The­hunch­back­ofnotre-dame: Cathe­dral of Love

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhu Jiant­ing Edited by David Ball

In 1831, the 29-year-old French writer Vic­tor Hugo (1802–1885) pub­lished The Hunch­back of Notre-dame (French: Notre-dame

de Paris) to great ac­claim with his poetic de­pic­tions of the cathe­dral's ar­chi­tec­ture. It is a sen­ti­men­tal love story told us­ing imag­i­na­tion, mys­te­ri­ous plot­lines and an in­ter­est­ing struc­ture.

Notre-dame de Paris, a cathe­dral si­t­u­ated in cen­tral Paris, was built be­tween around 1163 and 1250. It is con­sid­ered one of the best ex­am­ples of French Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture, one of the most bril­liant build­ings in French his­tory and a sym­bol of an­cient Paris. Notre-dame means “Our Lady” and refers to the Vir­gin Mary.

In 1831, the 29-year- old French writer Vic­tor Hugo (1802–1885) pub­lished The Hunch­back of NotreDame (French: Notre-dame de Paris) to great ac­claim with his poetic de­pic­tions of the cathe­dral’s ar­chi­tec­ture. The most ro­man­tic of Hugo’s nov­els, The Hunch­back of NotreDame is a sen­ti­men­tal love story told us­ing imag­i­na­tion, mys­te­ri­ous plot­lines and an in­ter­est­ing struc­ture. The work es­tab­lished Hugo as a world-famous nov­el­ist and earned him a rep­u­ta­tion as “France’s Shake­speare.”

Ro­man­tic Writer and Lit­er­ary Master

In 1903, 22-year-old Lu Xun (1881– 1936) pub­lished a trans­la­tion ti­tled Sigh for the Dust in the monthly Tides of Zhe­jiang River mag­a­zine of a French nov­el­ette. In the trans­la­tor’s notes, Lu Xun wrote: “This is one of Hugo’s ev­ery­day records about the mis­er­able life of a low-class woman.” At the end, Lu sighed deeply: “Alas! Across the world,

the so­cial traps are the same; whether in Asia or Europe, as sure as rivers will flow and time will pass. Hugo can­not nar­rate all the world’s tragedies—there is not enough pa­per for that. So, when will we re­flect on his­tory and put an end to tragedy?”

Vic­tor Hugo was born in 1802 in Be­sançon, France and was the son of a gen­eral in the army of Napoleon Bon­a­parte (1769–1821). Hugo first be­gan writ­ing po­ems dur­ing se­condary school and was hooked. His first novel, Hans of Ice­land ( Han d’is­lande), won the praise of au­thor Charles Nodier (1780– 1844), which led to Hugo adopt­ing Ro­man­ti­cism and grad­u­ally be­com­ing the chief prac­ti­tioner of the genre.

Hugo wrote in favour of the monar­chy and re­li­gion in his early works due to the in­flu­ence of his fam­ily. In 1919, he fell in love with Adèle Foucher (1803–1868). They had two sons and two daugh­ters af­ter get­ting mar­ried. His first col­lec­tion of po­etry is called Odes and Var­i­ous Po­ems ( Odes et Poésies Di­verses), was pub­lished in 1822 and earned him a royal pen­sion from Louis XVIII. As he be­came in­creas­ingly lib­eral, Hugo changed his political views and joined to­gether with fel­low young Ro­man­tics Al­fred de Mus­set (1810–1857), Alexan­dre Du­mas (1802–1870) and oth­ers to form the Cé­na­cle lit­er­ary so­ci­ety to op­pose pseudo- clas­si­cism.

In 1827, Hugo wrote a long pref­ace for his play Cromwell, which is now con­sid­ered the man­i­festo of Ro­man­ti­cism. In the pref­ace, Hugo put forth his op­po­si­tion to clas­si­cism and pro­posed the Ro­man­tic model of lit­er­a­ture. As both an of­fi­cial de­nun­ci­a­tion of clas­si­cism and a clas­sic of Ro­man­tic lit­er­ary the­ory, it has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the his­tory of French lit­er­ary crit­i­cism.

In 1830, the July Rev­o­lu­tion broke out, and the re­stored feu­dal monar­chy was over­thrown. Hugo fer­vently praised the rev­o­lu­tion and the rev­o­lu­tion­ists and eu­lo­gised the he­roes who died in the streets through his po­etry. In 1831, the pub­li­ca­tion of his novel The Hunch­back of Notre-dame caused a huge sen­sa­tion. One year later, the 30-year- old Hugo fell in love with the 26-year- old ac­tress Juli­ette Drouet who went on to write him a love let­ter ev­ery day for over 50 years until her death at the age of 77. Most of the nearly-20,000 let­ters are now stored in the Na­tional Li­brary of France.

