NotreDame De Paris discussion
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Another character topic.

9/2/2010 #1

Most interesting character in the novel, sympathetic villain. Too bad there was no redemption to him in the end.

9/2/2010 #2
Doc M

"Most interesting character in the novel, sympathetic villain. Too bad there was no redemption to him in the end."

Eh? He's the tragic hero of the novel, if anyone is: the main human character, the one we get to know and care about most deeply. It's his self-destruction that's at the core of it: a brilliant, talented, passionate and essentially good young man, torn apart and driven to crimes of passion by emotions he doesn't understand, which his upbringing has forced him to suppress and regard as 'evil' rather than entirely normal; destroying himself and his whole world around him. He does some terrible things, but he's not a villain. Hugo may have originally conceived him in the Gothic mode (along the lines of Lewis's The Monk), but he turned him into something more – he prefigures Dostoevskii's spiritually and sexually tormented heroes.

I fell in love with him when I first read the novel at 16 – I wanted to rescue him. He's so intelligent, so scholarly: interested in so many things I wanted to talk to him about – philosophy, alchemy, languages, books, everything. Everything I admired and aspired towards. His kindness, too, is touching: whatever he does later, one cannot forget the bookish teenager, running in panic from the College of Lisieux (on the left bank) all the way across the city, across the Île de la Cité, on to right bank, to the plague-stricken family home on Rue Tirechappe, to find his parents dead and his baby brother in the cradle, and scooping up the child; or, just a few months later, as a newly ordained priest, picking up a deformed 4-year-old, recalling that his brother might end up as a foundling if anything happened to him; inventing a form of sign-language when the boy becomes deaf; or taking an illiterate war-orphan under his wing, to turn into a poet and writer. Nearly 30 years later, I still feel the same, all the more so, perhaps, through being older myself and having studied mediæval history – the sense of such a gifted young life destroyed through the pernicious indoctrination of the mediæval Church, teaching him to fear and hate his own sexuality, keeping him ignorant and afraid of his own body. (I recommend some reading on this: and Robert Bartlett's 'Inside the Mediæval Mind' documentaries show very clearly how an ascetic scholar could get this way.) I want to be an auntie to him, and tuck him up in bed with a mug of hot milk and give him 'the talk' about girls he should have had 20 years ago.

He's breaking down mentally and physically throughout the novel: we only see his normal sane, well self in the flashbacks. He's been crumbling for months, since he first saw Esméralda in (summer?)1481. In part, there's an element of 'empty nest syndrome': his 'children' have grown up, and all the warmer emotions he was able to sublimate in raising them now have nowhere else to go. He starts to panic about women: his hysterical reaction to the princess Anne's visit in December 1481 – he seems to fear for his physical control in the presence of an attractive and intelligent young woman (and Jean Hey's portraits suggest she was very attractive, in a sharp-nosed, arched-eyebrowed way). After he stabs himself he gets even worse, mentally and physically: bouts of delirium, hallucinations, and a clear deterioration in appearance (as when Gringoire sees him at the For-L'Eveque). Hugo has given us a clue earlier: the "badly healed" wound in his side, the lack of dressings. He's neglecting himself and suffering from potentially lethal infections. He's a dying man by the end, regardless.

Part of the tragedy is that the object of his desires is so superficial, so unworthy: a pretty, empty-headed street-dancer, obsessed with an equally pretty and empty-headed soldier. Claude sees in her name the symbolism of the Emerald Tablet; but she's like the 'emerald' she wears, a a cheap glass fake; not even a real gypsy, but a prostitute's daughter from Champagne. Had she agreed to him, then we would soon have found ourselves in the world of Heinrich Mann's Professor Unrat/Der Blaue Engel. Esméralda's no Heloïse, (to quote Villon) "for whom was gelded and made monk/Pierre Abelard at Saint-Denis". An Heloïse might have been worth all the suffering, but the tragedy is intensified by the triviality of the focus of his passions. He deserved better – and it's just horrific and wasteful that he ends up as jam on the pavement.

9/2/2010 . Edited 9/2/2010 #3

I don´t think he is the hero - he stabs the man, lets Esmeralda to take the blame, rather sees her dead than alive and with other man, tries to r*** her, and eventually sends her to death. I agree that Esmeralda is hardly worth of such mad passion, because she is just superficial, pretty young b***, but I don´t think the book has a hero.

