Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quasimodo and the Pope of Fools Desk Graffiti


“As for Gringoire, the first moment of depression having passed, he had regained his composure.  He hardened himself against adversity.  –“Continue.”  -Victor Hugo, Hunchback of Notre-Dame

I know... I know... Nazi graffiti carved into a classroom desk where French author Victor Hugo is being studied... kind of defies the odds... It took me two decades to teach The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, it was worth the wait.
“Tis Quasimodo, the bellringer!  Tis Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre-Dame!  Quasimodo, the one-eyed!  Quasimodo, the bandy-legged!  Let the women with child beware!”  -Victor Hugo, Hunchback of Notre-Dame

It's said that great writers think a lot of about exposition, and Hunchback has such a interesting hook to start.  The playwright Gringoire being rejected for the aptly named "Pope of Fools" contest in pure Parisian fashion where the ugliest mug is touted through the streets and jeered.  Of course, the hapless and innocent Quasimodo, whose name is a pun meaning "almost" and "the standard measure" which together implies "almost the standard measure" of a human being.
“Oh!  The horrible monkey!”  Said one of them.  “As wicked as he is ugly,” retorted another.  “He is the devil,” added a third.  -Victor Hugo, Hunchback of Notre-Dame

But the helpless child is also found by the villainous Count Frollo on Quasimodo Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter, where all mankind should be given a second chance... to live free and be redeemed.
“I have the misfortune to live near Notre-Dame; I hear him prowling round the eaves by night.  With the cats!  He’s always on our roofs.  He throws spells down our chimneys.”  -Victor Hugo, Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The students love the book... these are 11th graders mind you and we've been studying the macabre.  I gave them Poe's Tell Tale Heart, and Shakespeare's Macbeth, and Irving's Sleepy Hollow, and Dickens' Christmas Carol... but it's Quasimodo who breaks their hearts... I've seen to that.  (Is that another white whale... what?)
“The other evening, he came and made a grimace at me through my attic window.  I thought it was a man.  Such a fright as I had.”  -Victor Hugo, Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Some days are tough...I scrub out these desks and sand them with gritty stone (I'm only showing you the G-Rated ones mind you).  I clean them because I always despised the Pope of Fools.  No one should be paraded through the streets in a cage.  The defiled should always be given a second life.  Here's to Quasimodo in all his many forms.



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