The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hugo,Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003),               114pp. Victor Hugo’s novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame takes place in Paris, France during the 15th century. The novel opens specifically on the day of the Festival of Fools. During this festival, Quasimodo a hunchback, is announced the Pope of Fools. He is considered a hideous character that contrasts with the beauty of the architecture of Paris during this time. He also contrasts with the beauty of not only architecture but other characters such as Esmeralda a beautiful gypsy woman.

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Hugo also uses Quasimodo’s hideous features in comparison with the crumbling of architecture. Hugo considers Quasimodo one entity with the Cathedral of Notre Dame where he spends his days and is the bell ringer. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an excellent example of a fictional historical novel. It blends accurate details of architecture and fictional characters to emphasize Paris, France during the 15th century. The setting in Hugo’s novel is detailed poetically. Hugo details architectural structure of three time periods.

The three time periods could be seen in the architecture of the 1400’s because the old styles could be observed in the newer styles. Hugo describes architecture as social work not individual artworks (Hugo 114). That you can see the past through the current styles. Hugo details Paris in three zones the Roman, Gothic, and the Renaissance. Gringoire the main speaker in the novel (playwright/poet) details the setting in the first few chapters. He does this from an aerial view atop the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Hugo accurately gives his readers a historical view of Paris, while embellishing with details from actual occurrences such as the Festival of Fools. When detailing the Festival of Fools he gives a colorful detail of Putman 2 festivals that would occur while introducing descriptions of lesser appealing character types. These less glorified character types were beggars and thieves that would travel the streets of Paris. This blend of beauty and ugliness can be seen throughout the book accurately describes Paris during this time.

In Hugo’s novel he mixes fictional characters with a few historical figures. Many of the fictional characters could have been based on historical figures. Charles VII father of Louis XI the King of France during 1482 are two real historical characters mentioned in Hugo’s novel. Louis XI is detailed as a brutal ruler in Hugo’s novel who orders the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda to be executed. The portrayal of Louis XI is accurate because Louis XI was known for his ruefulness and wanted to expand his power.

The focus of Hugo’s novel does not emphasize the accuracy of the characters but on the setting, architecture, and the arts of the time. Though the focus is not on the accuracy of the characters the fictional characters do keep with the historical setting with portraying a character type rather than a specific character. The plot follows the story of the characters not the historical precision of the book. The historical exactness comes through Hugo’s detailed description of architecture and the arts which then paints a picture of France during the 15th century.

The plot focuses on the lives of the fictional characters while dealing with themes of love, beauty, viciousness, and ugliness. The conflict in the story is fictional surrounding the lives of the main characters like Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Claude Frollo, and Pierre Gringoire. Putman 3 Hugo shares his love for beauty and architecture through his novel by commenting on the social condition of the architecture of France. He realizes the beauty of the arts/architecture cannot last.

He uses the character Gringoire to detail his frustration with the idea that the beauty of the 15th century Paris was changing and falling apart. He believes that the invention of the printing press will be the destruction of architecture do to the fact that paper is obviously more economical and easier to come by (Hugo 192). Hugo also uses his characters to represent the theme of ugliness. He uses people with physical and mental disabilities to comment on the social condition of France. He uses the vagabonds and gypsies to emphasize that Paris was falling before his eyes and ever-changing.

He compares the beauty and ugliness to make the point that the Roman, Gothic, and the Renaissance era were coming to a close. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is considered a historical novel because of its detailed portrayal of the social construction of architecture of the 15th century. The novel is a good example of a fictional historical novel because it mixes a fictional plot and conflict with a realistic setting. The poetic language used to describe actual architectural structures creates a fictional tone rather than a historical tone.

Hugo’s novel is an excellent example of a fictional historical novel. The book uses common themes that people can understand to make his point about the social conditions of Paris during this time. The language in the novel can be difficult to follow with the use of Latin and Spanish words along with Hugo’s poetic speech. I would recommend this book based on Putman 4 the beautiful detail of Gothic architecture. Hugo provides an excellent vivid detail of spiral arabesques and twisting labyrinths that describe the Middle Ages coming to a close (Hugo, 137).


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