Profession: If you want to read a book that makes you really depressed about life, try on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
First off, we examine the plot. We start with the perfect girl, mix in a dash of Gypsy, an unspeakable grace of motion, a mesmerizing beauty, a pet goat, and lost parents. We add four undeserving men who fall violently in love with her: a devilish priest, a debauching soldier, an idiot artist, and an ugly hunchback. We mix them all up, place her virginity in repeated positions of extreme danger, make her fall in love with the least deserving of all, separate her by an infinite distance from the only one of worth, end the story with a grand killing off of all main characters, hero and villain alike… and hey presto! we get The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The author mixes brilliant ideas, literary worth, and beautifully sculpted phrases (“He had one of those awkwardly shaped heads where intelligence is about as much at its ease as a light beneath an extinguisher”) with much that is offensive, and more that is overreaching and ludicrous (“She paced the cell hurriedly, and halted now and then to pluck out handfuls of her gray hairs, which she afterwards tore with her teeth”). Truly a book of the 1800’s: drama, death, and glory.
I read a summary of the Disney film afterwards, wondering “What in the world did they show children from this story? It’s all witch hunts, immorality and violence.” But when has that stopped Disney before?
The lengthy style alone convinces you of infinity without an afterlife. We detour from the plot into a philosophical discussion that takes all of Book V to develop, and return at last to our unfortunate heroes, who presumably have been knitting and whistling under their breath (on the gibbet), awaiting our return.
But in fact the philosophy, though threaded through long dark labyrinths of thought, is the only part of the book worth pondering. If you survive. Book V happened to be, in the end, the part that will stay with me, the part that left me utterly fascinated—despite the author’s apology when embarking. “Our lady readers will pardon us if we pause for a moment…”
Well, I read some good books this month. I read Emma by Jane Austen and Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Deuteronomy by Moses and Mark by Mark. And cleaned and sewed and scrapbooked and kicked butt. And went through an ordination lot for head pastor with my husband (we remain assistants) and ordered baby trees and found unsolicited packages of freshly-purchased toilet paper in the back seat of my car. And bought groceries and soaked in jet tubs and organized more closets and drawers than I care to think about. And slept in every morning and drank tea and cursed the weather and taught my kids how to play Skip-Bo.
There’s more, and I’ll tell you all about it.
Well, not quite all.
It is so
to be back.
To Whom It May Concern: