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Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo

Here is the summary via Amazon:

The complete and unabridged translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The setting of this extraordinary historical novel is medieval Paris: a city of vividly intermingled beauty and ugliness, surging with violent life under the two towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Against this background, Victor Hugo unfolds the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to the author’s brilliant imagination and his remarkable powers of description.

Translated by Walter J. Cobb

**originally published in France, 1831.  Approx 500 pages but differs between versions*

I tend to find classic novels a huge struggle to read. This is especially true when the author takes an entire section (literally) of the book just to describe the view from the cathedral rooftop.  I knew from reading a number of modern reviews that Notre-Dame de Paris is a tiresome read at times, but even I wasn’t ready for the ratio of story involving the characters – very small – vs. the rest of the book. The rest includes architecture, history, society, more architecture, more social commentary, more history etc.

That said, I readily admit to using a teaching guide so I could at least follow and try to absorb what Hugo was trying to tell his readers.  I think that really enriched the read. I know next to nothing about French history so it was kind of interesting to see the parallels and explanations that he was giving the 1830s Paris readers, of the medieval 1400s Paris in which the book takes place.  Truly this is a piece of historical fiction

There is also a running commentary on architecture, orphans, classism, unrequited love and all the forms it can take, plus internal vs external beauty.  I liked the parts that actually focused on the characters.

The characters are really funny actually, I liked Gringoire the most. I think he liked the goat more than he liked La Esmerelda. Then she was terrified of everyone else who loved her, except for Phoebus, who was (pardon my French haha) basically chasing hookers.  She was obsessed with the idea of him. Frollo and his failures made for an interesting villain,he basically sunk into madness once his ideals were thrown haywire and his life caught up with him.

One other thing that seemed funny was that in this original version, La Esmeralda had absolutely NO personality at all, she was just entirely a tool for the story. The men were actually interesting though, and so was the general arc of the story

Oh, gosh, I forgot the one that truly had me cracking up – the frequent use of the word Ejaculated in conversation 😂 oh I do hope that wasn’t the translator having a gag at Hugo for some reason. It does make me wish I could read in other languages – how much of an original work truly gets lost in translation?

This one was a true struggle but I’d recommend reading it if you enjoy classics! I would imagine though that Hugo was rolling in his grave over the Disney version, what a travesty haha I was expecting something much different but am glad that I read the full, unabridged translation.

3 replies on “Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo”

i’m sure there are, I admit to skimming some of the parts that absolutely could never be relevant to anyone other than a 1830s parisian

Liked by 2 people

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