Friday, November 7, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo // I try not to talk about Frollo - and fail





Summary

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent.






Before I begin discussing characters and meaning and all that great literary analysis stuff, I'd like to mention that it was definitely shorter than I expected. I mean, I've read Les Miserables twice, and that thing is huge! So when I went to get HoND from the library, I was expecting something equivalent. Nope - it's about a quarter of the size. Seriously. It's absolutely tiny (compared to other classics).

Nevertheless, it's size did not make it exempt from Hugo's notorious digressions. However, there weren't as many - thank goodness. Some people may like them - I most definitely find them quite boring.

The character I really want to talk about is Frollo, but there's a separate post entirely on him coming tomorrow. So. I shall refrain.

An interesting commentary that Hugo makes in HoND is the idea of the shifting mob. So many times throughout the book he shows how a large group of people can be swayed by one insistent leader. Do we want the play or not? Is Quasimodo superb and hilarious - or evil and dangerous? Is Notre Dame a safe-haven for the gypsy - or a prison? Mobs show up so many times in this story that you begin to wonder - how sheeplike are these people? Also - would we do the same? Perhaps we would.

(Side note: goodness, there are a lot of question marks in the previous paragraph.)

I think the main story here boils down to a theme of misunderstanding. There's the obvious misunderstanding of Quasimodo that causes the destruction at the end, but also, gently interwoven, are other examples. The reclusive woman of the Tour Roland misunderstands who Esmeralda is. Esmeralda, on her end, cannot see through Phoebus's guise. (THAT JERK.) And, on a higher level, Frollo misunderstands what his vocation is. Clearly, if he truly had been guided to the vocation of a priest, he would not have had such a struggle with his love for Esmeralda, because he would be wholly devoted to God. But he joined the priesthood for the wrong reasons - because he wanted to devote himself to his studies, because he thought it was "the way" to salvation, because he he had never fallen in love before, and so thought himself incapable of it.

(Darn. Even when I say I'm not going to talk about Frollo, I end up rambling about him. He's just such an utterly spectacular and intricate antagonist - but that's for tomorrow.)


So really, I think misunderstanding and judging other people incorrecly are the causes of the tragedy here. HoND is so intricate and has so many levels, that I am definitely buying this book to reread at least once more. I'd love to see what else I can uncover.

Have you read The Hunchback of Notre Dame? (Or seen the Disney movie? I haven't. Should I?) What do you think about mobs?

~Sophia


10 comments:

  1. I saw the disney movie earlier this year and it certainly wasn't one of my favorites. This is on my TBR challenge list though so I have to get it read before this year ends.

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    1. Definitely get to it! It's a fabulous book. That's too bad you didn't like the movie - I'm going to watch it, but I'm thinking I may be disappointed, just because I've read the book.

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  2. I'm coming down firmly against mobs. First, I don't like crowds really at all. Second, It's kind of amazing how stupidity can be amplified in a group and stupidity is never something you want amplified. At least I'm pretty sure about that. I'm sorry to say that I have never read Hugo and you have convinced me that I need to do better. I have always wanted to read Les Miserables and I should get on with it already.

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    1. Get on with it already! :-)

      No, but seriously, you'll enjoy his work. Though with Les Miz, be prepared for lengthy digressions, and to skip over them, if necessary. The actual story and characters? Superb.

      And that's very true about mobs and stupidity amplification. It's amazing how a mob can agree with someone one minute, and want to kill them the next.

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  3. I have wanted to read Les Miserables for a while, maybe this would be a good stepping stone towards it!

    I think misunderstanding situations and misjudging people are probably the two things that are responsible for most of the stupid stuff that happens in the world. I think that everyone needs to work towards holding back judgement until we actually know all of the facts, and try to sit back and think before reacting to stuff (much easier to say than do)! That's why education is so important, and why we should all keep learning even when we've left school - it's not just about knowing facts, it's about being able to think independently and not follow the mob.

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    1. This would be a great stepping stone! (Though personally, I like Les Miz better, despite it's abundance of digressions.)

      And exactly! If everyone made educated decisions, the world would be a much better place. :-)

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  4. I loved the Disney movie when I was a kid. It really focuses on Quasimodo and his role as an outsider. It's a sweet film, but when I read the book in my early teens I was shocked, because Hugo's story is nothing like the movie. Your comments on Hugo's treatment of mob mentality and misunderstanding were very interesting; it's been a while since I read any of his books, but I seem to remember that the same ideas appear in Les Miserables as well. I think they're definitely ideas that are still relevant today. :)

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    1. I guess I'll have to watch the movie without thinking about the book. I think I'll enjoy it more that way. :-)

      Les Miz definitely shares themes with HoND. HoND and Les Miz are the only two books I've read of Hugo's, but it seems like he likes to include themes that stretch across all his work. Another one I didn't mention was the oppression of the lower classes, which to me seemed bigger in Les Miz, but still played a role in HoND.

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  5. Okay I just finished it last week and I must say that Phoebus is HORRIBLE and Frollo creeps me out. Also, I got a way different representation of Esmeralda from what people had said and the Disney movie that I was rather pleasantly surprised by her. Not that she was the greatest person and indeed I found her rather petulant and hung up on Phoebus all the time but she wasn't really a "loose gypsy dancer" like I was made to think she was.

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    1. Oh the Disney movie makes her into a loose gypsy dancer? Phooey. I can't wait to watch that thing and critique the heck out of it! (All in fun, of course...) :-D
      But that's a pity - it sounds like she loses that innocence that defines her in the book.

      And FROLLO JUST CREEPS EVERYONE OUT. So.

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