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The Hunchback of Notre Dame
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About the Author

Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 at Besanon, where his father, an officer under Napoleon, was stationed. In his first decade the family moved from post to post: Corsica, Naples, Madrid. After his parents separated in 1812, Hugo lived in Paris with his mother and brothers. At twenty he married Adele Foucher and published his first poetry collection. Hugo was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1841. The accidental death two years later of his eldest daughter and her husband devastated him and marked the end of his first literary period. By then politics had become central to his life. Though he was a Royalist in his youth, his views became increasingly liberal after the July revolution of 1830: Freedom in art, freedom in society, there is the double goal. He initially supported the political ascent of Louis Napoleon, but turned savagely against him after being denied a role in government following the coup de'tat of 1851. Hugo went into exile in Brussels and Jersey, launching fierce literary attacks on the Second Empire. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Hugo returned to France and was reelected to the National Assembly, and then to the Senate. He had become a legendary figure and national icon.

Reviews

Gr 4-6‘Done in picture-book format, this retelling is, of necessity, reduced to its bare bones, but the essentials of the complex plot have been captured. The pictures, full of action and crowded with scenes of the Parisian mob, the Festival of Fools, and the airy heights of the cathedral are skillfully drawn and colored with pale hues. Quasimodo's crooked figure and distorted face are appropriately repulsive, a foil to Esmeralda's grace and beauty. Middle grade readers familiar with the Disney movie will particularly enjoy this spin-off of the original novel.‘Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ

Children who have had a taste of Hugo's 18th-century epic through the animated film may find this version, with its absence of song, rather sobering. Wynne-Jones (Some of the Kinder Planets) makes no attempt to soften the harsh story of the hideously deformed, big-hearted Quasimodo, who escapes ridicule only in the sanctuary of the cathedral. Although the narrative is fluent and conversational, children may need guidance through some of the more challenging vocabulary and occasional wordy passages. The irony in Hugo's novel is preserved here, as when Wynne-Jones draws a delicious parallel between church and state: Quasimodo is deaf because "the bells of the church had made him that way"; the judge who sentences the deformed man to a flogging "is as deaf as Quasimodo. The court had made him that way." Still, the deeper implications of the story will likely be lost on children. Dramatically framing the text are Slavin's (Extra! Extra! The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Newspapers) subtly hued, skillfully composed paintings. His mastery of detail, especially in period dress and architecture, makes turbulent medieval Paris appear real‘sometimes frighteningly so. This polished, thoughtful collaboration may serve as an authentic preview to Hugo's classic, but may be best appreciated with an adult standing by. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)

The Modern Library here offers a very reasonably priced yet high-quality edition of Hugo's classic.

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