Toilers Of The Sea

Toilers Of The Sea


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In 1855, fleeing political persecution, Victor Hugo found sanctuary on the Isle of Guernsey, among the most historic and picturesque of the Channel Islands. The legends and lore of the islands sparked Hugo's imagination, resulting in one of his most unusual works. Setting mythical, romantic, and social themes against a backdrop of memorable descriptions, The Toilers of the Sea is a novel of epic proportions, brought to light in a new Signet Classic edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781889439211
Publisher: The Paper Tiger
Publication date: 05/14/2001
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 776,607
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

James Hogarth was educated at Edinburgh University, and was later undersecretary in the Scottish Office.

Graham Robb’s many books include Victor Hugo: A Biography, which won the 1997 Whitbread Biography Award.

Date of Birth:

February 26, 1802

Date of Death:

May 22, 1885

Place of Birth:

Besançon, France

Place of Death:

Paris, France


Pension Cordier, Paris, 1815-18

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Ancient Cataclysms

The Atlantic wears away our coasts. The pressure of the current from the Pole deforms our western cliffs. This wall that shields us from the sea is being undermined from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to Ingouville; huge blocks of rock tumble down, the sea churns clouds of boulders, our harbors are silted up with sand and shingle, the mouths of our rivers are barred. Every day a stretch of Norman soil is torn away and disappears under the waves.

This tremendous activity, which has now slowed down, has had terrible consequences. It has been contained only by that immense spur of land we know as Finistère. The power of the flow of water from the Pole and the violence of the erosion it causes can be judged from the hollow it has carved out between Cherbourg and Brest. The formation of this gulf in the Channel at the expense of French soil goes back before historical times; but the last decisive act of aggression by the ocean against our coasts can be exactly dated. In 709, sixty years before Charlemagne came to the throne, a storm detached Jersey from France. The highest points of other territories submerged in earlier times are still, like Jersey, visible. These points emerging from the water are islands. They form what is called the Norman archipelago. This is now occupied by a laborious human anthill. The industry of the sea, which created ruin, has been succeeded by the industry of man, which has made a people.


Granite to the south, sand to the north; here sheer rock faces, there dunes. An inclined plane of meadowland with rolling hills and ridges of rock; as a fringe to this green carpet,wrinkled into folds, the foam of the ocean; along the coast, low-built fortifications; at intervals, towers pierced by loopholes; lining the low beaches, a massive breastwork intersected by battlements and staircases, invaded by sand and attacked by the waves, the only besiegers to be feared; windmills dismasted by storms, some of them-at the Vale, Ville-au-Roi, St. Peter Port, Torteval-still turning; in the cliffs, anchorages; in the dunes, sheep and cattle; the shepherds' and cattle herds' dogs questing and working; the little carts of the tradesmen of the town galloping along the hollow ways; often black houses, tarred on the west side for protection from the rain; cocks and hens, dung heaps; everywhere cyclopean walls; the walls of the old harbor, now unfortunately destroyed, were a fine sight, with their shapeless blocks of stone, their massive posts, and their heavy chains; farmhouses set amid trees; fields enclosed by waist-high drystone walls, forming a bizarre checkerboard pattern on the low-lying land; here and there a rampart built around a thistle, granite

cottages, huts looking like casemates, little houses capable of withstanding a cannonball; occasionally, in the wildest parts of the country, a small new building topped by a bell-a school; two or three streams flowing through the meadows; elms and oaks; a lily found only here, the Guernsey lily; in the main plowing season, plows drawn by eight horses; in front of the houses, large haystacks on circular stone bases; expanses of prickly furze; here and there gardens in the old French style with clipped yew trees, carefully shaped box hedges and stone vases, mingled with orchards and kitchen gardens; carefully cultivated flowers in countryfolk's gardens; rhododendrons among potatoes; everywhere seaweed laid out on the grass, primrose-colored; in the church yards no crosses, but slabs of stone standing erect, seeming in the moonlight like white ladies; ten Gothic bell towers on the horizon; old churches, new dogmas; Protestant worship housed in Catholic architecture; scattered about in the sand and on the promontories, the somber Celtic enigma in its various forms-menhirs, peulvens, long stones, fairy stones, rocking stones, sounding stones, galleries, cromlechs, dolmens, fairies' houses; remains of the past of all kinds; after the druids the priests; after the priests the rectors; memories of falls from heaven; on one point Lucifer, at the castle of the Archangel Michael; on another, Icart Point, Icarus; almost as many flowers in winter as in summer. This is Guernsey.

