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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris) is a French Romantic/Gothic novel by Victor Hugo published in1831. The title refers to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, on which the story is centered.
The novel's original French title, Notre-Dame de Paris (the formal title of the Cathedral) indicates that the Cathedral itself is the most significant aspect of the novel, both the main setting and the focus of the story's themes. With the notable exception of Phoebus and Esmeralda's meeting, almost every major event in the novel takes place within, atop, and around the outside of the cathedral, and also can be witnessed by a character standing within, atop, and around the outside of the cathedral. The Cathedral had fallen into disrepair at the time of writing, which Hugo wanted to point out. The book portrays the Gothic era as one of the extremes of architecture, passion, and religion. The theme of determinism (fate and destiny) is explored as well as revolution and social strife.
The severe distinction of the social classes is shown by the relationships of Quasimodo and Esmeralda with higher-caste people in the book. Readers can also see a variety of modern themes emanating from the work including nuanced views on gender dynamics. For example, Phoebus objectifies Esmeralda as a sexual object. And, while Esmeralda is frequently cited as a paragon of purity — this is certainly how Quasimodo sees her — she is nonetheless seen to create her own objectification of the archer captain, Phoebus, that is at odds with readers' informed view of the man.
In the novel, Hugo introduces one of several themes in the preface and the first story of book one, titled “The Grand Hall.” This theme is the exploration of cultural evolution and how mankind has been able to almost seamlessly transmit its ideas from one era to another through literature, architecture, and art. Hugo explores the cultural evolution not only between medieval and modern France but also the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, and he continues to elaborate on this theme throughout the entirety of the first book.