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Friday, July 06, 2012

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

Book Review
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris)
by Victor Hugo
published in 1831
Read on a Kindle

  I think Victor Hugo has a bad rap because the current popular versions of his two enduring hits (this book and Les Miserables) are a Disney movie and a Broadway musical.   I can say that the Disney movie does not do the novel a whole lot of justice.  The novel is super dark, set in Paris in the 15th century, Victor Hugo is doing his best take on a Sir Walter Scott novel: historical fiction.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published at the tail end of Sir Walter Scott's prolific 1820s.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was translated twice in 1833, once by noted literary scenester William Hazlitt.  There are also six major new translations in the 19th and 20th century.

   The enduring international popularity of this work lies in the "Orientalization" of Paris by a Parisian, a kind of self-colonization where the Artist is knowingly catering to Audience taste. The key, of course, is setting The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the past.   There is no ignoring the clunky narrative that is a hallwark of Sir Walter Scott and his followers- the reader is treated to a street by street description of Paris that would be awkward in A  TRAVEL BOOK- it takes up 50 plus pages of text in the Kindle edition.

  The sheer length of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is off-putting to a modern reader, but the digressive/documentary interludes kind of ring a bell for people who like David Foster Wallace or William Vollmann.  At the same time I can easily see why Disney chose to make a "Disney Version"- hey, it's public domain material.

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