The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Paperback, 320 pages, Published April 1st 1981 by Bantam Books (first published January 14th 1831)
This extraordinary historical novel, set in Medieval Paris under the twin towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, is 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 Victor Hugo's brilliant historical imagination and his remarkable powers of description.
S1: E2 Rory and Lorelai sit in their Jeep collecting themselves before walking into Chilton, Rory's new intimidating preparatory school, to meet with Headmaster Charleston. It's Rory's first day of classes since her acceptance and transfer from Stars Hollow High.
RORY: What are you looking at? LORELAI: I'm just trying to see if there's a hunchback up in that bell tower.
S2: E7 Rory is told to socialize at Chilton as it is important to her education as academia and will reflect on her college recommendations. She inadvertently becomes involved with an all-girls secret society called the Puffs, requiring an illegal initiation rite to join. The girls are then caught by the police for breaking and entering into the headmaster's office to ring the historical bell of Chilton during the initiation ceremony.
LORELAI: That's what you got busted for, ringing a bell?
RORY: Yeah, mm-hmm.
LORELAI: That's it? Bell ringing?
LORELAI: Uh, were you at least smoking a Cuban cigar while you were doing it?
LORELAI: No, I mean, bad girl. How many times have I told you not to ring bells?
RORY: Let's go.
LORELAI: They can dent or scratch and they make dogs crazy. Who do you think you are, the hunchback of Notre Dame? Are you French, are you circular, I don't think so.
S3: E9 Sookie, a gourmet chef, has let her husband Jackson cook the turkey for Thanksgiving while hosting his family. She was planning to fix it to her liking when he stepped out of the kitchen and is appalled to find out he plans on deep-frying the turkey instead.
LORELAI: What’s that?
SOOKIE: That is a vat of boiling oil.
LORELAI: Really? Where’s Quasimodo?
SOOKIE: This is not a joking matter.
RORY: What is the oil for?
LORELAI: For pouring on Visigoths.
LORELAI: When else am I gonna get to use my Visigoth material?
RORY: What’s the oil for?
SOOKIE: The turkey. My beautiful, expensive, organically grown turkey.
S3: E10 Richard is having his birthday celebration during their weekly Friday Night Dinner where each Gilmore girl has given him a gift. Unexpectantly Richard's mother, Trix, walks in.
TRIX: Now, how is the birthday going?
RICHARD: Wonderfully. They’re spoiling me rotten. Emily got me the most beautiful humidor. It’s from 1917 and was owned by a lieutenant in World War I.
TRIX: You know, your father had a humidor that was owned by Victor Hugo.
TRIX: I still have it if you’d like it.
S4: E1 Lorelai and Rory have returned from their backpacking through Europe and are gifting their collected souvenirs to the town. They realize upon coming home that they have forgotten a gift for Luke, justifying that nothing was fitting for him while traveling. Returning from giving Sookie and Jackson their gifts, Lorelai comes back with an ironic jam for Luke.
RORY: I cannot believe you.
LORELAI: What? It's the perfect gift for Luke. Fine fancy jam from France.
RORY: Fine fancy jam from Jackson's pantry.
LORELAI: I don't know what you're talking about. I am looking right here at this beautiful hand-crafted label and it says "Fruits de la Terre."
RORY: You didn't even spellcheck to make sure you got the French right.
LORELAI: Yes, well, I think it adds an authentic touch. See, in my world, the person who made this jam was an illiterate orphan... Sochelle.
RORY: As in Sochelle Crab.
LORELAI: Yes, exactly. Sochelle was born by the sea, or so said the note left in the bassinet when the nuns found her on the steps of Notre Dame.
S4: E11 The Stars Hollow church bells fell into disrepair 20 years prior, but a recently deceased townsperson, Stan Green, bequeathed the funds for the restoration where they successfully begin to ring once again. The bells then drive everyone to madness, ringing at all hours of the day and night. Lorelai asks Luke if he wants to help her break the bells.
LORELAI: So, what's the game plan here? Personally, I thought we could whack the bells really hard with a hammer.