Hugo was el­e­vated to the peer­age by King Louis-philippe in 1845 and en­tered the Higher Cham­ber. In 1848, he grad­u­ally be­came a repub­li­can and sup­ported Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. How­ever, three years later, Napoleon III or­gan­ised a self- coup d’état, re­stored im­pe­ri­al­ism and sup­pressed the repub­li­cans. Hugo was thus forced to live in ex­ile for 19 years. He never stopped writ­ing and con­tin­u­ously op­posed Napoleon III’S au­to­cratic regime through his works.

When the Sec­ond Opium War broke out in 1861, Hugo wrote a let­ter to Cap­tain But­ler about the Bri­tish and French joined forces’ ex­pe­di­tion to China which was later in­cluded in se­condary school text­books in China. One year later, his novel Les Misérables came out. This book de­tailed the sharp con­tra­dic­tions and wealth gap in cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety, de­picted the mis­er­able life of the lower- class and se­verely con­demned the hypocrisy of cap­i­tal­ist laws.

When Napoleon III’S reign col­lapsed in 1870, Hugo re­turned to Paris. Dur­ing the Franco- Prus­sian War, Hugo gave pas­sion­ate speeches en­cour­ag­ing the peo­ple and was elected a mem­ber of the Na­tional As­sem­bly one year later. When the Paris Com­mune upris­ing failed, and its members were sup­pressed by the re­ac­tionary gov­ern­ment, Hugo con­demned the bru­tal­ity of the re­ac­tionar­ies. He called for par­don­ing all the Com­mune members and shel­tered those in ex­ile at his res­i­dence in Brus­sels, Bel­gium.

In 1874, Hugo pub­lished Nine­tyThree ( Qu­a­trevingt-treize), which was his last ma­jor work. It fo­cuses on the Repub­lic’s mil­i­tary sup­pres­sion of the counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary re­volts in Vendée and vividly de­scribes the cru­elty of the monar­chists, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary at­mos­phere dur­ing the dic­ta­tor­ship and the brav­ery of the repub­li­can troops.

In 1885, Vic­tor Hugo passed away in Paris. A state funeral was held, and he was buried in the Pan­théon, a tomb re­served for only the most dis­tin­guished French peo­ple. Hugo was a pro­lific writer who pro­duced works for over 60 years. He praised truth, good­ness and beauty while con­demn­ing dark­ness, ug­li­ness and bru­tal­ity. His nov­els are renowned for fo­cus­ing on all dif­fer­ent kinds of lives, com­bin­ing re­al­ism with Ro­man­ti­cism, vivid plots and unique struc­tures.

French philoso­pher and au­thor Jean-paul Sartre (1905–1980) said that Hugo was: “One of the few truly pop­u­lar writ­ers, or maybe even the only one.” Ac­cord­ing to French writer Ro­main Rol­land (1866–1944): “Among all the great men in the lit­er­ary and art cir­cles, Vic­tor Hugo is the only one who still lives in the hearts of the French peo­ple.”

Real and Silent Love

In 1815, the House of Bour­bon was re­stored with the sup­port of for­eign forces hav­ing been over­thrown by the cap­i­tal­ist rev­o­lu­tion. The peo­ple bravely strug­gled against these forces and were fi­nally vic­to­ri­ous. Vic­tor Hugo then cre­ated his master­piece novel The Hunch­back of Notre- Dame based on his ex­pe­ri­ences of the dark

and bru­tal feu­dal rule.

On the first Sun­day af­ter Easter, an ugly aban­doned baby is dis­cov­ered at the gates of Notre- Dame cathe­dral, but no one wants to adopt it be­cause of its fright­ful ap­pear­ance. Claude Frollo, the Archdea­con of Notre Dame, adopts the baby and names him Quasi­modo. Quasi­modo is half­blind, has a hunch­back and walks with a limp. At the age of 14, whilst work­ing as the cathe­dral’s bell ringer, his hear­ing is dam­aged by the loud bells. He then be­comes bad- tem­pered and is hos­tile to ev­ery­one ex­cept his guardian Frollo.

Dur­ing the Fes­ti­val of Fools, a Gypsy street dancer by the name of Es­mer­alda at­tracts passers-by with her beauty and grace­ful danc­ing. Claude Frollo be­comes en­chanted and falls in love with her. He then or­ders Quasi­modo to kid­nap her for him.

A poet called Pierre Gringoire also be­comes en­am­oured with Es­mer­alda. He fol­lows her to a lane and tries to stop Quasi­modo from ab­duct­ing her but is knocked un­con­scious by the hunch­back. As Quasi­modo is leav­ing with the girl in his arms, Cap­tain of the King’s Archers Phoe­bus de Chateau­pers ar­rives. The cap­tain saves the girl and ar­rests Quasi­modo. Es­mer­alda is moved by the hand­some young cap­tain, how­ever, he sim­ply wants to se­duce her.