9/2/2010 . Edited 9/2/2010 #4
Doc M

Tragic heroes in literature do bad things: they have fatal flaws and bad fates. The whole point is their tragic downfall and destruction. Haven't you read/seen any Greek tragedy or Jacobean tragedy, or any other classic tragic literature? Macbeth, Œdipus, & c… Look the concept up online if you have to. (Bashes head against keyboard.)

What we have is a man, hitherto exemplary, who is unhinged and destroyed by his own passions, destroying all he loves along with himself. If that isn't a classic definition of a tragic hero, I don't know what is.

He's not in his right mind during the events you describe, and as for the 'attempted r***' – he's delirious and I'm not convinced he knows how to do sex, anyway: he's even more innocent/ignorant than she is on that score. He'd have ended up in tears at her feet. Frightening for her, yes; but no real danger.

9/2/2010 . Edited 9/2/2010 #5

I have never thought Macbeth as a hero (too flawed) and Oedipus... so, you have unknowingly killed your father and committed i*** with your mother. UNKNOWINGLY is the key word. So what is he doing? Pokes his own eyes out and destroys himself. I know, I know, it is the tragedy, and yes, I feel Frollo´s tragedy and can´t feel but sympathy toward him.

9/2/2010 . Edited 9/2/2010 #6
Doc M

"I have never thought Macbeth as a hero (too flawed)"

The fatal flaw(s) are essential in tragic heroes, though. You have an exemplary character (s/he has to be exceptionally noble to start with) who implodes. The inner flaws are what make him/her tragic.

Aristotle's written on it.

Claude is an absolutely classic tragic hero: the repression of his upbringing and career creates the flaw that will destroy him, and (together with others) he's also caught up in a malign pattern of fate. He never knows just how much in the novel, of course: that Quasimodo was the child swapped with Esméralda, or that Esméralda is Pâquette's child.

9/2/2010 #7

Yes, I understand the whole nobility thing but I meant that I never thought Macbeth was that noble to begin with - yes, yes, brave soldier, hitherto law-respecting character, but also someone who is hardly insane and yet follows his wife to the murders and destruction.

9/2/2010 . Edited 9/2/2010 #8
Doc M

If anyone's interested in following up Claude's reading/intellectual life, the Wikipedia article on Iamblichus (quoted in the inscriptions on his study wall) is very interesting, as are some of the linked pieces. Claude is clearly heavily invested in the revival and development of Christian Neo-Platonism (Marsilio Ficino, an older contemporary, translated the Corpus Hermeticum, & c.): cutting edge stuff in 15C philosophy. What I love about Hugo is that he has given this character an inner, intellectual life that is profoundly of his time: he's not a modern (i.e. 1830s) man in fancy dress, but a believable Renaissance intellectual, who offers a marvellous route for the reader to enter and discover his world. (I've read a lot about alchemy already, thanks to Claude!)

10/13/2010 #9
Doc M

Interestingly, has a 1912 Spanish dramatisation of the novel which is actually called Claudio Frollo, o Nuestra Señora de Paris. The playwright is Emilio Boix Serra.

11/10/2010 #10
Doc M

Another good work for understanding Claude's intellectual world is Frances Yates's Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Routledge, 2002 ed. originally publ. 1964). It's clear from what we're told about his reading that he's interested in the newly accessible Hermetic works published by Ficino, and that (like Giovanni Pico della Mirandola) he was trying to synthesise the Hermetic works with other mystical works, such as the Kabbalah. There's also an explanation of the different sorts of magic that were believed in – those which were considered 'good' and those which were disapproved of – hence the wariness in Claude's conversations with Charmolue. Fascinating stuff, and very much at the cutting edge of the Renaissance.

11/16/2010 #11
Doc M

Also useful is Uta Ranke-Heinemann's Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, which contains some interesting, at times downright horrifying material on mediæval ecclesiastical views on various aspects of sexuality. Poor Claude would have been brought up on Augustine, Jerome, Albertus Magnus and Aquinas, & co. No wonder he's a mess.

1/3/2011 #12
Katherine NotGreat
1 000 000 ))))
6/15/2013 #13
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