“Oh-all that I’ve ever loved!”

It is entirely possible that some of you have not read Victor Hugo’s book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  In French it is called simply Notre-Dame de Paris.  I darn near killed my brain one summer reading it in French.  I had read some Hugo in French before but this one… much harder.  I digress.  You don’t know the thing if you have only seen a movie, or to put it another way, “It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that swing.”  Read the book.

Since it is the ultimate nickname Sunday, we might just pause to remind people that today is called “Quasimodo” Sunday from the first word of the Introit.
As I have written here before the Introit is from 1 Peter 2:2-3 which says:

“Like (Quasimodo – from a Latin Scripture translation that pre-dated the Vulgate by St Jerome) newborn babes (infantes), long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”


The Victor Hugo character, poor Quasimodo, born with various defects, was abandoned as an infant in Notre Dame on this very Sunday… “Quasimodo” Sunday. He is raised by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame who makes him the bell-ringer of the Cathedral… which makes poor Q deaf. You may remember that the cathedral just had its bells renewed. I wrote about that HERE.


Poor Quasimodo.  His name, with the “quasi… almost”, indicates that he is only nearly human in the context of the society in which he was called by God to live.  But he utters some of the most human things, shows moments of the most poignant human agony ever penned.  Who in reading the book will forget his first, great, burning tear?  “Alors, dans cet œil jusque-là si sec et si brûlé, on vit rouler une grosse larme qui tomba lentement le long de ce visage difforme et longtemps contracté par le désespoir. C’était la première peut-être que l’infortuné eût jamais versée.”  His cries of “ASILE!”?  His pathetic, “Le hibou n’entre pas dans le nid de l’alouette.”

Are not we all at some time he?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Volanges says:

    You’ve just made me want to attempt it again. I was never able to get past what I considered the ‘boring’ descriptions at the beginning — had the same problem with Lord of the Rings. I haven’t touched either since I was in high school.

    [Those boring descriptions… ahhh… mangificent. Digressions, actually. Famous digressions. Hugo’s digression into Waterloo in Les Misérables! His digression into the sewers of Paris! Try in Manzoni’s digression about the plague in Milan… ]

  2. tealady24 says:

    Well, now here’s another book to read! Funny how I missed this one years ago. We are all “quasi”; always longing for that perfection that will never be ours in this life. Fitting in where we don’t or can’t possibly belong. If we live long enough we will “see” that it has been the kindness of the Lord , all along.

  3. Matt R says:

    I would not recommend the relatively new Penguin translation. The translator eliminated prejudicial language from the novel’s wording, as it is offensive and reflects an earlier time period, failing to recognize that it is actually some combination of the author’s own ideas and satire, both of which have a purpose in a piece of literature.
    Happy Low Sunday everybody!

  4. Matt R: It absolutely should be read with all the prejudicial language. We have to get the flavor of the era to grasp the thing of the book… to grok it, so to speak.

  5. Denis Crnkovic says:

    As you get older and re-read these classics, you’ll find that the digressions are some of thebest parts, including the sewers of Paris. I read long novels for a living (nice to get paid to read Tolstoy give us the details of the battle of Borodino from Pierre’s perspective, or Dostoevsky give us the Haymarket of St Petersburg from the perspective of a repenting murderer-sinner ) and I find that the details are the art. Don’t skip anything in these works, even the whaling scenes in Moby Dick. And, if “Le hibou n’entre pas dans le nid de l’alouette,” we, the readers, may because we are privileged to have it revealed to us by the author. Mais il a eu raison, “Il y avait quelque chose de plus plaintif encore que ces paroles, c’était l’accent dont elles étaient prononcées.”

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. heway says:

    Wonderful Father, When my scoutmaster husband took our 3 boys to camp, I was working 3-11 (RN). I would come home at night and crawl into bed with all the great novels I read as a teenager – and didn’t understand too well. As Dennis says “you’ll find digressions are some of the best parts”. I did not read them in anything but English -sorry!

