After the restoration of the Bourbons, Count Hugo was deprived of his command and lived in retirement at Blois. But Victor remained with his mother at Paris in an abandoned convent and in straitened circumstances. Even after her death, he continued loyal to her religious and political creed, as his odes abundantly testify. By the aid of his brother Abel, a volume of these was published in 1822, and a second in 1824, which not only brought him some sorely needed money but also secured for him a pension from the king. The poet was thus enabled to marry his cousin, Adèle Foucher, to whom he had been betrothed in infancy, and for whom he cherished a real affection. Their domestic life was happy and, save by the loss of some children, unclouded to its close.
Although Hugo was then a royalist and legitimist, as well as a fervent Catholic, the influence of Romanticism was already manifest in his poetry. He rejected traditional rules and classical mythology, and appealed to the primary religious sentiments. He could say, "My songs fly toward God as the eagle toward the sun, for to the Lord I owe the gift of speech." At that period, indeed, it was the Romantics that looked back with admiration to the faith of the Middle Ages, while the Classics were liberals in politics and often disciples of Voltaire. Victor joined his brother Abel in editing Le Conservateur Littéraire, and in it published Bug Jargal, a story of the insurrection of the negroes in Haiti in 1793. It was afterward enlarged and improved, but even in its earliest form was remarkable. The hero is a slave who had been a prince in his native Africa. He had fallen in love with Marie, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy planter, and betrothed to a French officer, D'Auverney, who relates the story. To rescue the lady from the impending massacre, even though she is never to be his, the magnanimous negro performs numerous exploits of grand heroism, and finally sacrifices his life for his beloved. Among the other characters are the negro chief Biassou, the leader of the rebels, and the villainous dwarf Habribah, who is finally swept by a fierce torrent into a gloomy abyss. Thus in his earliest prose romance, published anonymously, Hugo showed the same fondness for the weird, the grotesque and horrible, mingled with love for the delicate and beautiful, which was to be displayed on a grander scale in the thrilling dramas and powerful novels of his later life.
Another wildly romantic story was Hans d'Islande, whose hero was a bandit chief of Norway, with a huge bear as a terrible assistant. Like other Romantics, Hugo did not hesitate to go far abroad to unknown lands for scenes of romances and dramas. He said, himself, of this story, that the only part based on personal experience was the love of a young man, and the only part based on observation was the love of a young girl. It was, therefore, the first fruits of his own love and marriage. To the tales of travellers was due the description of the frozen North, and to the author's active imagination and matchless literary skill the narration of perilous adventures and deeds of daring. The effect of the story is heightened by the grotesque humor which is found in many of Hugo's works, and by the tender pathos, albeit the latter is sometimes forced. It must also be admitted that Hugo's work at this period was somewhat turgid and bombastic, as the result of his freedom from all restraint, and especially from the chaste and sobering influences of his mother's training, thus leaving him at liberty to indulge in fantastic flights.
Hugo's Romanticism was still further displayed in his Odes et Ballades, 1826, and completely manifested in Les Orientales, 1829. The subjects of these splendid odes were drawn from the brilliant East, which classic taste condemned as barbarous lands; the conventional poetical diction was rejected; homely native words and expressions were freely used; foreign words and phrases were admitted when necessary in describing foreign scenery or customs; broken, irregular metres were employed instead of the long Alexandrines, which had become almost the only correct verse in classic French. In former poems, Hugo had imitated and then surpassed Lamartine; now he was following in the track of Byron, in subjects and methods of treatment. Warm discussion followed in France, and Hugo defended his work in brilliant essays.