The internet research hub for Victor Hugo enthusiasts
Twelve years ago, in an island adjoining the coast of France, a house, with a melancholy aspect in every season, became particularly sombre because winter had commenced. The west wind, blowing then in full liberty, made thicker yet round this abode those coats of fog that November places between earthly life and the sun. Evening comes quickly in Autumn; the smallness of the windows added to the shortness of the days, and deepened the sad, twilight in which the house was wrapped.
The house, which had a terrace for a roof, was rectilinear, correct, square, newly whitewashed,--a true Methodist structure. Nothing is so glacial as that English whiteness; it seems to offer you the hospitality of snow. One dreams with a sacred heart of the old huts of the French peasants, built of wood, cheerful and dark, surrounded with vines.
To the house was attached a garden of a quarter of an acre, on an inclined plane, surrounded with walls, cut in steps of granite, and with parapets, without trees, naked, where one could see more stones than leaves. This little uncultivated domain abounded in tufts of marigold, which flourished in autumn, aned which the poor people of the country eat baked with the eel. The neighbouring seashore was hid from this garden by a rise in the ground; on this rise there was a field of short grass, where some nettles and a big hemlock flourished.
From the house you might perceive, on the right, in the horizon, on the elevation, and in a little wood, a tower, which passed for haunted; on the left you might see the dyke. The wall, planted upright in the sand, dried up, gaunt, with knots, ankyloses, and patellas, which looked like a row of tibias. Revery, which readily accepts dreams for the sake of proposing enigmas, might ask to what men these tibias of three fathoms in height had belonged.
The south facade of the house looked on the garden, the north facade on a deserted road.
A corridor at the entrance to the ground-floor, a kitchen, a greenhouse, and a courtyard, with a little parlour, having a view of the lonely road, and a pretty large study, scarcely lighted; on the first and second floors, chambers, neat, cold, scantily furnished, newly repainted with white blinds to the window, -- such was this lodging, with the noise of the sea ever resounding.
This house, a heavy, right-angled white cube, chosen by those who inhabited it apparently by chance, perhaps by intentional destiny, had the form of a tomb.
Those who inhabited this abode were a group -- to speak more properly, a family; they were proscribed ones. The most aged was one of those men who, at a given moment, are de trop in their own country. He had come from an assembly; the others, who were young, had come from a prison. To have written, that is sufficient motive for bars. Where shall thought conduct except to a dungeon?
The prison had set them free into banishment.
The oldest, the father, had in that place all his own except his eldest daughter, who could not follow him. His son-in-law was with her. Often they were leaning round a table or seated on a bench, silent, grave, thinking, all of them, and without saying it, of those two absent ones.
Why was this group installed in this lodging, so little suitable? For reasons of haste, and from a desire to be as soon as possible anywhere but at the inn. Doubtless, also, because it was the first house to let that they had met with, and because proscribed people are not lucky.
This house,--which it is time to rehabilitate a little and console, for who knows if in its loneliness it is not sad at what we have just said about it; a home has a soul,--this house was called Marine Terrace. The arrival was mournful; but after all, we declare, the stay in it was agreeable, and Marine Terrace has not left to those who then inhabited it anything but affectionate and dear remembrances. And what we say of that house, Marine Terrace, we say also of that island of Jersey. Places of suffering and trial end by having a kind of bitter sweetness which, later on, causes them to be regretted. They have a stern hospitality which pleases the conscience.
There had been, before them, other exiles in that island. Thiis is not the time to speak of them. We mention only that the most ancient of whom tradition, a legend, perhaps, has kept the remembrance, was a Roman, Vipsanius Minator, who employed his exile in augmenting, for the benefit of his country's dominion, the Roman wall of which you may still see some parts, like bits of hillock, near a bay named, I think, St. Catherine's Bay. This Vipsanius Minator was a consular patronage,--an old Roman so infatuated with Rome that he stood in the way of the Empire. Tiberius exiled him into this Cimmerian Island, Caesarea; according to others, to one of the Orkneys. Tiberius did more; not content with exile, he ordained oblivion. It was forbidden to the orators of the senate and the forum to pronounce the name of Vipsanius Minator. The orators of the forum and the senate, and history, have obeyed; about which Tiberius, of course, did not have a doubt. That arrogance in commanding, which proceeded so far as to give orders to men's thoughts, characterized certain ancient governments newly arrived at one of those firm situations where the greatest amount of crime produces the greatest amount of security.
Let us return to Marine Terrace.
One morning at the end of November, two of the inhabitants of the place, the father and the youngest of the sons, were seated in the lower parlour. They were silent, like shipwrecked ones who meditate. Without, it rained; the wind blew. The house was as if deafened by the outer roaring. Both went on thinking, absorbed perhaps by this coincidence between a beginning of winter and a beginning of exile.
All at once the son raised his voice and asked the father --
"What thinkest thou of this exile?"
"That it will be long."
"How dost thou reckon to fill it up?"
The father answered --
"I shall look on the ocean."
There was a silence. The father resumed the conversation:--
"I," said the son, -- "I shall translate Shakespeare."
Table of Contents