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    I never saw the movie “The Bucket List”, but, in my own mental idea of such a list, reading as many of the classics as I can is on it. I have never read this novel. I wonder if it would be as enjoyable for someone who does not know a great deal of French history? (I don’t)
    And Denis, that is exactly why I avoid Moby Dick. The whaling scenes! Whales, such noble, intelligent, and gentle creatures.

  8. UncleBlobb says:

    I hope there’s an audio version read by Simon Vance. :)

    [SIMON VANCE! I will get it right away.]

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    Noble, certainly. Intelligent, quite possibly. Gentle? Hardly.
    Perhaps you should read Moby Dick. Whales are the least of it, if you can make it through the first catalog-chapter by the “poor devil of a sub-sub-librarian” rummaging through “the long Vaticans and book-stalls of the earth.”
    If you just can’t stomach it, try Kipling’s Captains Courageous, that’s just codfish and the occasional grampus.
    Moderns have such strange ideas of the natural world, mostly due to lack of contact. And we somehow don’t read the old novels with the same eye that their original readers did. I used to explain to my daughter that the digressions were the point, or at least a large part of it. Most novels of the time were published in successive volumes or serialized in the weekly magazines, and families sat around the table and read them aloud.
    People who bowdlerize classic novels in the interest of political correctness will be just as despised in the future as the original Thomas Bowdler for his expurgation of any “indecency” from Shakespeare and others, or as the authors of the “lame duck translation.”

  10. Matt R says:

    It’s always interesting to note that even my most liberal teacher is opposed to changing the author’s message. Also, one can translate a piece better, but in a way that doesn’t diminish the tone and intent of the original.
    The digressions within a story from the events of the plot are a wonderful technique. They add another layer of meaning to the story, and it is a form of internal justification for the story’s construction, which postmoderns deliberately avoid.

  11. Joseph Mendes says:

    I didn’t know you had experience en français, Father. I deign to read Notre–Dame de Paris and Hugo’s other great work, Les Misérables, in their original language someday. Perhaps this summer.

  12. Joseph Mendes says: I didn’t know you had experience en français, Father.

    I have read quite of few great works in French and in German for that matter… and I have tussled with old Chinese poetry. Greek and Latin offer some challenges, but I am no longer intimidated by them.

  13. mburduck says:

    As a professor of literature, I must wonder if truly great novelists EVER really digress. More often than not, apparent “digressions” actually serve important functions. I think of examples from Hawthorne and Faulkner. Needless to say there are many other examples in world literature.

    A wonderful post, Father Z.! Many of us do indeed resemble any number of characters from the world’s classic literature. Heroes, villains, saints, sinners. As a charcter in one of Peter Straub’s novels says, “I am you.”

  14. mburduck says:

    Good thing I don’t teach spelling or typing. LOL!That should be “character.”

    Mea culpa.


  15. Rob in Maine says:


    Many years ago when Walt Disney was coming out with their animated adaptation, I decided to read Hunchback. I loved it! Such passion, such betrayal! Such sorrow! I could not image how Disney could ever make a family movie out of that book! Of course, they couldn’t.

  16. Momof11 says:

    Wasn’t that book banned by the Church?

  17. DisturbedMary says:

    As I walked to Mass this morning, there were a few Jewish students on campus standing near a large Holocaust Rememberance Day sign. The number on it was 6,000,000. I handed them the image of our very own holocaust — an aborted fetus. The number on that is 54,000,000. What a divine surprise to find the Solemnity of the Annunciation being celebrated. Thank you Holy Spirit for the one yes that changed everything.

  18. mamajen says:

    I have never read the book or seen any of the film versions. Will definitely add it to my list. I’ve enjoyed reading many classics recently (added bonus: many of them are free if you have some sort of e-reader).

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    “And we somehow don’t read the old novels with the same eye that their original readers did.”

