The life of Juliette Drouet is closely tied to Victor Hugo, but she wasn’t always his mistress.
Juliette’s beautiful head turning looks was garnering the attention of Paris, especially the men. In a way to help fund her shopping sprees, a life as a courtesan and on the stage fit the bill. Not exactly a natural actor, but her looks got the attention of the producers and audience and repeatedly got her roles onstage at the Theatre du Parc de Bruxelle in Paris. In 1833 a small role in Victor Hugo’s Lucretius Borgia would instantly catch the famed writer's attention. Mrs. Hugo, Adele even sent her a note that her husband would love to meet her.
The first six months after they met it stayed very friendly until he couldn’t resist the fiery Juliette who had a reputation as a dominatrix. Toto, as she called Hugo in no time, paid off her debts and rented an apartment for her near his Place des Vosges home on the Rue Sainte-Anastase, but came with a very high cost. Her old ways on stage or as a courtesan had to stop and wasn’t allowed to leave her home without Victor Hugo.
For fifty years, the two stayed together and she served as his secretary and copied each of his books and articles he wrote. Adele was aware of their relationship and even left in her will that her sons look after her in case Victor died before her. Adele had her own relationship with a former close friend of her husband Sainte-Beauve resulting in their somewhat open marriage.
Shortly after, Hugo was forced to exile to Brussels and out of the clutches of all the other women. Juliette set up his papers and a place to stay and traveled with him and stayed nearby allowing them to have a somewhat normal relationship. During his exile, Adele died back in Paris in 1868 and upon his return in 1870 Juliette was finally allowed into the doors of the Place des Vosges home and home on the now Avenue Victor Hugo.
After 50 years together, on May 11, 1883 Juliette died of stomach cancer, she was 77 years old. Hugo was destroyed and would die two years later.
Listen to the episode to learn more about her life that inspired art.
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