Note: this is an old draft I’m posting just to keep the blog updated. Until I decide what to do, I’m following legal advice and Shutting the Fuck Up About Things.
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This tacky book cover made me laugh. What was the editor thinking? “We need to grab the readers’ attention?” “This book is required reading for High School students, so this sleazy cover art will make them interested?”
How can you give Victor Hugo this treatment? The Hunchback of Notre Dame is ART, man! ART!
Actually, it is a pretty racy book, and I was stunned when I learned that Disney was making it into a G-rated children’s cartoon. I had no idea how the writers would be able to edit it in order to make it acceptable “family” entertainment. The book is full of violence, sexually ambiguous situations, and morally complicated characters. The politics therein are not exactly conservative, either.
I re-read the book yesterday. I have the 1833 translation, which sort of sucks, but oh well (if you read foreign literature, shop around the amazon reviews to find the best translation. It makes a huge difference). It’s very good, if a little…melodramatic, but I remembered why I liked it so much as a teenager, even if some of the complexities went right over my head the first time I read it.
I remembered Claude Frollo as a deranged homicidal maniac, but now I see he is actually a complex character who is kinda sympathetic. He is a responsible, sensitive intellectual who lead a very full life until he has his stupid midlife crisis. He raises his little brother and loves him very much. His little brother grows up to be a useless, undisciplined (but still sort of charming) drunk. Frollo loves him anyway and continues to support him and pay his college tuition, and he tried to get him back on the straight and narrow. Frollo needs Al-Anon. I wonder if there was a French word for co-dependent in Victor Hugo’s time.
Then Frollo saved and reared the hunchbacked Quasimodo as his own son. He educated him and had hopes of making him into a scholar. Unfortunately, Quasimodo’s hearing was damaged from ringing the church bells–occupational hazard, and no worker’s comp back then, major bummer–so that put an end to his academic ambitions.
Those were major personal defeats for Frollo, whose life hitherto seemed to be one big winning streak and triumph over adversity. Suddenly he’s hitting middle age, and shit’s just not working out. It’s enough to make a person depressed.
So, he takes up some new hobbies: alchemy…and, alas, a girl. He has a breakdown, starts to get very selfish, and his moral rigidity doesn’t let him recognize his own hypocrisy or learn from his mistakes. He destroys himself. It’s sad. Shit went downhill fast with Frollo.
Esmerelda is a really good person. She is kind and merciful. I think she is also a streetwalker, but Hugo couldn’t really say that.
She’s the stereotypical Hooker with the Heart of Gold. Unfortunately, she’s kinda dumb and also has awful taste in men, and falls for a handsome but morally hideous womanizing dudebro of a soldier, Phoebus (note: I fucking hate Phoebus and I wish Frollo had managed to kill him). What sort of a douchebag is Pheobus…? The sort of douchebag who is so foul-mouthed and illiterate that he can’t let himself speak freely outside of a bar because he knows he will inevitably offend the people around him. The sort of guy who would hide a male friend in a bedroom closet so that his friend could watch him seduce and shag an unsuspecting girl. Keep it classy, Phoebus! BOOOOOOO!
This awful dudebro manages to marry into the middle class, too. Joke’s on his bride, but she’s a jerk, too, so all’s well that ends well for those two.
Good summer reading. The novel has a lot of absurd plot twists and impossible conveniences that characterize 19th-century literature (Dickens was the worst when he came to impossible conveniences, yikes), but this book is a lot of fun and you can read it in a day.