Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo)

So let's be frank. When your brain goes 'golly, it'd be nice to read something pleasant and cheerful and simple', let's just say that Good Master Hugo doesn't come to mind. You don't come into a Hugo novel thinking 'oh how lovely it will be to read this!' It's sort of... penance you pay for being a human being. I, on that count, am a kind of medieval sort, a flagellant, who continues to punish himself with beautiful thinks that hurt me, I suppose, because I keep reading, like one of those people who crawls all the way to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe every year. I love Victor Hugo, I do. There's a peculiar church from vietnam who venerate Cao Dai as a saint, beside Buddha, Moses, and Lenin (Saint Lenin? Hrm...), and I can understand them, not that I worship Hugo or anything, but Hugo, like the ancient saints, is a man with a love so great it cannot stand wickedness - he would forgive the adulteress, and cleanse the temple (not, mind you, that he lived an EXEMPLARY life, as it were...). Hugo is a writer who does not hate wickedness, but who loves humanity so much that he cannot abide anything that hurts it. He does not wear his heart on his sleeve, he holds it in ihs hand and uses it like a sap.

That being said, this book is not as cruel to it's readers as Les Miserables, which is beyond words for me.

I don't know, I guess there is spoilers in here, maybe. But, really, honestly, it is not hard to see how things turn out in this book. The only spoiler would be that I can tell you now, Hugo may tease you with the possibility of some of his characters escaping their fate. They don't, they can't. The world, unliberated, still bearing the heavy weight of dehumanizing feudalism, not yet ready to percolate into the beloved Revolution of our author, is not about to let a soul live a happy life. Except the goat. I guess things turn out okay for Gringoire and the goat. Then again, knowing Gringoire, he may have had a fickle day and treated it in Jamaican fashion.

Ok, as long as we're on the subject - how did ANYONE in their RIGHT MIND, sit down and think 'Hey, you know what would make a good Disney Movie? The Hunchback of Notre Dame!' Yeah, let's see, a lecherous priest, a virulently racist mother who spends the book damning her own child, a beautiful girl who decides to give up her virginity, who is later hung for witchcraft... yeah, sounds like Disney! Just put in some dancing gargoyles for comic relief, it'll work itself out!

Alright, now that THAT is off my chest...

This really is a great, a beautiful, crushing work. You won't get half of it - I don't get three quarters of it. Honestly I think Hugo intends it that way, he puts in so many little details, about the age the book takes place: the guy the king has had locked up for fourteen years (the Bishop of Verdun) , the jokes the academics make, the shape of this persons nose, the difference between stripes on country versus city dresses (Parisians wear their stripes vertically, apparently, round about Louis XI's time). This is supposed to sweep over you like a tide, to force you to just accept that the time is past. the very ancientness of the book, at first, makes you feel a certain sense of cultural gratification, like, we're past that now. We don't lock ourselves into towers to mourn, or hang people in the public square (thought we do feature it on the local news...). TYou get lulled into that, and then it creeps over you, that all of these people, these are people like you - myself, I'm so like Claude Frollo the evil Archdeacon, that I feel like the book was WRITTEN to me - and that, really, we're no better than we were then, that we cling to all the same old wickedness, that we take pleasure in vengeance in slaughter, that we think ourselves better than others for arbitrary reasons, that even our charitable acts are tinged with something less admirable, usually. It's a sobering book, not just because everyone dies, but because you feel like you could of prevented it...

6 comments:

Amanda said...

I must say, I love the curried goat. Yep. And I'm going to have to read up on that bizarre church...

Jason Gignac said...

I think, for the end of the year, we should have a big party, where everyone brings a food from one of the books we read. I will go pick up some curried, jerked goat from the Carribean restaurant down on Naco, Jen can pick up some fruit, picked by oppressed migrant farm workers... you can... um... gee... what do you eat for Nabokov? The mind reels....

Amanda said...

Maybe I'll bring some sort of milk with raw cow's blood mixed in from the Masaai culture? Or not.

Maybe pumpkin juice.

Jen said...

Yea, let's try to find something other than milk with cows blood, please.

Jason Gignac said...

Milk with cow's blood, that's not acceptable, but fruit that bears the stains of the blood of a thousand men, crushed under the iron boot of capitalism, that's okay... typical American...

Jen said...

You know me--cruel and heartless.