“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” by Victor Hugo
(First publication: 1831 / This edition: Everyman’s Library 2012)
Taken with Red Ginger flower/plant and my postcards from Notre-Dame Cathedral when I was in Paris in 2013
The hell where thou art shall be my paradise. (pg.307)
There is so much I want to say in this post. It will also be a photo-heavy one because I want to show off my photos from when I went up Notre-Dame back in 2013! 🙂 You can get the Gothic vibes and “dark” feels through the photos. But, this first one is just cute.
(Bought these figures in the gift shop before the ascension up the towers)
“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” is one of my top favorite Disney movies (only second to “Lion King”) and I remember having a phase back in 2nd grade where I would watch the VHS tape every single day after school for at least 3 months straight. I think I was just so taken by the music. Take a listen—“The Bells of Notre-Dame”—I still get goosebumps now when I hear it. And when I was walking in the cathedral, I just kept thinking of this song and scene from the movie and felt like I could feel La Esmeralda walking around: “God Help the Outcasts”.
(Just like in the movie and the “God Help the Outcasts” scene)
Anyway, so onto the book…The first time I read it was back in senior year of high school (so around end of 2009 or early 2010). I had Study Hall (where I just nap or chitchat with friends), and one day, I just felt like finding a novel to read and started perusing through the library shelves. I came across a very old and battered copy of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and decided to give it a go. I didn’t even know of “Victor Hugo” until then. I didn’t even know that this story’s actually from a book. (Very young and clueless)
So I laid down on the couch in the library and started reading…and became obsessed. I was so into it and was telling all my friends about it—about the different scenes, the mind-blowing plot, the characters, etc. I even told my French teacher about it and asked her if I could do a report on it! I also had some of the lines as my “status” on MSN Messenger (oh the good ol’ days.) I think I even re-read it once or twice after that and kind of “hogged” that book for the rest of my school year.
Since then, when someone asks me what my favorite books are, I’d include this in at least the top 5 of my list.
Two weeks ago, I felt this strong urge to re-read it again—after 5 years since the last time. I decided to get this copy by Everyman’s Library. Here is a clearer photo of it:
…I finished it about an hour ago and…I’M FEELING SO MUCH THAT I FEEL SO LOST I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN.
It’s such a different experience from when I read it in high school. I’ve been saying that it’s my favorite for years and now…I don’t know anymore. When I was about a quarter way through the book, I was thinking that I don’t remember it being this boring. I was falling asleep after every ten pages or so, and ended up putting the book off for a while. I started wondering that maybe I had read a different version or…a “fake” one or something, because I just know my 18-year-old self would NOT enjoy this book. My 18-year-old self would have tossed the book after just five pages in. (I was reading Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” religiously back then, so…you understand)
So I searched up different covers on Google Images, trying to find the one I read back then. I remember it was a very unappealing cover with a priest going into a doorway, with a weird, creepy, old man hiding at a corner. I actually attempted 2-3 searches before I finally found it. Unfortunately this is the clearest photo I can find:
…and then everything made sense. This Bantam’s Classics one that I read is an ABRIDGED version. That’s why it was so action-packed and kept me on my toes. I think if I had picked up an unabridged one back then, I would just give up on this book forever.
I feel the abridged version is so “THIS IS MY FAVORITE BOOK.”, while the unabridged is “…It’s fun, but…meh.”
Usually I’d be all supportive of reading only unabridged versions of books, but…with this one, I found myself skipping literally chapters and pages because so much of it felt “irrelevant” and sometimes doesn’t even make sense—to me, at least; I think if you were living in Paris and knew the completely historical background of its important peoples and all its streets, you’d understand more. It’s understandable why he’d write whole chapters (which I eventually skipped) on the streets of Paris that you can view from certain points from the Notre-Dame cathedral because he was trying to raise awareness about the beauty and preservation of Gothic architecture; parts of Notre-dame kept getting replaced by “newer” styles and features.
So as much as I respect and appreciate his intentions, I just felt like it was just dragging on and on and on and I actually had no idea what was going on. There would be paragraphs and paragraphs continuing for pages like this:
“He was in truth an exalted personage, the sight of whom was worth almost any other spectacle. Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, Archbishop and Count of Lyons, and Primate of Goal, was allied both to Louis XI, through brother Pierre, Seigneur of Beaujeu, who had espoused the King’s eldest daughter, and at the same time to the Burgundian Duke Carles-le-Tėméraire, through his mother Agnes of Burgundy………………………..” (pg.32)
“One stone was placed above another, the granite syllables were linked together, and the best attempted certain combinations. The Celtic dolmen and cromlech, the Etruscan tumulus, the Hebrew galgal, are words. Some of them, especially the tumulus, are proper names. Occasionally, when there was plenty of stone and a wide area, a whole sentence was constructed. The immense pile at Karnac is a complete formula…………………….” (pg.169)
I feel like the story itself of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”—as in the plot, Quasimodo, archdeacon, etc—runs like: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. But then Hugo, amazing writer as he is, goes about it like: 1, 1A, 1B, 1C, 1Ca, 1Cb, 1Aa, 2, 2A, 2B, 2Ba, 2Bb, 2C, 2D ………… and the whole time you’re wondering when it’ll get to freaking 3. (I hope this explanation made sense, haha) It’s like all the action parts keep getting interrupted by long, meandering explanations about Idon’tevenknowwhathe’sdescribing.