    Actually, we can’t, at least not completely. The mind is informed by the knowledge it has of the world and it is difficult to completely bracket that knowledge. One cannot hear Mozart as Mozart heard Mozart for the simple reason that instruments were completely different than they are, today. Even trying to play period reconstructions is only an approximation, because a modern concert musician has much more experience in both playing and acoustics than a period musician. Imagine trying to listen to Chant while pretending all you know is the music theory of 11oo A. D. Your knowledge of harmony taints every thing you hear.

    If anything, your current knowledge should expand your interpretive reading, since you have a larger palette from which to paint the picture. Scholars have to be able to set a work in its context, but, unless you are willing to really get to know a period before you read a work, there will always be some contamination from the present. That’s okay, since any artist that hopes for immortality from his work, hopes that he wrote better and saw farther than he thought.

    The Chicken

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Many years ago when Walt Disney was coming out with their animated adaptation, I decided to read Hunchback. ”

    I wonder what Disney would call the Hunchback of Notre-Dame if they tried to make an animated movie of it, today.

    The Chicken

  21. eyeclinic says:

    Disney made one in 1996 called”The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. My five year old son had to leave because he found the violence too distressing.

  22. chantgirl says:

    I remember being irritated by the digressions in Anna Karenina, which were mostly lists of debts, but being delighted by Tolkien’s digressions in LOTR, so perhaps I dislike accounting but love descriptions of food. As to Hunchback, we read it in French. When Disney made the movie, I never let the children see it because I knew that there was no way to make a children’s movie out of it.

  23. It is rather fun to connect Divine Mercy Sunday and the character of Quasimodo. It is fitting that it was on the Sunday not just called “Quasimodo” but now dedicated to celebrating Our Lord’s Divine Mercy that the infant escaped death.

  24. mburduck says:

    That’s how I teach my university literature courses, Chicken. FIRST I plave the work in the context of its own time. THEN, perhaps, we might examine the work from perpsectives of our own time. Always remember that literature is a product of ITS age.

  25. mburduck says:

    *place. I never typed well! LOL

  26. MouseTemplar says:

    This makes me want to put in a plug for Blessed Margaret of Castello.

    She was a blind hunchback who was abandoned by her ‘noble’ parents [they snuck off after abandoning her at a shrine]. Prior to that they had her walled up in the local church where she received her catechism from the priest there.

    The ultimate unwanted child, she became a Dominican tertiary. Now we Lay Dominicans beg her help when we pray for the unborn…still looking for that third miracle.

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Masked Chicken was making a point that these days (only a few years later), it’s seen as very offensive to use the word “hunchback” even in a historical sense. I have a good friend who recently got very offended with me for using such an expression (“cripple,” IIRC) and there have been serious attempts to amend placenames like Cripple Creek.

    And of course it’s true that the disability is not the person, but it’s equally true that the adjective becomes the noun in English grammar with great regularity, and without it being seen as a sin. “The blonde” isn’t forbidden, nor “the elderly,” nor “the young.” And the reason is that the nouning of adjectives is convenient.

  28. jenniphd says:

    I’m so happy that I read Hugo in college when I was fluent enough in French to do so. I even tried my hand at translating his poetry. There’s a good reason I didn’t become a professional translator.

    Those of you who talk about revisiting works at different seasons of our lives are right. I gain important insights from re-reading. I only wish I were still fluent enough to reread the original. Perhaps the falling away of such competencies is another lesson of the seasons of life.

  29. asophist says:

    On Quasimodo Sunday, an Episcopalian friend of mine attended a Catholic Mass (his FIRST), with me (10:00 Mass at St. Agnes). When the schola intoned the Introit (“Quasimodo geniti infantes”), it sent chills up my spine. The Mass was in the Extraordinary Form. My friend said afterwards that it “was the most beautiful service” he had ever attended. Maybe there’s hope for his conversion. Please say a prayer for that intention. Thank you.

  30. stephen c says:

    are not we all at some time he ?
    Best 8 syllables I’ve read on the internet in a long long time ….

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