Hunchback Of Notre-Dame novel, movie in demand

PARIS • Victor Hugo's The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame shot to the top of the Amazon bestseller list on Tuesday, as firefighters damped down the embers of the blaze which ravaged the cathedral.

The original French version of the Gothic novel, Notre-Dame De Paris, became the fastest-selling book in France and is also a No. 1 bestseller worldwide in English in two sub-categories of historical fiction. The Disney animated movie version of the story also rocketed into the top 10 of family films.

When Hugo began his sprawling 11-volume tale in 1829, Notre-Dame - the "majestic and sublime edifice" which he adored - was crumbling and neglected.

But his epic about the tragic fate of the Gypsy girl Esmeralda - who captures the heart of Captain Phoebus, the poet Pierre Gringoire, Archdeacon Frollo and, most of all, the hunchback Quasimodo - helped mobilise the mammoth 19th-century restoration of the monument.

One passage, from chapter four of the penultimate volume of the novel, was widely quoted on social media as a prophetic description of Monday's fire, which tore through its roof, sending its spire crashing down into the nave.

"All eyes were turned to the top of the church," Hugo wrote as if describing the millions of people who gathered along the banks of the Seine or watched agog on television as the great 850-year-old structure burnt.

"What they saw was most strange. Upon the top of the topmost gallery, higher than the central rose-window, a vast flame ascended between the two belfries with whirlings sparks.

"A vast flame, fierce and strong, fragments of which were ever and anon borne away by the wind with the smoke.

"Below this flame, below the dark balustrade with its glowing trefoils, two spouts, terminating in gargoyles, vomited sheets of fiery rain, whose silvery streams shone out distinctly against the gloom of the lowers part of the cathedral front."

French people have a tendency to turn to literature in times of national crisis. Sales of American writer Ernest Hemingway's ode to Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast, soared after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Hugo set his high-blown romantic story in 1482 during the reign of Louis XI, but much of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a rumination on the architecture of the building itself. Many critics have argued that the cathedral is, in fact, the novel's central character.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Hunchback Of Notre-Dame novel, movie in demand'. Print Edition | Subscribe