Af­ter he wakes up, Gringoire finds he has wan­dered into the wrong neigh­bour­hood and is sur­rounded by beg­gars who want to kill him. In or­der to save him, Es­mer­alda agrees to marry him. Mean­while, Quasi­modo is sen­tenced to be flogged in the sun­scorched square for the kid­nap­ping. On the day of the flog­ging, Quasi­modo cries out for some wa­ter, but no one pities him, not even his fos­ter fa­ther Claude Frollo. In­stead, ev­ery­one just mocks him. At that mo­ment, Es­mer­alda ap­pears, for­gives him and gives him some wa­ter. Quasi­modo is deeply touched and ex­tremely grate­ful to her.

Es­mer­alda falls in love with Phoe­bus at first sight and agrees to go on a date with him. On the day of their date, Frollo se­cretly fol­lows them and stabs Phoe­bus, at which the fright­ened Es­mer­alda faints. Frollo flees and peo­ple think that it was Es­mer­alda that stabbed Phoe­bus. Es­mer­alda is ar­rested for homi­cide and sen­tenced to the gal­lows by the court.

The next day, on her way to the ex­e­cu­tion ground, Es­mer­alda is shocked to see Phoe­bus with an­other girl amongst the on­look­ers. At that time, Quasi­modo is deeply in love with Es­mer­alda, saves her from ex­e­cu­tion and hides her in Notre-dame. There, Frollo sneaks into Es­mer­alda’s room but just at that mo­ment, Es­mer­alda blows the whis­tle given to her by Quasi­modo who ar­rives to dis­cover it is Frollo try­ing to force him­self on Es­mer­alda. Frollo storms out and de­cides that if he can­not have this girl, he will ruin her.

When the court dis­cov­ers what hap­pened at the ex­e­cu­tion ground, they fly into a rage and de­ter­mine to catch Es­mer­alda. The city’s beg­gars come to save the girl as Louis XI is­sues a de­cree to “kill the cit­i­zens and hang the witch,” lead­ing to piles of bod­ies in front of Notre-dame. Es­mer­alda is tricked into com­ing out­side by Frollo and Gringoire. Frollo threat­ens Es­mer­alda by ask­ing her to choose be­tween him and the gal­lows. Hav­ing been turned down again, Frollo ar­ranges for a sis­ter to guard Es­mer­alda and goes to re­port her where­abouts to the troops. Sis­ter Gud­ule in­ad­ver­tently dis­cov­ers Es­mer­alda is ac­tu­ally her daugh­ter who went miss­ing 15 years ago, and as the troops led by Phoe­bus ar­rive, her mother dies try­ing to pro­tect her daugh­ter.

Quasi­modo looks for Es­mer­alda anx­iously and re­alises that it must have been Frollo who kid­napped her. He fol­lows Frollo to the top of the tower and no­tices that his beloved Es­mer­alda has been hanged. Heart­bro­ken and fu­ri­ous, Quasi­modo then pushes the evil, hyp­o­crit­i­cal Archdea­con off the tower.

About two years later, in the tombs for ex­e­cuted crim­i­nals, peo­ple find two skele­tons. A fe­male one is em­braced by a male skele­ton in a

strange pos­ture. When the peo­ple try to sep­a­rate them, the male skele­ton im­me­di­ately turns to dust.

A Clas­sic of Con­trasts

The Hunch­back of Notre- Dame is one of Vic­tor Hugo’s most sig­nif­i­cant works and de­picts the his­tory of France dur­ing the 15th cen­tury un­der the reign of Louis XI. Hugo skil­fully linked the touch­ing story with vivid scenes, cre­at­ing a highly- read­able novel. The work shows the hypocrisie­s of re­li­gion, praises the kind­ness and friend­ship of the lower- classes and re­flects Hugo’s hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism.

The char­ac­ter­is­tics of Quasi­modo, who was aban­doned as a baby, are high­lighted by the au­thor’s ex­ag­ger­ated de­pic­tion of his hideous ap­pear­ance. Es­mer­alda mean­while is a per­fect artis­tic fig­ure com­bin­ing hon­esty, kind­ness and beauty who was kid­napped by Gyp­sies as a child. De­spite her hard­ships as a street dancer, she has been a kind, pure and help­ful per­son. As a pas­sion­ate and naive girl, she be­lieves all oth­ers are as pure as she is. She is unswerv­ing and never gives in to Frollo’s threats. She is looked on favourably by the vagabonds and beg­gars of Paris but al­ways re­lies on her­self and lives a pure life.

