Book Review | The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo

Updated: Jul 28

Birth: February 26, 1802, Besancon, France

Death: May 22, 1885, Paris, France


The Last Day of a Condemned Man - 1829

Born in 1802 in Besancon, the great French thinker and writer, Victor Hugo, grew up in poverty; he knew he had the talent for literature; At the age of 15, he won the Academy Award with a poem, and at 17, he received the Golden Lily, the biggest award of the Toulouse Literary Academy. He published his first book when he was 20 years old. In 1825 he received the title of Légion d'Honneur.


He continued his literary life, which he started with poetry, with the plays he wrote, and his novels followed him. When he opposed the government for the sake of defending his views, he was exiled. He was always with the oppressed. The return of exile continued to write books with great productivity, even though it was reintroduced into politics.


Although Victor Hugo died in Paris in 1885, he continues to live in the literary world with his masterpieces such as The Last Day of a Condemned Man, Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Cromwell.



Magnificent book, showing us in detail how dreadful and awful the death penalty and in particular the guillotine. This novel actually exists out of two parts. The first part is the remarkable and compelling preface of Victor Hugo, describing how deeply appalled he is by the whole concept of the death penalty, especially the public spectacle that goes along with it. The second part is the actual novel, in which every second of the last day of the condemned man is thoroughly described. We get to know all of his scary thoughts and the extreme mental torture he is suffering. We never find out what crime he has actually committed, but in my opinion this is smartly done by Hugo. The whole point of the book is to try and abolish the death penalty, making the story personal would demolish the actual purpose of this piece of literature. We do however get to know a bit about his family, just enough so we feel a great deal of sympathy, but not too much so to lose the main principle. Reading this book really got me. I couldn’t imagine myself in that position, knowing that I was condemned to die and that I was all alone, no one to really share my thoughts and feelings with and besides that knowing that I would leave my family in a horrific situation. A spine-chilling book that left me nearly paralyzed. Those who read it, when the execution was legal, had seen the dark side of the death penalty, which in turn led to a community against execution. Considering that this is the aim of the writing of Victor Hugo, it seems to have achieved what he was aiming for. Actually there was a third part too in turkish edition, that contains a short satirical play that discusses what effect this book would have on society.



“Not ill? No truly, I am young, healthful, and strong; the blood flows freely in my veins; my limbs obey my will; I am robust in mind and body, constituted for a long life. Yes, all this is true; and yet, nevertheless, I have an illness, a fatal illness,--an illness given by the hand of man!” /Victor Hugo
“So how do magistrates understand the word civilization? Where do we stand with it? Justice reduced to subterfuge and trickery! The law to machinations! Appalling!” /Victor Hugo
“The merciful precepts of Christ will at last suffuse the Code and it will glow with their radiance. Crime will be considered an illness with its own doctors to replace your judges and its hospitals to replace your prisons. Liberty shall be equated with health. Ointments and oil shall be applied to limbs that were once shackled and branded. Infirmities that once were scourged with anger shall now be bathed with love. The cross in place of the gallows: sublime and yet so simple.” /Victor Hugo
“The slightest contact with logic makes all false arguments disintegrate.” /Victor Hugo

“But secondly you say 'society must exact vengeance, and society must punish'. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God.”

“And that is how a self-seeking hotchpotch distorts and debases the very finest social schemes. It is the black vein in white marble; it gets everywhere, appears under your chisel at any moment without warning. Your statue has to be redone.” /Victor Hugo
“They say that it is, nothing, that one does not suffer, that it is an easy end; that death in this why is very much simplified. Ah! then, what do they call they call this agony of six weeks, this summing up in one day? What then is the anguish of this irreparable day, which is passing so slowly and yet so fast? What is this ladder of tortures which terminates in the scaffold?” /Victor Hugo
“Alas! What does death do with our soul? What nature does it give it? What does it take, and what does it leave with it? Where does it put it? Will it sometimes lend it eyes of flesh with which to look down upon the earth and weep?” /Victor Hugo

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