Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review- The Hunchback of Notre Dame

My familiarity with this story before reading it was narrowed down to my one viewing of the Disney movie, which I knew probably would be far off from the original story, and reading the back of a film version of it that my Dad had. Neither were accurate representations unfortunately.
So here's the Goodreads synopsis and then let's get to my thoughts!
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. Victor Hugo's sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.
So basically it's a love story? There's a question mark there because I thought of it more as a lust story. Everyone is lusting after Esmeralda... except Quasimodo... which I suppose was their point in saying it was a love story... but still, I envision it as more of a lust story. Your thoughts?
Anyways, here's my thoughts on the characters, since it really is very much a character driven story.


This was really the only character I liked in the story. You feel sorry for him and sometimes empathize with him. I think we've all experienced rejection at some level. He gives of himself selflessly without any hope of getting anything in return. There's not really anything negative to say about him. 

Pierre Gringoire

Kind of a good character but kind of annoying but really just in the books for comic relief and it works. He comes into the story as the author of a play that is to be performed (but never is) and that whole situation is rather funny. However, more importantly he comes into the story when he gets captured by the gypsies after accidentally stumbling into their camp and when he is about to be killed Esmeralda rescues him out of pity by agreeing to marry him. However, their "marriage" is unconsummated as (see below) Esmeralda is sworn to virginity. Gringoire then floats through story making smile and lending himself to the plot of the story at odd moments. 
I love this dialogue and it really sums up the character: 
(Frollo trying to convince Gringoire to help rescue Esmeralda) "What then? Why, she will go into your clothes and you will remain in hers. You may get hanged, perhaps, but she will be saved."
Gringoire scratched his ear with a very serious air. "Well," said he, "There is an idea that would never have come into my head of itself."
(Frollo) "Well, Gringoire, What say you to the plan?"
"I say master that I shall not be hanged perhaps, but that I shall be hanged indubitably."


Esmeralda was a likable character too and technically one of the other "good characters" in the story. However often times I found her petulant and entirely caught up over Phoebus and in denial about his true nature. She didn't always treat Quasimodo well though he tried his best help her. However, over all I found her to be kind and considerate. I must say that when I read the book I was shocked by her character. Not because she was bad obviously but because I thought she was bad. In the Disney movie she does do some rather "lewd dancing" and on the back of the live action film that my Dad has it says she was arrested for "lewd dancing"... which was NOT the case. Yes, she is a gypsy dancer and you really don't know what kind of dancing she was doing and it probably wasn't the best but that really wasn't the point. When you read the book you realize that she is a virgin, though I would say for the wrong reasons, and while she may be somewhat of a flirt she is not a loose woman (read the book to understand the reasons cause they're to complicated to explain here). However, when it came to Phoebus, it could have ended up very differently. Which leads me to... 


I can't decide who I despise more... Frollo or Phoebus. Phoebus is a captain of the guard who is basically a womanizer and Esmeralda is to be one of his conquests and she would have had him be on of his conquests out of ridiculous love for him if circumstances hadn't happened (sorry no spoilers on that part!). One of the last lines of the book and the last note about him, makes me smile: SPOILERS Phoebus de Chateaupers also came to a tragical end: he married. END SPOILERS.


I leave the worst and most complicated for last. I say complicated though and I'm not sure. How complicated is Frollo's lust for Esmeralda? Basically, it was sin, and basically Frollo should not have been a priest. I can't feel sorry for Frollo but instead I'm disgusted and creeped out by him. One of the few parts I like of the Disney movie is the song The Bells of Notre Dame and the line "Who is the monster and who is the man?" in respect to Frollo and Quasimodo. That is the real question of the story.

Now on past the characters! 

Of course there is more to a story than the characters and it was the more to the story that oftentimes made me unhappy with it. Besides snippets here and there, the first half of the story is basically long description about Notre Dame and Paris that is absolutely unnecessary to the story. After an incredibly long and detailed description of Paris, Hugo writes, As we constructed it in the reader's mind the general image of old Paris; we will recapitulate in a few words. A few words? Really? What followed was not a few words but I must say I wish I had had just those "few words" instead of the longer description that followed before it.
The first half though was great as the story actually got rolling. Les Mis was similar in that way with the unnecessary tangents and discussions as I recall but again it was a good book too. Hugo is a great writer but he just needed an editor.
Overall a good and interesting book. :)

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  1. Notre Dame is one of the books I' trying to avoid, for the simple reason that I don't have the heart to read it. Les Miserables gave me enough angst to deal with. Now I shudder to take anything by Hugo. Some three years ago, I watched a theatrical performance of Notre Dame, and so I kinda have all the spoilers in the world. It needs a lot of courage to just take the book and read it.


  2. Oh girl. If the rambling in Hunchback bugged you, just wait until you read Les Miz! Hunchback is an action novel compared to that. :-)

    But I entirely agree with you here on all points regarding the characters. I absolutely ABHOR Phoebus for his flippancy. At least with Frollo we kind of see where he's coming from, and how his history has led him to where he is. But Phoebus is unforgivable. :/

    1. I have read Les Mis and yeah... it is quite tedious in places. I read it so long ago I have become somewhat numb to the memories. ;)

  3. I did a comparison of the book VS the Disney movie and found it quite interesting. It was one of my favorite Project Disney (the name of the feature). The book did stir up a lot of emotions and I really enjoyed the read. Just interesting. Here is my review of the movie and book:
    Project Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame

    1. Thanks! I found your comparison very interesting!


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