Thursday, January 17, 2013

Historical Romance

Notre-Dame of Paris
Notre-Dame of Paris 

“Love is like a tree: it shoots of itself; it strikes it's roots deeply into our whole being, and frequently continues to put forth green leaves over a heart in ruins. And there is this unaccountable circumstance attending it, that the blinder the passion the more tenacious it is. Never is it stronger than when it is most unreasonable.”  ― Victor Hugo, The Huntchback of Notre Dame

Several years ago I both read this book and saw an adaptation of it for the stage as a musical! They were both great productions. The original began appearing in the bookshops of Paris on March 16, 1831 as a new novel from the pen of Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris. This novel, which is now popularly known as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", tells the emotionally exhausting tale of the penniless poet, Gringoire the demonic, lecherous priest, Frollo, the handsome, empty-headed, guardsman, Captain Phoebus, the deaf bell-ringer, Quasimodo, with his hump and his wart-obscured eye, and the beautiful gypsy girl they all fall in love with: Esmeralda, whose only friend in the world is her performing goat, Djali (the name Emma Bovary gives to her lap-dog twenty-six years later).
The epicenter of the novel is the Gothic cathedral. In the minds of progressive Parisians, it was a shabby relic of the barbarian past. Hugo himself explored the cathedral climbing the bell-towers and it is there that he discovered his inspiration for the story. The story is sited in 1482 at the historical crossroads when the modern world was struggling to be born and when the printed word began to dominate and annihilate that older form of writing--architecture. Hugo's own "basketful of rubble" is reminiscent of the Renaissance novelist whose tale, though gargantuan, was also thought by some to be no better than rubble (The opposite is true and the wise reader should explore the beauty of Rabelais if he has not already done so).
Hugo's novel is one of the great historical romances of all time with characters in the Hunchback Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Frollo who you will never forget. The City of Paris and the Cathedral of Notre Dame also come alive in Hugo's story and you see the power of love and loyalty that can persevere in the face of evil. The theme of justice also resounds in this novel almost as much as in Les Miserables. It is clear that this was an important concept for Hugo. For lovers of romantic historical literature this is a great read.

Notre-Dame of Paris by Victor Hugo. Penguin Classics, 1978 (1831)

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