Victor Hugo and Notre-Dame

Which of the following works by Victor Hugo was largely born out of a desire to make readers more aware of the value of Gothic architecture?

And the answer: Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In the mid-19th century, many Gothic-style buildings were neglected and often destroyed, either replaced by new buildings or defaced by replacement of parts of buildings in a newer style. For example, the medieval stained glass panels of Notre-Dame de Paris, had been replaced by white glass to let more light into the church.

Gothic architecture evolved from the Romanesque around 1100 AD and reached its height in the mid-1400s. In the 1800s, when Hugo wrote Hunchback, Gothic style had given way to the Renaissance. By then Parisians considered medieval buildings vulgar, deformed monstrosities. Calling a building Gothic was an insult, a reference to Goth and Vandal Germanic tribes considered barbarians. Before Hugo's eyes, Paris' Gothic history was being torn down in the name of more respectable, profitable, projects. Alarmed and appalled, the author wrote:

All manner of profanation, degradation, and ruin are all at once threatening what little remains of these admirable monuments of the Middle Ages that bear the imprint of past national glory, to which both the memory of kings and the tradition of the people are attached. While who knows what bastard edifices are being constructed at great cost (buildings that, with the ridiculous pretension of being Greek or Roman in France, are neither Roman nor Greek), other admirable and original structures are falling without anyone caring to be informed, whereas their only crime is that of being French by origin, by history, and by purpose.

Hugo’s fictional story soon changed the future for Notre Dame. French hearts and minds were wrenched by the heartbreak of Quasimodo, the unsung hero of the cathedral. By carefully welding the themes of “saving the girl” with the backdrop of the decaying cathedral, Hugo’s message in actuality was crystal clear: "Save the building." The story reminded its readers of the beauty and wonder of Notre Dame, revelations that had been collecting dust since its architectural renown some 500 years prior. In 1844, preservation efforts for the cathedral began.

To learn more about this masterpiece of architecture, check out the video below:

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