Hugo gave full play to Ro­man­ti­cism’s con­trast be­tween the beau­ti­ful and the ugly. He con­trasted good with evil, beauty with ug­li­ness and the lofty with the hum­ble, ex­ag­ger­at­ing cer­tain fea­tures to heighten the dif­fer­ences. Quasi­modo was kind-hearted, brave and no­ble de­spite his ugly ap­pear­ance and de­formed body. This is a sharp con­trast with the sanc­ti­mo­nious, hyp­o­crit­i­cal and evil Archdea­con Frollo.

The Hunch­back of Notre-dame has been adapted into movies, car­toons and plays. In 1939, a movie of the same name was pro­duced in the United States, fol­lowed by an­other ver­sion in 1956 in France. In 1982, a Bri­tish-amer­i­can movie star­ring An­thony Hop­kins was also re­leased. The master­piece has even been turned into a Pek­ing Opera and has been a hit with au­di­ences.

Hugo’s works first spread to China dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu in the Qing Dy­nasty. In 1903, Lu Xun trans­lated Hugo’s novel un­der the name Sigh for the Dust, and Su Man­shu ( 1884– 1918) trans­lated Les Misérables.

It was pub­lished in the Na­tional Daily news­pa­per. In 1907, the first off­print of Les Misérables was trans­lated and pub­lished by the Shang­hai Com­mer­cial Press un­der the Chi­nese name of Tears of a Lonely Star. In 1923, Yu Hu ( 1894– 1959) trans­lated The Hunch­back of Notre- Dame and pub­lished un­der the A Doomed Love name. In 1946, Shang­hai Qunxue Book­store pub­lished ex­cerpts of The Hunch­back of NotreDame trans­lated by Yue Yi with the Chi­nese name The Strange Bell Ringer, and in 1949, the book was trans­lated in full by Chen Jin­grong ( 1917– 1989) and pub­lished by the Shang­hai Camel Book­store. Other trans­la­tors in­clude Guan Zhenhu, Chen Zong­bao, Pan Lizhen, Shi Kangqiang and Li Yu­min. To­day, the most pop­u­lar trans­la­tion is that by Chen Jin­grong, which was pub­lished by the Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House.

There has been in­ten­sive and ex­ten­sive re­search into the thoughts and works of Vic­tor Hugo in China. Apart from the pref­aces, in­tro­duc­tions and post­scripts writ­ten by trans­la­tors, there have been many es­says and mono­graphs pub­lished in im­por­tant pe­ri­od­i­cals and his­tory books on this great writer. In 1927, nov­el­ist Zeng Pu ( 1872– 1935), au­thor of A Flower in a Sin­ful Sea, pub­lished an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The 100th An­niver­sary of French Ro­man­ti­cism” in the True, Beau­ti­ful and Good pe­ri­od­i­cal in­tro­duc­ing Vic­tor Hugo, leader of the Ro­man­tic Move­ment. In 1935, Mao Dun ( 1896– 1981) wrote Vic­tor Hugo and the Sigh for His­tory and Hugo’s Her­nani to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the au­thor’s death. In 1952, to mark the 150th an­niver­sary of Hugo’s birth, sev­eral famous au­thors, so­cial ac­tivists and lit­er­ary crit­ics, in­clud­ing Mao Dun, Guo Moruo ( 1892– 1978), Chu Tu­nan ( 1899– 1994), Hong Shen ( 1894– 1955) and Tang Tao ( 1913– 1992), wrote ar­ti­cles to com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion. In 1981, on the eve of the 180th an­niver­sary of Hugo’s birth, a na­tional sem­i­nar on Vic­tor Hugo’s aca­demic achieve­ments was held in Chang­sha in the south of China, with 90 papers con­trib­uted on the theme. In the same year, the His­tory of French Lit­er­a­ture compiled by Liu Mingjiu was pub­lished by the Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House, giv­ing a spe­cific and sys­tem­atic in­tro­duc­tion to Hugo’s life and writ­ing ca­reer and elab­o­ra­tions on his lit­er­ary the­ory.

The 100th an­niver­sary of the great au­thor’s pass­ing was in 1985. The whole year was de­clared the Year of Vic­tor Hugo in France and fea­tured var­i­ous cel­e­bra­tory events. 1988 was the most im­por­tant year in terms of trans­la­tions and re­search into Hugo’s works in China. Famous scholar Liu Mingjiu compiled the books Se­lected Works of Vic­tor Hugo and Col­lec­tion of Vic­tor Hugo’s Works, bring­ing to­gether the past cen­tury’s trans­la­tions of the nov­el­ist’s works.

French poet Charles Baude­laire once praised Hugo as a ge­nius that sur­passed na­tional bound­aries. This lit­er­ary ge­nius de­picted both a last­ing love and a sym­phony of des­tiny in The Hunch­back of NotreDame, in what is a great mile­stone in Ro­man­tic lit­er­a­ture.

A poster for The Hunch­back of Notre-dame (1939)

A scene from The Hunch­back of Notre-dame (1939)

Vic­tor Hugo

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