Guernsey (continued)

Fertile land, rich, strong. No better pasturage. The wheat is celebrated; the cows are illustrious. The heifers grazing the pastures of St. Peter-in-the-Wood are the equals of the famed sheep of the Confolens plateau. The masterpieces produced by the plow and pastureland of Guernsey win medals at agricultural shows in France and England.

Agriculture benefits from well-organized public services, and an excellent network of communications gives life to the whole island. The roads are very good. Lying on the ground at the junction of two roads is a slab of stone bearing a cross. The earliest known bailiff of Guernsey, recorded in 1284, the first on the list, Gaultier de la Salle, was hanged for various acts of iniquity, and this cross, known as the Bailiff's Cross, marks the spot where he knelt and prayed for the last time. In the island's bays and creeks the sea is enlivened by the multicolored, sugarloaf-shaped mooring buoys, checked red and white, half black and half yellow, variegated in green, blue, and orange in lozenge, mottled and marble patterns, which float just under the water. Here and there can be heard the monotonous chant of a team hauling some vessel, heaving on the towrope. Like the fishermen, the farmworkers look content with their lot; so, too, do the gardeners. The soil, saturated with rock dust, is powerful; the fertilizer, which consists of sand and wrack, adds salt to the granite. Hence the extraordinary vitality and richness of the vegetation-magnolias, myrtles, daphnes, rose laurels, blue hydrangeas; the fuchsias are overabundant; there are arcades of three-leaved verbenas; there are walls of geraniums; oranges and lemons flourish in the open; there are no grapes, which ripen only under glass but when grown in greenhouses are excellent; camellias grow into trees; aloe flowers can be seen in gardens, growing taller than a house. Nothing can be more opulent and prodigal than this vegetation that masks and ornaments the trim fronts of villas and cottages.

Attractive on one side, Guernsey is terrible on the other. The west coast of the island, exposed to winds from the open sea, has been devastated. This is a region of coastal reefs, squalls, careening coves, patched-up boats, fallow land, heath, poor hovels, a few low, shivering hamlets, lean sheep and cattle, short salty grass, and a general air of harsh poverty. Lihou is a small barren island just off the coast that is accessible at low tide. It is covered with scrub and rabbit burrows. The rabbits of Lihou know the time of day, emerging from their holes only at high tide and setting man at defiance. Their friend the ocean isolates them. Fraternal relations of this kind are found throughout nature.

If you dig down into the alluvial soil of Vazon Bay you come upon trees. Here, under a mysterious layer of sand, there was once a forest.

The fishermen so harshly treated by this wind-beaten west coast make skillful pilots. The sea around the Channel Islands is peculiar. Cancale Bay, not far away, is the spot in the world where the tides rise highest.

The Grass

The grass of Guernsey is the same grass as anywhere else, though a little richer: a meadow on Guernsey is almost like a lawn in Cuges or Gémenos.2 You find fescues and tufted hair-grasses, as in any other grass, together with common star-grass and floating manna grass; mountain brome, with spindle-shaped spikelets; the phalaris of the Canaries; agrostis, which yields a green dye; rye grass; yellow lupin; Yorkshire fog, which has a woolly stem; fragrant vernal grass; quaking grass; the rain daisy; wild garlic, which has such a sweet flower but such an acrid smell; timothy grass; foxtail, with an ear in the shape of a club; needle grass, which is used for making baskets; and lyme grass, which is useful for stabilizing shifting sands. Is this all? By no means: there are also cocksfoot, whose flowers grow in clusters; panic millet; and even, according to local agricultural experts, bluestem grass. There are the bastard hawkweed, with leaves like the dandelion, which marks the time of day, and the sow thistle of Siberia, which foretells the weather. All these are grasses, but this mixture of grasses is not to be found everywhere: it is peculiar to the archipelago. It requires granite for its subsoil and the ocean to water it.