LUKE: Uh, you don't break bells with a hammer.
LORELAI: Okay, I'm out. What's your plan, Clyde?
LUKE: Well, I was thinking we could just jam the turnbuckle, or wedge the main mechanism, just for fun disconnect a few of the clappers; contrary to popular belief you don't have to break every bell. If you just damage a couple, say the tierce and the prime, you pretty much ruin the set.
LORELAI: You must have been the top of your class at hunchback school.
It is ironic that it is the duty of the Hunchback of Notre Dame to ring the bells of the Cathedral at specific times of day when Lorelai's one clock did not ring properly the morning of Rory's first day at Chilton. The architecture of Chilton is mentioned many times throughout the series, and the gothic architecture is compared to Notre Dame starting in S1: E2 and continuing throughout Rory's last time at Chilton during her graduation in S3: E22 where Jackson and Luke discuss the immensity of the building and Lorelai points out its gargoyles.
The most recent film adaptation for Lorelai and Rory in 2001 would be the 1996 animated Disney version. While the reading of this book or the movie is never mentioned, we can suspect that since most of Lorelai's references are from watching movies, the bell comments are exclusively from the 1996 version of the film. However, her more detailed mentions of Visigoth knowledge elude to a reading of the book, a very different experience than Disney.
"Many Parisians still find deep satisfaction in watching people who are watching something; even a wall behind which something is happening is an object of great curiosity to them." - Book 1, Chapter 1
"La Esmeralda was, in Gringoire's opinion, a pretty, charming and harmless creature; a naive, exuberant girl, ignorant of everything and enthusiastic about everything, . . .; fond, above all, of dancing, noise and open air." - Book 6, Chapter 2
"When one does evil, one must do it thoroughly; it's madness to stop halfway! The extremity of crime has a certain delirium of joy." - Book 6, Chapter 4
Amidst some of the darker themes of lust and fate, I found the simplicity of Gringoire's admiration and concern for Djali heartwarming and comical. The language and description of Notre Dame itself, and the enveloping of plot within Hugo's knowledge of architecture was artful e.g. the descriptive searching through the Cathedral's many passageways and secret doors during the uprising. More succinctly, Esmeralda's story is most gripping. It is the small detailing of our decisions that seal our ends, and the details of each character's choice settled their fates and gave closure to the reader in their endings. When Esmeralda gains sanctuary due to Quasimodo's chivalry, she takes refuge in Notre Dame with him; it's here that we gain insight into the golden heart of Quasimodo when he lays flowers into two vases in gift to her, one, a worn pot with radiant flowers, and the other a beautiful crystal vase with dead flowers. Esmeralda chooses the dead flowers to pin upon her chest, ultimately sealing her fortune to love Phoebus and his lack of moral virtue over Quasimodo's true heart.
WHAT THE WHAT?:
You might call Notre-Dame de Paris a love letter to gothic architecture and note that this original title depicts the true central character of the book, the Cathedral itself. It is said that Victor Hugo was unhappy with the American title change to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for the novel may grip your emotions with Quasimodo's heart, but the real story is within the architecture of one of Paris' most famous landmarks, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. What can be derived as an American marketing move perhaps does create a misleading concept of the contents within book, I also thought the story was a tale of Quasimodo's life, yet he plays a small role and appears more as a pawn throughout the novel. The Cathedral is the clear focal point, and the secrets within its walls showcase the intermixing of sealed human fates for the lives inside and surrounding it.
CARO'S RATING: 5 of 5 STARS
The mastery of description and detached viewing of the character fate through the eyes of Notre Dame is remarkable. I really enjoyed the dark setting of the book and found that the historical insight into the town square's true role, as a viewing spectacle to human torture and a signifier of social status and power, enlightening. We often romanticize history and the truths articulated of crime and witchcraft in the novel are common to ones that we conveniently forget. Hugo's great love of architecture shines through as the leading voice of the novel and has left me with a marked impression, to recognize the hard work and labor that create what we so easily take for granted in the beauty that surrounds us.
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