Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Liability of Liberty

Bradley Stephens

Legenda (General Series)


12 May 2011  •  188pp

ISBN: 978-1-907747-01-4 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95

ISBN: 978-1-351193-03-0 (Taylor & Francis ebook)


The arch-Romantic Victor Hugo (1802-85) and the Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) are widely perceived to have little in common beyond their canonical status. However, responding to Sartre’s often overlooked fascination with Hugo, this book cuts through generic divisions to argue that significant parallels between the two writers have been neglected. Bradley Stephens reveals how both Hugo and Sartre engage with human being in distinctly non-ontological terms, thereby anticipating postmodernist approaches to human experience. From different origins but towards similar realizations, they expose the indeterminate human condition as at once release and restriction. These writers insist that liberty is not simply a political ideal, but an existential condition which engages human endeavour as a dynamic rather than definitive mode of being. The Liability of Liberty affirms the ongoing relevance of the two most iconic French writers of the modern period to contemporary discourse on what it means to be free.

Bradley Stephens is Lecturer in French at the University of Bristol.


  • ‘Liberty may be a liability, but in Hugo and in Sartre it has two strong, subtle, and surprisingly complementary exponents. For the detail of its analyses and for the breadth of its final perspectives, this volume is, therefore, a welcome addition to the Legenda imprint.’ — Owen Heathcote, French Studies 66.3, July 2012, 422-23
  • ‘Bradley Stephens explores unexpected, intriguing connections between Victor Hugo's and Jean-Paul Sartre's visions of liberty in this clearly written study... Brings a unique analysis of Hugo's and Sartre's work, offering insights that may challenge readers to reconsider their previous understandings.’ — Marva A. Barnett, Modern and Contemporary France 20.2, 2012, 281-82
  • ‘Stephen’s work provides equally valuable insights for Hugo and Sartre specialists as it does for students of modern culture. Previous scholarship is pleasingly woven into Stephens’s argument and his writing style is quick and fluid, itself more dynamic as the work progresses.’ — Andrea S. Thomas, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 41.3-4, 2013, 326-28
  • ‘Informed by the latest literary criticism, up to speed with philosophical debates, knowledgeable on secondary literature in English and in French on both Hugo and Sartre... Stephens sets up a dialogue between Hugo, the nineteenth-century writer and Sartre, whom Foucault (in-)famously referred to as ‘a man of the nineteenth century’... This book is excellent on philosophy of language and moral philosophy, and it should be of interest to scholars of either Hugo or Sartre, or both, as well as to post-modernists interested in human experience and freedom.’ — Jean-Pierre Boulé, Sartre Studies International 19.1, 2013, 91-102

Bibliography entry:

Stephens, Bradley, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Liability of Liberty (Legenda, 2011)

First footnote reference: 35 Bradley Stephens, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Liability of Liberty (Legenda, 2011), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Stephens, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Stephens, Bradley. 2011. Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Liability of Liberty (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Stephens 2011: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Stephens 2011: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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