Now imagine a thousand insects crawling through the grass and flying above it, some hideous, others charming; under the grass longicorns, longinases, weevils, ants engaged in milking aphids, their milch cows, dribbling grasshoppers, ladybirds, click beetles; on the grass and in the air dragonflies, ichneumons, wasps, golden rose-beetles, bumblebees, lace-winged flies, red-bellied gold wasps, the noisy hoverflies-and you will have some idea of the reverie-inducing spectacle that the Jerbourg ridge or Fermain Bay, around midday in June, offers an entomologist who is something of a dreamer or a poet who is something of a naturalist.

Suddenly, under this sweet green grass, you will notice a small square slab of stone inscribed with the letters WD, which stand for War Department. This is fair and proper. It is right that civilization should show itself here: otherwise the place would be wild. Go to the banks of the Rhine and seek out the most isolated corners of the landscape. At some points it is so majestic that it seems pontifical: God, surely, must be more present here than elsewhere.

Penetrate into the remote fastnesses where the mountains offer the greatest solitude and the forests the greatest silence; choose, let us say, Andernach and its surroundings; visit the obscure and impassive Laacher See, so unknown that it is almost mysterious. No tranquillity can be found more august than this; universal life is here in all its religious serenity; no disturbances; everywhere the profound order of nature's great disorder; walk with a softened heart in this wilderness; it is as voluptuous as spring and as melancholy as autumn; wander about at random; leave behind you the ruined abbey, lose yourself in the moving peace of the ravines, amid the song of birds and the rustle of leaves; drink fresh spring water in your cupped hand; walk, meditate, forget. You come upon a cottage at the corner of a hamlet buried under the trees; it is green, fragrant, and charming, clad in ivy and flowers, full of children and laughter. You draw nearer, and on the corner of the cottage, which is bathed in a brilliant alternation of shadow and sunlight, on an old stone in the old wall, below the name of the hamlet, Niederbreisig, you read 22. landw. bataillon 2. comp.

You thought you were in a village: you find that you are in a regiment. Such is the nature of man.

