When the 16 May 1877 crisis broke out, Victor Hugo was at the peak of his fame. This article shows how he mobilised every facet of his personal glory to fight MacMahon and his partisans’ assault on the republicans. Hugo, at age 76, took on multiple roles, one after the other or simultaneously: the white-bearded old man, the grandfather proud of his two grandchildren, the senator benefiting from political immunity, the survivor of the last authentic coup d’État, the historian and poet of the Republic. He spoke in the Senate against the dismissal of the Chamber of Deputies, campaigned with left-wing parties during the election campaign, took notes in his notebooks, and most importantly, published History of a Crime less than two weeks before the first round of the elections, drawing a parallel between 2 December 1851 and 16 May 1877. He was a model for some opposition members who tried to imitate his style or hoped that he would be appointed as a minister. However, no matter how important Hugo’s voice was, during this crisis, it was echoed by the voices of thousands of anonymous individuals who spontaneously shared the same historical and political references and chose the same angles of attack.
By Susanna Barrows