Juliette Drouet


Famous as Victor Hugo’s mistress, most people know little about the woman who devoted the greater part of her life to the famous author.

Born Julienne Joséphine Gauvain in Fougères, France on 10 April 1806, the woman we now know as Juliette Drouet was orphaned by the age of two and subsequently raised her uncle, a retired ex-military man, loving but unsuited for parenthood. From the outset, Juliette’s charm and independence trumped her uncle’s childrearing skills and consequently her childhood was devoid of discipline and filled with a mixture of innocent delights and freedoms. It was a childhood she remembered fondly throughout her life.

When Juliette turned 10, her uncle decided a more structured regime might suit his independent niece and that a convent, alongside her two aunts, was the right atmosphere for Juliette to become a distinguished pupil, pious novice, and eventually, a holy nun. In fact, she only achieved the first of her uncle’s dreams. Throughout her convent life, Julienne consistently broke the rules but her charm, and the fact that two of the sisters were her aunts, gained her a leniency rarely experienced within the cloister. That is not to say that she did not suffer deprivations. In later life, she described the convent’s sombre atmosphere, padlocked gates, dark and damp corridors, interminable prayers, and imposed austerities as a none too cheerful part of her life. Despite the hardships and restrictions, the convent did not break Julienne’s spirts. She learned to sing and to sketch and paint in water-colours and perhaps more importantly, she learned tact and restraint and an air of distinction that served her well in the drawing rooms of her later life.

At the age of 16, Julienne was presented to the Archbishop of Paris as a postulant. At that meeting, she convinced the Archbishop that her desire for the world made her an unsuitable candidate for life in the church. That very evening, with his blessing, Julienne left the convent.