Saturday, August 8, 2009

174. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo

History: Published in 1831. Hugo began to write Hunchback in 1829. The agreement with his original publisher, Gosselin, was that the book would be finished that same year. However, Hugo was constantly delayed due to the demands of other projects. By the summer of 1830, Gosselin demanded the book to be completed by February 1831. And so beginning in September 1830, Hugo worked non-stop on the project; he bought a new bottle of ink, a woolen cloak, and cloistered himself in his room refusing to be bothered or to leave his house (except for nightly visits to the cathedral). The book was finished six months later.
Plot: The story begins during the Renaissance in 1482, the day of the Festival of Fools in Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer, is introduced by his crowning as Pope of Fools.
Esmeralda, a beautiful 16-year-old gypsy with a kind and generous heart, captures the hearts of many men but especially those of Quasimodo and his adopted father, Claude Frollo. Frollo is torn between his lust and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to get her. Quasimodo is caught and whipped and ordered to be tied down in the heat. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, offers him water. It saves her, for she captures the heart of the hunchback.
She is later accused of the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo attempted to kill in jealousy, and is sentenced to death by hanging. Quasimodo saves her by bringing her to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Clopin rallies the Truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. The king, seeing the chaos, vetoes the law of sanctuary and commands his troops to take Esmeralda out and kill her. When Quasimodo sees the Truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Frollo betrays Esmeralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is hanged. Quasimodo pushes him from Notre-Dame to his death. He then goes to where hanged dead bodies are thrown, lies next to her corpse and eventually dies of starvation. Two years later, excavationists find the skeletons of Esmeralda with a broken neck and Quasimodo locked in an embrace.
Review: the original French title of the book, Notre-Dame de Paris (the formal title of the Cathedral) shows that the cathedral (and not Quasimodo) is the subject of the story. The book portrays the Gothic era as one of extremes of architecture, passion, and religion. Like many of his other works, Hugo is also very concerned with social justice, and his descriptions of religious fanaticism are also examined. Strikingly, Hugo shifts his focus between characters, and assigns the roles of hero and villain to different characters at different points in the novel
Opening Line: “It is the day three hundred and forty eight years six months and nineteen days since the good people of Paris were awakened by a grand peel from all the bells in the three districts of the City, the University, and the Ville,”
Closing Line: “When those who found this skeleton attempted to disengage it from that which held its grasp, it crumbled to dust.”
Quotes: "All was mingled, broken, floating, confusedly scattered in her thoughts. She no longer felt, no longer knew, no longer thought-at most, she only dreamed. Never had any living creature been plunged more deeply into annihilation."
Rating: Good.

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