Anyway, some of you might not have known that the Disney version is so different that it’s kind of a whole different story altogether. I guess that’s pretty “duh”, but this Victor Hugo version is just a whole different world; Quasimodo’s actually quiet and pensive, La Esmeralda’s actually pretty shallow and “ditzy”, the archdeacon or Dom Claude Frollo’s actually the creepiest, rapey-est, most desperate character you will ever read about, and Captain Phoebus is a drunk and poor womanizer. There’s also many more characters that aren’t in the Disney movie, and they all add so much color to this story. The story is actually dark and haunting. It’s much gnarlier when it comes to the parts about the outcasts and the priest’s intentions.
In many ways, Quasimodo reminded me of the Frankenstein monster. They’re different in only that Quasimodo has the priest who cares about him, and Quasimodo lives in society even though he doesn’t interact with people. And, of course, that Quasimodo’s actually human, born naturally. Here is a description about his “hatred” of society due to his nature:
“He was mischievous, indeed, because he was savage; and he was savage because he was ugly. […]
Besides, we must do him the justice to observe that mischievousness was perhaps not inherent in him. At his very first steps among mankind he had felt himself—and then he had seen himself—repulsed, branded, spit upon. Human speech had ever been to him a scoff or a malediction. As he gre up he had found naught around him but hatred. What wonder that he should have caught it! He had but contract his share of malice—he had but picked up the weapon that had wounded him.” (pg.147)
He’s definitely not as “savage” as the Frankenstein monster though. Quasimodo’s like a loving and caring hero. And unlike in the Disney cartoon, no one acknowledges his heroism, ever. So adding to “dark” and “haunting”, this story’s very depressing and heart-breaking too.
When I was little, I didn’t understand why the priest hated Esmeralda so much—obviously Disney wasn’t going to describe his sex-craving, sex-deprived, lunatic, rape-y ways in the movie. I actually had no idea what was going on in this scene back then, naive and innocent as I was. In the book, the priest would say things like:
“I wished to see thee again—to touch tee—to know who thou wert—to see whether I should find thee indeed equal to the ideal image that had remained of thee—to dispel, perhaps, my dream with the reality. […] I sought thee. I saw thee again. Misery! When I had seen thee twice, I wished to see thee a thousand times—I wished to see thee always!” (pg.304)
There were also many occasions where he’d clasp onto her when she’s sleeping and would force himself on her, even as she was screaming and clawing herself away. It’s all so disturbing and menacing.
Aside from Hugo’s meandering and verbose ways, he writes beautifully and everything’s so detailed—many with metaphors—that just makes you feel like you’re there up on the Notre-Dame cathedral and in the streets of Paris. (You can see some examples of the metaphors towards the end of this post.) He also has a certain witty way that makes the story entertaining. The way some of the characters think, such as Captain Phoebus, are just so funny and amusing. It’s like Hugo’s just making fun of them and trying to show you their stupidity. The story’s also pretty intertwiney-twisty, like everything from different corners kind of comes together and makes sense in the end. If you like Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the WInd”, Leslie Parry’s “Church of Marvels”, or Anthony Dooer’s “All the Light We Cannot See”—where all the loose ends connect eventually, you’ll enjoy this one (though more history-heavy).
I would highly recommend this book..BUT if you just want a fun, light, thrilling read, you should just get the ABRIDGED version. If you want a historical fiction on Paris, then get this unabridged one. The plot is intense and will blow your mind. The ending will also shatter your heart into tiny, irreparable pieces. It will destroy the Disney version you love so much.
Here are some of my photos from my visit to the cathedral back in February 2013:
For those that have yet to visit the cathedral, here’s a (long) description in the book that explains the overwhelming feeling of awe when you are up on the cathedral:
The spectator, on arriving, out of breath, upon this summit, was first of all struck by a dazzling confusion of roofs, chimneys, streets, bridges, squares, spires, steeples. All burst upon the eye at once—the formally-cut gable—the acute-angled roofing—the hanging turret at the angles of the walls—the stone pyramids of the eleventh century—the slate obelisk of the fifteenth—the donjon tower, round and bare—the church tower, square and decorated—the large and the small, the massive, and the airy. The gaze was for some time utterly bewildered by this labyrinth, in which there was nothing but proceeded from art […] (pg.118)
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
For love is like a tree vegetating of itself, striking deep roots through all our being, and often continuing to grow greenly over a heart in ruins. And inexplicable as it is, the blinder is this passion the more it is tenacious. It is never more firmly seated than when it is without a shadow of reason. (pg.344)
[…] it seemed to the young man that life had but one sole object, and that was to know (learn). (pg.141)
The instincts of women comprehend and correspond with each other more quickly than the understandings of men. An enemy had arrived in the midst of them; all felt it—all rallied. One drop of wine is sufficient to tinge a whole glass of water; and to diffuse a certain degree of ill-temper throughout a company of pretty woman, it is only necessary for one still prettier to make her appearance—especially when there is but one man in the room. (pg.231)
He, for this part, knew not—he, whose heart was as light as air—he, who observed no law in the world but the good old law of nature—he, who allowed his passions to flow according to their natural tendency, and in whom the lake of strong emotions was always dry, by so many fresh drains did he let it off daily—he knew not with what fury that sea of the human passions ferments and boils when it is refused all egress—how it gathers strength, swells, and overflows—how it wears away the heart—how it breaks forth in inward sobs and suffers convulsions, until it has rent away its dikes and even burst its bed. (pg. 253)
When one does evil one should do it thoroughly. ‘Tis madness to stop midway in the monstrous! The extremity of crime has its delirium of joy! (pg.304)