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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Victor Hugo
French 1802–1885

Napoleon the Little (Napoléon le petit)

Published by Jeffs, Libraire éditeur, London; A. Mertens, Brussels, 1852 (1st edition)
Museum Purchase, 1920.48

Victor Hugo is reputed to have written Napoleon the Little (Napoléon le petit), a condemnation of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, in less than four weeks in the summer of 1852. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected President of the new Republic in 1848, pledging to maintain the Constitution. By the end of 1851 he had dissolved the National Assembly and been declared Emperor. Hugo, who was a member of the opposition, lived in exile on the isle of Guernsey during much of Napoleon III’s reign. Even though in exile and fearing for his life, Hugo continued to write. Indeed his most powerful work was produced while resident of the British-controlled island.
Napoleon the Little was a virulent pamphlet condemning the monarch. It includes the concept of ‘two and two make five’ as a denial of truth by authority, a notion later used by George Orwell in Nineteen Eight-Four (1949). Even while in exile outside the country, Hugo was still one of the most prominent Frenchmen of the time, revered by many.