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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo | Biography


Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802, in Besançon, France, and became one of the country's most famous poets, novelists, and playwrights during the Romantic era. Although Hugo originally studied to become a lawyer, his passion for writing overtook him, and he published his first novel, Han d'Islande, when he was 21. Hugo clearly sided with the new Romantic movement, which emphasized the individual, the subjective, and the emotional over the older Classicism, which prized order, rationality, and balance. After one of his first plays—Marion de Lorme—was censored, he responded with another anti-Classical play, Hernani. Backed by a host of Romantic artists, he won over the theatergoers' approval and gained a foothold for the movement. His publication of Notre-Dame de Paris: 1482 eight years later cemented his fame as a notable French Romantic writer, and he went on to greater celebrity later in life with the novel Les Misérables.

Much of Hugo's writing is a reflection of the political turmoil he saw during his lifetime—The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written during the July Revolution of 1830, when angry protesters forced King Charles X to abdicate the throne and Louis-Philippe was proclaimed the new king. Hugo campaigned against causes such as capital punishment, a belief that can be seen in the tragic fates of characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo was also inspired to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame by his awe and reverence for Gothic architecture in Paris, much of which had been destroyed by the time he wrote the novel. When Notre-Dame de Paris was published in English in 1833, the English translation bore the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo disliked the translated title for placing Quasimodo at the novel's center instead of the Notre-Dame Cathedral as he intended.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was met with much excitement upon its publication and became widely popular in France. Its fervent descriptions of Notre-Dame Cathedral led to the development of a historical preservation society, as well as the restoration of the cathedral. However, by 1851 Hugo was forced to flee the country for Brussels after a coup by a political group that espoused authoritarianism. Hugo remained in Brussels for nearly 20 years, finally returning to Paris to become a deputy in the National Assembly. He died on May 22, 1885. He was preceded in death by his wife and two sons. His body was buried in the Pantheon, a former church dedicated to the memory of great French citizens.

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