(NOTE: Readers who do not want to know beforehand the plot of Notre-Dame de Paris might prefer to read this Introduction after the book itself.)
TODAY, more than a hundred years after Hugo's death, it is difficult, if not impossible, to approach the man and his work with an open mind. His remains were enthusiastically borne to the Panthéon in 1885, to join those of such other great men as Voltaire and Rousseau; he endured exile for nearly twenty years for speaking his mind against Napoleon III; he fought a spirited campaign all his life against capital punishment. His vast literary output includes some of the most notable poetry in French in both the lyric and the epic mode. His dramatic work was an integral part of the Romantic movement: although his plays are of very varying quality, the preface to the virtually unactable Cromwell ( 1827) is probably better known than any other manifesto of Romanticism, while Hernani literally caused a riot in the theatre at its first performance in February 1830. More to the immediate point, his two best-known novels have inspired several film versions of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (a title, incidentally, going back to the English translation of the novel in 1833) and stage, as well as film, versions of parts of Les Misérables, the most recent of which has proved a commercial success as a musical. On the subject of music, it is worth noting that as early as 1851 Verdi took Hugo's drama Le Roi s'amuse (banned as subversive after its first performance in 1832) as the basis for his opera Rigoletto (another hunchback hero . . .). The sheer energy and range of Hugo's writings, and indeed of the man himself in his life from day to day, should not be allowed to obscure the fact that all is by no means sound and fury: his poetry includes many examples of a more reflective, elegiac lyricism.
It would be misleading here to treat Notre-Dame in the light of Hugo's later novels, or as a stage in his long