The Last Day of a Condemned Man

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The Last Day of a Condemned Man
1829 illustration from the
first edition
AuthorVictor Hugo
Original titleLe Dernier Jour d'un Condamné
Publication date

The Last Day of a Condemned Man (French: Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné) is a short novel by Victor Hugo first published in 1829. The novel recounts the thoughts of a man condemned to die. Victor Hugo wrote this novel to express his feelings that the death penalty should be abolished.


Victor Hugo saw several times the spectacle of the guillotine and was angered at the spectacle that society can make of it. It was the day after crossing the "Place de l'Hotel de Ville" where an executioner was greasing the guillotine in anticipation of a scheduled execution that Hugo began writing The Last Day of a Condemned Man. He finished very quickly.[1] The book was published in February 1829 by Charles Gosselin without the author's name. Three years later, on 15 March 1832, Hugo completed his story with a long preface and his signature.

Plot summary[edit]

A man who has been condemned to death by the guillotine in 19th-century France writes down his cogitations, feelings and fears while awaiting his execution. His writing traces his change in psyche vis-a-vis the world outside the prison cell throughout his imprisonment, and describes his life in prison, everything from what his cell looks like to the personality of the prison priest. He does not betray his name or what he has done to the reader, though he vaguely hints that he has killed someone; just a nameless, faceless, meaningless victim.

On the day he is to be executed he sees his three-year-old daughter for the last time, but she no longer recognizes him, and she tells him that her father is dead.

The novel ends just after he briefly but desperately begs for pardon and curses the people of his time, the people he hears outside, screaming impatiently for the spectacle of his decapitation.


Though The Last Day of a Condemned Man is lesser known than some of Hugo's other works, the novel had the distinction of being praised as "absolutely the most real and truthful of everything that Hugo wrote” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who referenced it in both his letters[2] and his novel, The Idiot.[3]


  1. ^ ↑ Achevé en 3 semaines selon Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie, chapitre L ou en un mois et demi (14 novembre 1828 - 26 décembre 1828) selon Roger Borderie (Notices sur le Dernier Jour d’un condamné - Gallimard 1970)
  2. ^ Bird, Robert. Fyodor Dostoevsky. p. 48.
  3. ^ Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot. Penguin.

External links[edit]