Friday Squid Blogging: 1866 Parisienne Squid Fad

Started by Victor Hugo:

Hugo turned away from social/political issues in his next novel, Les Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), published in 1866. Nonetheless, the book was well received, perhaps due to the previous success of Les Misérables. Dedicated to the channel island of Guernsey where he spent 15 years of exile, Hugo’s depiction of Man’s battle with the sea and the horrible creatures lurking beneath its depths spawned an unusual fad in Paris: Squids. From squid dishes and exhibitions, to squid hats and parties, Parisiennes became fascinated by these unusual sea creatures, which at the time were still considered by many to be mythical.

Posted on May 19, 2006 at 4:09 PM6 Comments


Selki May 20, 2006 9:03 AM

How interesting, I thought they were from the Arts and Crafts movement (, popular with artists because their tentacles could be used for the curved lines they (and the later Art Nouveau crowd) loved, but I guess the Hugo squid fans got there first.

By the way, I really enjoy your Friday squid blogging as leaven for all the security dough. In my own journal, I finally posted an Infrastructure Roundup yesterday after taking the month off (posts about my weekends, the Elgin Marbles, historical fiction, and so on). One reader’s response? “depression-fest” sigh

another_bruce May 20, 2006 10:59 AM

les miserables was made into a big broadway musical. any chance hugo’s les travailleurs can go the same route? singing parts for squids? the theater-going public has accepted singing cats.

Snipe May 22, 2006 5:17 AM

“Schneier turned away from security issues in his next book, Beyond Cephalopods, published in 2007…”

Ale May 22, 2006 8:05 AM

So Verne’s “20000 Leagues under the Sea” (published around 1870) and its famous squid battle may actually owe to Victor Hugo? In fact, many of Verne’s novels around that time feature the seas and its fauna. “No man is an island”, indeed.

jsnow May 23, 2006 2:55 PM

I’ve read the toilers of the sea. It is a good book, but (like some of Hugo’s other books) is quite depressing in places. The story is about a steam ship that is wrecked on a reef, and the retrieval of its engine. (Secondarily, it is about the dangers that beautiful women pose to the unwary.) The protagonist is at one point attacked by a large sea creature (which was translated as octopus in the version I read, and that seems to match with the description given, though according to the wikipedia article you cite, on Guensery the same word was used for octopus and squid).

“To believe in the octopus, one must have seen it. Compared with it, hydras of old are laughable. At certain moments, one is tempted to think that the intangible forms which float through our vision encounter in the realms of the possible certain magnetic centres in which their lineaments cling, and from these obscure fixations of the living dream, beings spring forth. The unknown has the marvellous at its disposal, and it makes use of it to compose the monster. Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod were only able to make the Chimera: God made the octopus.

“When God wills it, he excels in the execrable.

“The wherefore of this will affrights the religious thinker.” (Isabel F. Hapgood translation)

Hugo seems not to have been particularly sympathetic towards cephalopods.

Roger May 24, 2006 1:55 AM

Apparently the word Hugo uses — pieuvre — is from the Guernsey patois “Dgèrnésiais”, and might mean either octopus or squid. However, the wikipedia article on the book, at:
includes an illustration allegedly made by Hugo himself, and the animal in it has eight tentacles.

I expect most people of the time didn’t consider the difference to be significant if they thought them to be mythical. But Architeuthis was first scientifically described in 1857, and a large chunk of one made available to other scientists in 1861, so people who still thought giant squids mythical in 1866 were a bit behind the times.

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