-Sorbonne.

Sylviane Robardey-Eppstein has also written a chapter in a collective work about Juliette Drouet’s letter writing.

You can see some of Juliette Drouet’s original letters at

News

Last modified: 2021-03-19