The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo’s second novel, emphasizes the theme of anank, the Greek word for fate or necessity. Anank appears in the novel chiefly as inevitable transition; stylistically, the transition is from classicism to Romanticism and, ultimately, from the human to the divine. The cathedral of Notre-Dame is the embodiment of what must be recognized as the permanence of transition. In origin a Gallo-Roman temple to the classical deity Jupiter, it became a Christian basilica and, later, in the twelfth century, a Romanesque cathedral; as its construction continued into the thirteenth century, the Gothic style overtook and succeeded the Romanesque configuration; and the cathedral, completed in 1345, stood as the architectural scripture of its own history. The novel is about this cathedral as a statement of anank more than it is about any particular one of its many characters. In that sense, to translate the title, Notre-Dame de Paris, into The Hunchback of Notre Dame is seriously to delimit the magnitude of the novel.
The action of the novel begins on January 6, 1482, and ends in July of the same year, with an epilogistic chapter disclosing the fate of Quasimodo, the hunchback, dated to mid-1484. Esmeralda, a sixteen-year-old woman, identified as a gypsy and dancing in the company of her trained goat, catches the eye of Archdeacon Frollo, who orders his misshapen ward, Quasimodo, to kidnap her. Gringoire, a poet, fails in his efforts to intervene, but...
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