Hugolian Gothic

Graham Robb

  • BuyThe Gargoyles of Notre-Dame: Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity by Michael Camille
    Chicago, 439 pp, £34.00, June 2009, ISBN 978 0 226 09245 4

It was Victor Hugo who first brought the water evacuation system of Notre-Dame cathedral to the world’s attention. The central character of Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) was like a living gargoyle, a tortured ‘bundle of disordered limbs’ swinging furiously on bell-ropes, scrambling over the face of Notre-Dame, dislodging the crows, as he leaped ‘from projection to projection’. ‘Sometimes, in an obscure corner of the church, one came upon a sort of living chimera, crouching and scowling; it was Quasimodo deep in thought.’ In 1831, the original 13th-century gargoyles and chimeras had long since vanished, and most of their later medieval replacements had decayed beyond recognition. Some of those leering, limestone conduits had crashed to the ground, as though impatient to get their blunt teeth and claws into the sinners below. When Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc began his restoration of the cathedral in 1843, he had little to go on but a few featureless stumps and badly weathered monsters lying about the garden behind the apse.

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