Hemerocallis, or Day Lilies, are natives of Asia. Each flower lasts only a day, but the plants are long-flowering and sometimes evergreen. Our cultivars were obtained from A La Carte Daylilies on the Isle of Wight, who also sent us another variety, ‘Winter Dreams’, which is also planted in the long border.
Day Lily ‘Snowy Morning’ flowers mid- to late-season. It recalls the opening page of Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea.
‘Christmas Day in the year 182- was somewhat remarkable in the island of Guernsey. Snow fell on that day. In the Channel Islands a frosty winter is uncommon, and a fall of snow is an event. On that Christmas morning, the road which skirted the seashore from St Peter Port to the Vale was clothed in white. From midnight until the break of day the snow had been falling.‘
Victor Hugo opens his next novel, also written in Guernsey, The Man who Laughs, with a thick fall of icy snow, but there the landscape of Portland in Dorset is hostile and dangerous. The snow may represent many things; the ‘white’ of the page before a writer begins his work; the lost ‘snows of yesteryear’ of François Villon, echoed in Hugo’s own writing of his daughter’s name in the sand of a Normandy beach; and the metaphorical winter of the beginning of exile in the Channel Islands, a period that, like Gilliatt, he would use to promote his fight for social justice and progress, sacrificing much in the process.
Hemerocallis ‘Night Beacon’ flowers from June until September. It recalls a common theme in Victor Hugo’s writing and his life, that of the lighthouse. Victor Hugo’s Lookout was said to be a guiding light for sailors coming home to St Peter Port Harbour, and Hugo, who could see the lighthouse of Flamanville on the Normandy coast from his window, uses the motif of a lighthouse to represent Hauteville House and the light that Hugo was shining from there on the corrupt regime in France. Hugo was also deeply moved by the danger ships and sailors faced daily in the name of progress. His friend, Henry Tupper of Guernsey, was instrumental in campaigning for the building of the Hanois lighthouse. A lecture had been given in Guernsey during Hugo’s time about the Eddystone Lighthouse, which Hugo went on to draw (see above) and which features, along with the Casquets lighthouse off Alderney, in a terrifying episode of a shipwreck in The Man who Laughs, written in Guernsey and published in 1869:
‘To a full-rigged ship in good trim, the Casquets light is useful, it cries ‘Look out’, it warns her of the shoal. To a disabled ship it is simply terrible … The lighthouse shows the end – points out the spot where it is doomed to disappear – throws light upon the burial. It is the torch of the sepulchre.‘
Lucrèce Borgia is a play written by Victor Hugo in 1832 and performed at the Comédie Française in 1833. It was extremely successful. It and its companion-piece of 1832, Le roi s’amuse, were both made into operas, Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti in the same year, and Rigoletto by Verdi in 1851 (without Hugo’s permission – Hugo was one of the first advocates of authors’ rights). Lucrèce Borgia is still staged today. It turned out particularly memorable for Victor Hugo, as one of the small parts was taken by an aspiring actress, originally Julienne Gauvain from Fougères in Brittany, known by the stage-name ‘Mademoiselle Juliette’; it was at a rehearsal for the premiere of this play that Hugo first met Juliette Drouet. It was the start of a love affair and a relationship that would last 50 years, until her death in 1883.