Along with “Les Misérables”, “Notre-Dame de Paris” (in some translations known as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”) is the most famous novel penned by the French poet, author and playwriter Victor Hugo (1802-1885).
This edition includes the novel’s complete text with three chapters which were not included in its early publications. It’s been translated into Russian by a great Soviet translator Nadejda Kogan. This edition reproduces the author’s preface to the first complete edition of the work. In this preface, Hugo suggests that the three chapters (omitted from the earliest iterations of the book) help to assert the novel’s prime motivation and its major aim of imbuing the reader’s consciousness with a deep sense of respect for the monumental medieval architecture.
In Hugo’s time many old churches and cathedrals saw a lot of destruction or were subjected to rebuilding and redecoration, which demolished the beauty and genius of the original architecture along with the art within. Notre-Dame de Paris was one such landmark and Hugo made it one of the central characters in his novel alongside Esmeralda and Quasimodo.
In the preface Hugo writes of a gothic style inscription in Greek, meaning “ill-fate”, which he saw written on a dark wall during one of his visits to Notre-Dame cathedral. The next time Hugo went looking for this word it wasn’t there. “A few hundred years ago the man who wrote it on the wall has perished, the word he wrote has perished from the cathedral wall and the cathedral itself may soon get obliterated from the face of the earth soon”, reflected Hugo. A little more than two years ago this prophecy has come dangerously close to eventuating. On 15th April 2019, the world was stunned by the footage of the fire that broke out in the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris enveloping the top of the building in raging flames. The fire has damaged parts of it quite severely, however, spared the main architectural corpus. Some artefacts were lost, but many were moved to safety on the day of the fire and some significant pieces were fortunately removed for planned restoration a few days before the fire. Complete rebuilding and restoration of the cathedral could take more than twenty years and over 1 million euro for rebuilding has already been raised in pledges through the fundraising campaign initiated by the French president.
In the light of this event, the historical significance of Hugo’s literary masterpiece reaches a new level. As many a literary masterpiece of significance “Notre-Dame de Paris” is not just a story about the destinies of its central characters, it’s a tale which delineates an epoch in the history of a nation with all its complex multi-layered themes and meanings.
This book is sumptuously illustrated by one of the most notable young French illustrators on the artistic scene today. Benjamin Lacombe needs little or no introduction. Much of his fabulous work results in bestselling books. He has illustrated classics like this novel by Hugo, Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”, Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, Prosper Mérimée’s, “Carmen” and Pierre’s Loti’s “Madame Butterfly” to name a few. He has also written and illustrated books of his own, from his beautiful take on historical figures in “Frida” and “Marie-Antoinette” to the stunning “Ondina” and “Butterfly Lovers”, again just to name a few.
Benjamin’s first-ever written and illustrated work “Cerise Griotte” (English translation “Cherry and Olive” reviewed here) was his graduation diploma project at the National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) in Paris. It was published as a picture book in France first in 2006 (Seuil Jeunesse), then a year later in the US (Walker Books) and was named best book of 2007 by the Time Magazine.
Check out Benjamin Lacombe’s self-portrait included in the biography note at back end of “Notre-Dame de Paris”. As young and handsome as he is talented, isn’t he. Enjoy browsing his stunning illustrations below.