Victor Hugo? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous French novelist Victor Hugo penned a vignette about a mother who selflessly gave food to her hungry children even though she was emaciated. An observer asked why she did this, and another observer replied: “Because she is a mother”. Would you please help me to find this passage?
Quote Investigator: Victor Hugo’s 1874 novel “Quatrevingt-Treize” (“Ninety-Three”) explored the counter-revolutionary revolts which occurred during the period of the French Revolution. A scene near the beginning of the book depicted a group of military men who encountered a woman with her baby and her two young children who were all starving. The following passage is presented in the original French. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Le sergent tira de sa poche un morceau de pain de munition et le tendit à la mère. La mère rompit le pain en deux morceaux et les donna aux enfants. Les petits mordirent avidement.
— Elle n’en a pas gardé pour elle, grommela le sergent.
— C’est qu’elle n’a pas faim, dit un soldat.
— C’est qu’elle est la mère, dit le sergent.
Hugo’s work was translated into English and published in the same year of 1874. Here is the rendered passage: 2
The sergeant took a bit of regulation bread from his pocket, and handed it to the mother. She broke the bread into two fragments, and gave them to the children, who ate with avidity.
“She has kept none for herself,” grumbled the sergeant.
“Because she is not hungry,” said a soldier.
“Because she is a mother,” said the sergeant.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1874, Quatrevingt-Treize by Victor Hugo, Tome I, Le Bois de la Saudraie, Quote Page 22 and 23, Michel Lévy Frères Éditeurs, Paris, France. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1874, Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo, Translation by Frank Lee Benedict and J. Hain Friswell, Part One, Book One, The Wood of La Saudraie, Quote Page 13, Dawson Brothers, Montreal, Canada. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