You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea.”

– Victor Hugo

Meaning of the quote

Here is Hugo’s entire comment containing the quote in context (bold emphasis added):

You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.”

Essentially, every worthwhile endeavor or new idea shakes up the status quo. Such actions usually introduce or even force change, and in a majority of situations, people don’t like change. Therefore, the person bringing about these changes is frequently regarded with disdain or becomes an outright enemy of those who are resistant to change.

New ideas can also change someone else’s livelihood. New technologies or products quite often make an older technology or product obsolete, diminishing or destroying someone else’s market share and income, something that most definitely creates enemies.

This is also true in the workplace, and especially true in the realm of the creative arts, when someone new emerges in the field who suddenly grabs the spotlight, with their competitors usually belittling that person’s talent or qualifications.

Origin of the quote

This quote comes from Villemain (1845).

About Victor Hugo

Victor Marie Hugo (1802-1885) was a French novelist, poet and dramatist, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest French writers and poets of all time. He is associated with the Romantic Movement. Hugo’s most famous works are his novels Les Misérables (1862) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831), both of which have been made into films and musicals.