LONDON – The iron gates of the short passageway, a stone’s throw from the increasingly trendy Montorgueil district of Paris and a brief walk from the prostitutes of Saint Denis, are closed to the public these days. It was here, in what was Passage Saumon off the Rue du Bout du Monde — the end of the world road — that Victor Hugo is said to have sheltered between the stone pillars of the public baths and a ballroom of low repute from a raging battle between republican and monarchist forces on June 5, 1832. The gates were slammed shut then, too, leaving the writer trapped in the crossfire.
A decade on, Hugo would use what he had heard and seen of the failed student uprising, known as the Republican Uprising, when he began writing his most acclaimed novel. “Les Miserables,” Hugo’s tale of working-class suffering and strife played out in the sewers and back streets of Paris’s least salubrious districts, was published in 1862. That same year Edouard Manet, 30 years Hugo’s junior, completed his first major “modern” work depicting contemporary Paris life.
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