The Hunchback of Notre Dame illustration by Luc-Olivier Merson
“Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book.” — Victor Hugo
I have a certain soft spot for old buildings. The stories they could tell, for one—the characters that waltzed in and out their doors, the secrets whispered in dark corridors, the laughter that echoed from their walls.
Then, of course, there’s the craftsmanship of the buildings themselves. I am constantly amazed at the intricate detail created before modern contrivances. No wonder Victor Hugo believed architects to be poets.
Unfortunately, I live in a state that tends to undervalue old buildings. Whether it’s the cost involved in renovation, or the desire for a more modern way, old buildings are often reduced to rubble.
Ancient Parisian buildings faced a similar fate in the days of Victor Hugo. So he did the only thing for a writer to do: he put pen to paper and wrote. Mainly, he wrote a little book called The Hunchback of Notre-Dame—perhaps you’ve heard of it? All those descriptive bits of the novel, they were intentional . . . a last ditch effort to draw attention to Gothic architecture and save it from destruction.
His evil plan worked, I might add. Due the great popularity of the book, France set out to preserve its architectural heritage. And let’s not forget the book’s namesake—the Notre-Dame Cathedral underwent major renovations, no doubt in large part due to the success of the book. Renovations continue to this day.