Form and Content
Set in France during the reign of Louis XI, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a historical novel of epic proportions that appeals to a broad readership. Victor Hugo vividly re-creates the teeming Paris of the late Middle Ages, with its sharp roofs and narrow, muddy streets, as well as the people, customs, and pageantry of fifteenth century France. He also presents conflicts and themes that resonate with adults both young and old because they are at the core of the human condition.
The novel’s action is divided among a number of crucial days spread over six months (January to July), enhanced by fascinating short essays on various subjects ranging from alchemy to the future of architecture. If at first the narrative concentrates on Pierre Gringoire walking around Paris, it soon shifts to the other characters as Hugo describes in omniscient fashion or through authorial intrusions their thoughts and movements, which he often explains and compares in the light of modern events and ways of thinking, such as the Revolution of 1830 or the need to abolish the death penalty.
Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame, had adopted some twenty years before an ugly and deformed infant found on Quasimodo Sunday (hence his name), whom he had reared within the confines of the cathedral. Now, in 1482, Frollo is involved in transforming base metals into gold through alchemy, and the hunchback has become the official bell-ringer. When the priest sees...
(The entire section is 505 words.)