Hugo was overwhelmed by her. He found that she was in debt, and he managed to see that her debts were paid. He secured her other engagements at the theater, though she was less successful as an actress after she knew him. There came, for a time, a short break in their relations; for, partly out of need, she returned to her Russian nobleman, or at least admitted him to a menage a trois. Hugo underwent for a second time a great disillusionment. Nevertheless, he was not too proud to return to her and to beg her not to be unfaithful any more. Touched by his tears, and perhaps foreseeing his future fame, she gave her promise, and she kept it until her death, nearly half a century later.
Perhaps because she had deceived him once, Hugo never completely lost his prudence in his association with her. He was by no means lavish with money, and he installed her in a rather simple apartment only a short distance from his own home. He gave her an allowance that was relatively small, though later he provided for her amply in his will. But it was to her that he brought all his confidences, to her he entrusted all his interests. She became to him, thenceforth, much more than she appeared to the world at large; for she was his friend, and, as he said, his inspiration.
The fact of their intimate connection became gradually known through Paris. It was known even to Mme. Hugo; but she, remembering the affair of Sainte-Beuve, or knowing how difficult it is to check the will of a man like Hugo, made no sign, and even received Juliette Drouet in her own house and visited her in turn. When the poet’s sons grew up to manhood, they, too, spent many hours with their father in the little salon of the former actress. It was a strange and, to an Anglo-Saxon mind, an almost impossible position; yet France forgives much to genius, and in time no one thought of commenting on Hugo’s manner of life.
In 1851, when Napoleon III seized upon the government, and when Hugo was in danger of arrest, she assisted him to escape in disguise, and with a forged passport, across the Belgian frontier. During his long exile in Guernsey she lived in the same close relationship to him and to his family. Mme. Hugo died in 1868, having known for thirty-three years that she was only second in her husband’s thoughts. Was she doing penance, or was she merely accepting the inevitable? In any case, her position was most pathetic, though she uttered no complaint.
A very curious and poignant picture of her just before her death has been given by the pen of a visitor in Guernsey. He had met Hugo and his sons; he had seen the great novelist eating enormous slices of roast beef and drinking great goblets of red wine at dinner, and he had also watched him early each morning, divested of all his clothing and splashing about in a bath-tub on the top of his house, in view of all the town. One evening he called and found only Mme. Hugo. She was reclining on a couch, and was evidently suffering great pain. Surprised, he asked where were her husband and her sons.