Like Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo also excels in giving us deep literature. The second book I read for my advanced world literature class was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This read was more challenging, in some ways, than The Three Musketeers. Like Dumas, Hugo excels in presenting historical events with great clarity. Perhaps even more so. However, Hugo can be quite descriptive in his language and tends to elaborate for many pages on a single event or theme. Because of this, it takes a little more patience to read his work than Dumas. Nevertheless, Hugo’s themes are timeless and intriguing. His characters are thought provoking in and of themselves. His settings are colossal in scope. And his plots come together in both heart warming and tragic ways.
Hugo writes of medieval Paris, a place mixed with royal authority and vagabonds. In the Cathedral de Notre Dame lives a priest named Claude Frollo, a respectable religious man. One day, he finds an infant on the doorsteps of the cathedral, a deformed child too hideous to stare at. Afraid that others will abuse the child for his deformity, Frollo takes him with him to live in the cathedral. As the child grows, he turns out to be a hunchback whom Claude names Quasimodo. Quasimodo spends his daily hours looking down on Paris, ringing the church bells, aware of his hideousness and therefore frightened of society. He finds comfort in his priestly father, the only one willing to take him in.
While Quasimodo lives peacefully in his sanctuary, La Esmerelda, a gypsy dancer, entertains the citizens of Paris. She doesn’t have everyone on her side; a recluse accuses her and her people of kidnapping her daughter. Therefore, only evil can come from gypsies. On the other hand, a captain of the king’s guard takes a look at La Esmerelda and likes what he sees. And likewise, Esmerelda likes the Captain.
However, Claude Frollo also sees the beauty of La Esmerelda and develops a deep longing for her, one that turns him into a demonic fiend. For instead of talking civilly with the gypsy, he devises ways of having her come to him against her will. She stubbornly resists the priest’s attempts, but is almost captured by some men. At that moment, Quasimodo rescues her and takes her safely into the cathedral, not to the knowledge of Frollo. Though grateful to Quasimodo, Esmerelda can hardly bare to look at the hunchback. She has never in her life seen someone so deformed. Yet she gets along with him as best she can. As Hugo’s story progresses, the action becomes more intense and the characters interact with one another in tragic ways, creating a lasting impression on the reader.
I give this novel a four out of five. Hugo’s characters are memorable in what they represent: timeless personalities. Though his descriptive chapters are quite a challenge to the reader, I respect such depth in an author. It makes one think through what they are reading. I’ll never forget the chapter in which Hugo spends around thirty pages describing Paris. He does the same thing in his 1862 tour de force: Les Miserables (sorry, can’t give a correct accent). That is another book review for another day. Check out Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s one of the French’s finest works. Both Les Mis and Hunchback are really the only works from Hugo I’m into. if I read anything else form Hugo, it might be his poetry, or maybe another novel of his called Toilers of the Sea. Who knows?