Saturday, October 2, 2021
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
♦️ It's one of the hardest reads for me. Is it because I've read it during one of the toughest phases of my life? Or is it just because Hugo's isn't my cup of tea? (I struggled too when reading Les Miserables - the abridged one!)
It tells the story of the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, condemned as a witch by the tormented archdeacon Claude Frollo, who lusts after her. Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, having fallen in love with the kindhearted Esmeralda, tries to save her by hiding her in the cathedral's tower.
♦️ Set in the 15th century, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or originally: Notre Dame de Paris), talks a lot about Gothic architecture and passion. Hugo took pain to describe (or rather "preach") about the grand architecture of the church, and how architecture is an important thing in men's existence, which was about to be replaced by printing (Confession: I skipped most of these parts!)
♦️ The hunchback, who is supposed to be main character of the story, is Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, whose deformity from birth made him hated by the society. He was raised by Claude Frollo - an ambitious archdeacon - inside the Notre Dame church, and later on became its devout bell ringer.
♦️ Frollo, Quasimodo, and a gypsy girl named Esmeralda, are the three flawed characters whose lives were ruled by their passions. I can make excuse for Quasimodo, for he was cruelly marginalized by others, without opportunity to find sympathy and affection. When he became deaf, his world became narrower. Who can blame him for stubbornly loving a girl who was clearly ignorant of him and loved another?
♦️ Frollo is the antagonist here, that is clear. But what about Esmeralda? Is she a blameless victim? Not entirely. She sealed her fate when she flirted with Captain what's-his-name, and stubbornly loved him when she knew he's completely ignored her for another girl. Esmeralda is a clever girl, but she's controlled by her passion, so much so that when she finally met her estranged mother in the critical moment, her only focus was still the Captain. I wanted to strangle her so much when reading this passage - that's your mother who love you so dearly that she had sacrificed her life for you, you idiot!!
♦️ The only survivor of this tragedy is Pierre Gringoire, the poet. It's our reminder to not let our life be ruled with passion.