Victor Hugo, the French Romantic author best known for penning The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, didn't always have the most romantic life. For one, he spent almost twenty years in exile, hanging out most of the time on the island of Guernsey (located in the Channel between Britain and his home country). But when he got back to France in 1870, things got even worse...and less tasty.
Hugo had been exiled for becoming increasingly liberal as the eventual emperor Napoleon III became more and more conservative. When the Third French Republic was restored, he came home, but poor Victor didn't have long to enjoy being back before chaos struck again. The Franco-Prussian War kicked off, and the Prussian forces closed in on Paris in the fall of 1870. The Germans laid siege to the City of Lights, a period which stretched for 132 loooong days until it fell in January.
The elephant Castor gets shot...for food. Image via MessyNessyChic.
During the Siege of Paris, poverty was rampant and food was scarce for all. As a respected artiste, Hugo got more chow than your average Joe, meaning that he had to eat whatever was available - delicacies or no delicacies. Apparently, he even consumed animals from a Paris zoo; in his diary entry for January 12, 1871, Hugo records, "We had elephant steak for lunch today."
Who was the premier peddler of exotic creatures? A butcher named Monsieur Deboos, who sold "all sorts of weird remains," according to writer Edmond de Goncourt, including the skinned trunk of Pollux, one of the zoo's elephants (the other was his twin, the aptly named Castor). But elephant wasn't the only creature to make its way onto Hugo's table. He and his family nibbled on antelope and bear, while American diplomat Wickham Hoffman recorded eating yak, reindeer, camel, and even a prickly porcupine.