Table of Contents

Part 1Sieur Clubin
Book 1What a Bad Reputation Is Composed Of
IA Word Written on a Blank Page1
IIThe Bu de la Rue3
III"For Your Wife, When You Marry"6
VOther Suspicious Things About Gilliatt16
VIThe Paunch18
VIIFor a Haunted House, a Visionary Inhabitant22
VIIIThe Chair Gild-Holm-'Ur24
Book 2Mess Lethierry
IA Restless Life and a Quiet Conscience27
IIA Taste Which He Had29
IIIThe Ancient Dialect of the Sea30
IVOne is Vulnerable Through What One Loves32
Book 3Durande and Deruchette
IChatter and Smoke35
IIThe Eternal Story of Utopia37
IVContinuation of the Story of Utopia42
VThe Devil Boat43
VIEntrance of Lethierry into Glory47
VIIThe Same Godfather and the Same Protectress49
VIII"Bonny Dundee"51
IXThe Man Who Had Seen Through Rantaine53
XTales of Long Voyages54
XIA Glance at Possible Husbands57
XIIAn Exception in the Character of Lethierry58
XIIIHeedlessness Adds New Grace to Beauty61
Book 4The Bagpipe
IThe First Red Gleams of Dawn, or a Conflagration63
IIAn Entrance, Step by Step, Into the Unknown65
IIIThe Air "Bonny Dundee" Finds an Echo on the Hill67
IVPour l'oncle et le tuteur, bonshommes taciturnes, Les serenades sont des tapages nocturnes68
VWell-Merited Success is Always Hated70
VIThe Luck of a Shipwrecked Crew in Meeting a Sloop71
VIIThe Luck of an Idler in Being Seen by a Fisherman73
Book 5The Revolver
IThe Conversations at the Jean Tavern77
IIClubin Perceives Someone82
IIIClubin Carries Away and Does Not Bring Back85
VThe Bird-Nesters92
VILa Jacressarde101
VIINocturnal Purchases and a Shady Vendor106
VIIIThe Red Ball and the Black Ball Carom109
IXInformation Useful to Persons Who Await or Who Fear Letters from Across the Sea117
Book 6The Drunken Helmsman and the Sober Captain
IThe Douvres Rocks123
IIUnexpected Brandy125
IIIInterrupted Conversations128
IVIn Which Captain Clubin Displays All His Qualities135
VClubin Puts the Finishing Touch to Admiration140
VIThe Interior of an Abyss Illuminated144
VIIThe Unexpected Intervenes150
Book 7The Imprudence of Asking Questions of a Book
IThe Pearl at the Bottom of the Precipice155
IIMuch Astonishment on the Western Coast161
IIITempt Not the Bible165
Part 2Gilliatt the Crafty
Book 1The Reef
IThe Place Which Is Hard to Reach and Difficult to Leave173
IIThe Thoroughness of the Disaster177
IIISound, But Not Safe180
IVA Preliminary Examination181
VA Word as to the Secret Cooperations of the Elements184
VIA Stable for the Horse187
VIIA Room for the Traveler189
VIIIImportunaeque Volucres196
IXThe Reef and How To Use It198
XThe Forge201
XIA Discovery204
XIIThe Interior of a Submarine Edifice207
XIIIWhat One Sees There, and What One Gets a Glimpse Of209
Book 2The Labor
IThe Resources of One Who Lacks Everything215
IIHow Shakespeare and Aeschylus Can Meet217
IIIGilliatt's Masterpiece Comes to the Aid of Lethierry's Masterpiece219
IVSub Re222
VSub Umbra227
VIGilliatt Brings the Paunch into Position231
VIIA Danger at Once234
VIIIChange Rather Than Conclusion236
IXSuccess Snatched Away as Soon as Granted239
XThe Warnings of the Sea241
XIA Word to the Wise is Sufficient244
Book 3The Battle
IExtremes Meet247
IISea Breezes248
IIIExplanation of the Noise to Which Gilliatt Listened251
IVTurba, Turma254
VGilliatt Has His Choice256
VIThe Combat257
Book 4The False Bottoms
IA Man Who is Hungry is Not the Only Hungry One275
IIThe Monster279
IIIAnother Form of Combat in the Gulf285
IVNothing is Hidden and Nothing is Lost288
VIn the Interval That Separates Six Inches from Two Feet There is Room to Lodge Death291
VIDe Profundis ad Altum294
VIIThere is an Ear in the Unknown300
Part 3Deruchette
Book 1Night and Moon
IThe Bell of the Port303
IIAgain the Port Bell315
Book 2Gratitude in Full Despotism
IJoy Surrounded by Anguish323
IIThe Leather Trunk330
Book 3Departure of the Cashmere
IThe Havelet Quite Close to the Church333
IIDespairs in Presence of Each Other335
IIIThe Foresight of Abnegation342
IV"For Your Wife, When You Marry"346
VThe Great Tomb349

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Toilers of the Sea 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Alera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Toilers of the Sea is a bittersweet story, and while not in quite the vein of Hunchback and Les Mis it is still completely Victor Hugo. Gilliatt, the protagonist of this novel, undergoes what I can only compare to the mythical trials of Odysseus. In order to receive what he wants most, he must undertake the impossible. But, in the end, though he conquered wind and sea, battled monsters and his own failings, he forgot to anticipate the working of another human heart. His ending is both heartfelt and heartbreaking. Simply a lovely novel. While filled with typical Hugo over indulgence in descriptions, the final narrative is definitely worth the read.
Thissometimepoet More than 1 year ago
My only complaint with this version of "Toilers of the Sea" is the print size - I've seen phone books that were easier to read. They need to fix this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago