How ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ inspired the cathedral’s 19th-century revival


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The gargoyles that sit on Notre Dame today were installed as a nod to the cathedral’s past.
Noemiseh91/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Julia Walker, Binghamton University, State University of New York

On April 15, people around the world watched in horror as a voracious fire consumed the medieval wooden roof of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral and felled its spire.

The following day brought some measure of relief: Despite the building’s wrenching losses, its masonry structure was largely intact, and many of its precious relics had been swiftly and lovingly removed by a human chain of church officials and firefighters. The building had steadfastly endured the destructive flames.

Since then, Notre Dame has been hailed as a stable and enduring symbol of French identity.

But it would be more accurate to say that the cathedral’s importance comes from the very instability of its meaning.

Originally completed in 1345, by the early 19th century Notre Dame stood in a state of dire disrepair. It took an idiosyncratic young architect, moved by Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” to fashion a new meaning for the building – one that, ironically, looked nostalgically to the past for inspiration.

‘The book will destroy the edifice’

In 1831, when Victor Hugo published his famous novel “Notre Dame de Paris” – known in English as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – the country was experiencing rapid social, political and industrial change.

The cathedral, meanwhile, had fallen by the wayside. Years of neglect, blinkered renovation efforts and the anti-Catholic zeal of the French Revolution had left the once-regal building in ruins.

During the French Revolution, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. Only the great bells avoided being melted down, and the church interior was used as a warehouse for the storage of food.
Brown University Library

Set in the 15th century, the novel alluringly evoked a different period in French history. In the novel, Hugo lamented that the printing press had supplanted architecture as the primary communicator of civilization’s cherished values. In one of the book’s most famous moments, the archdeacon Frollo points sadly to a printed book on his table.

“Alas! This will kill that,” he laments, directing his finger to the cathedral looming magisterially outside his window. He continues, “The book will destroy the edifice.”

Like other Romanticist writers and artists, Hugo imagined the Middle Ages as a simpler time, an era when society was governed by pure faith. He believed that back then, the cathedral was able to inspire the masses and guide them toward a life of devotion and morality. Hugo hoped that his novel might spur the building’s rebirth, allowing it to renew France’s ethical core during the Industrial Revolution.

One architect, attracted to the picturesque history on view in Hugo’s novel, would ultimately heed his call.

An architect reaches longingly for the past

Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was a teenager when Hugo’s novel was published. The book affirmed Viollet-le-Duc’s suspicion that his own age’s riot of styles and tastes reflected the unwieldy chaos of modern life.

Like Hugo, he sought to capture France’s “authentic” past and, like Hugo, was drawn to the Middle Ages.

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Wikimedia Commons

For this reason, he refused to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts, the main training ground for France’s architects, because of the school’s dogmatic focus on classical architecture. He opted instead to learn on the job, working for architects around Paris while studying the city’s medieval architecture in his spare time.

In 1842, the government announced a competition for Notre Dame’s restoration and the 28-year-old Viollet-le-Duc threw his hat into the ring. By then, he had already established his reputation as an expert in the restoration of medieval buildings.

But for him, restoration was about more than touching up an existing form. It meant breathing life into a building by transforming it.

As he later wrote, “To restore a building is not to preserve it, to repair or rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness which could never have existed at any given time.” Viollet-le-Duc knew that the very act of restoring old buildings was, itself, a modern notion.

A symbol of stability in uncertain times?

Thus, Viollet-le-Duc’s winning entry would not simply aim to preserve the cathedral as it then stood. Instead, he sought to revive the building’s mythical past.

During the restoration, Viollet-le-Duc redesigned and rebuilt the medieval spire, which had been removed in the 1780s due to its vulnerability in high winds (an absence that had appalled Hugo). He also sprinkled the building with its now-famous gargoyles in accord with Hugo’s atmospheric depiction of a building adorned with “grinning monsters.”

Viollet-le-Duc’s renovated cathedral – the version that we know today – is a product both of the French Middle Ages and of its architectural revival in the 19th century. Like Hugo, Viollet-le-Duc romantically conceived medieval architecture as a stable bulwark against his own uncertain times. He wanted to intensify what he saw as the building’s mystical power – its ability to speak to France’s past at a time when the forces of modernity were threatening to sweep its traces away.

Viollet-le-Duc also ensured his own role in the rehabilitation would forever be preserved: His likeness appears in the face of a copper statue of St. Thomas at the base of the spire.

By good fortune, this statue was removed for the renovation just last week and was spared from the conflagration.

Viollet-le-Duc’s face appears on a statue of St. Thomas.
Harmonia Amanda/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Since the fire, many writers have correctly pointed out that the catastrophe is also only one episode in a much longer story of architectural survival.

Notre Dame will certainly live on in some new form; France has been offered astronomical donations for the purpose. In fact, a competition to redesign the spire has already been announced.

Much like Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration, this newest version of Notre Dame will look to the past – selectively – to ensure the building’s future.The Conversation

Julia Walker, Assistant Professor of Art History, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Scribd Producing Original Content


The link below is to an article that reports on Scribd now producing original content.

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2019 Man Booker International Prize Shortlist


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2019 Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

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https://publishingperspectives.com/2019/04/five-women-authors-six-women-translators-on-man-booker-2019-internationals-shortlist/
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2019/04/10/man-booker-international-shortlist/
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Shakespeare: research blows away stereotypes and reveals teenagers actually love the Bard


Cathy Baldwin, The Open University

When you think of inner-city teenagers, what springs to mind? For many, it’s hoodies, video games – and probably hating Shakespeare. But my research proves that this stereotype is far from the truth.

Shakespeare holds a contested place in the English national curriculum as the only compulsory writer to be studied between the ages of 11 and 16. This imposed curriculum attempts to situate Shakespeare’s plays as part of national culture, rather than purely as an exemplar of high art. But teens are rarely asked directly about their experiences of education, and about its relevance to them.

Instead, they are often represented as a homogenous group who are bored and resistant to studying Shakespeare, particularly when it comes to struggling with the language he used.

However, my research with over 800 students in four London secondary schools offers a very different picture. I asked these 13 to 14-year-olds what they think and/or feel when they hear the word “Shakespeare” – and some of their answers defied expectations.

What students say

Many students told me that they actually enjoy studying Shakespeare in school. From comments such as “I feel happy because I like most of his plays”, to “I feel excited because Shakespeare was the best writer ever […] a legend or genius”, they expressed levels of interest in Shakespeare that are rarely acknowledged.

These students also did not see the language as a barrier, but as a challenge to be embraced. One commented: “I also get quite happy because we do not often look at texts with old English.”

In this large cohort of students, some comments stand out, showing how varied and individual their responses are. One described Shakespeare as “one of my inspirations for writing poetry”, while another said that “although I don’t really like English, I like his plays a lot”.

Teachers seem to play a key role in developing a positive attitude in some of their students. One student said that “all the work I’ve done on Shakespeare has been interesting and fun”, while another said she “really enjoyed the last play that we did”.

This study did not look in detail at what actually happens in the classroom, but many of the students’ comments suggest that having the confidence to approach a Shakespeare text with a positive attitude partly comes from the teacher’s attitude to him and his work.

‘Be not afraid of greatness …’

In addition to the wholly positive comments, some students demonstrated a more mixed response to the subject. One student told me that “sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes it’s just boring ‘cause in Year 7 I remember we did this one play for a very long time and it was just kind of the same thing every lesson for a double lesson”.

Here, the lessons were clearly not varied enough to hold this student’s attention all the time, although the comment suggests that the student knew that studying Shakespeare could be interesting and fun, even if it isn’t always like that in practice.

For others, the choice of play is key: “Some Shakespeare plays are more interesting than others, in my opinion.” One of the students I interviewed also articulated a clear tension in her attitudes towards studying Shakespeare. She said:

The good part is because everyone goes through different stuff, some people can relate and they can feel like they’re not alone or like this has happened before and studying Shakespeare makes you see the world differently, […] and the bad thing about it [is] learning how to write in the Shakespeare kind of structure when it won’t be useful in the future.

For a number of students, there are perhaps inevitable negative connotations attached to the word “Shakespeare”. Some did describe Shakespeare simply as “boring”, but others explained their reservations in more detail. One said: “I feel like I’ve heard the word Shakespeare too much and that I don’t want to talk about him.” Another thought “about long complicated language that no one understands”, while further complaints were about how “it is unnecessary to learn about as I don’t understand what’s beneficial for us as students”.

Overall, the students involved in this research demonstrated a breadth and depth of response to Shakespeare that counters the generalised belief that teenagers respond poorly to his work. Indeed, used as an introductory question to establish students’ attitudes to Shakespeare before attending a production at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, in London, I have been fascinated by the variety and subtlety of thought they have demonstrated.

As one said: “I feel honoured that I’ve covered Shakespeare in school, because telling people you have read his plays makes you sound smart.” The sense of privilege inherent in this comment, despite the fact that everyone studies Shakespeare at school, is clearly something to cherish.The Conversation

Cathy Baldwin, PhD Candidate in Education, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Library of the Son of Christopher Columbus


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Newly discovered Du Maurier poems shed light on a talented writer honing her craft


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For decades, Du Maurier poems were hidden behind this picture.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

Laura Varnam, University of Oxford

Daphne du Maurier remains one of the 20th century’s most popular and enigmatic writers, her life captivating readers as much as her works, as the most recent biography, Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, has shown. Her literary reputation is also finally on the rise and, although her most popular novel Rebecca has often overshadowed her wide-ranging achievements as a writer, the celebration of its 80th anniversary last year reinforced Du Maurier’s place in the canon of English Literature as a serious and influential author.

This will be aided by the recent discovery of unknown poems, written early in her writing career, hidden behind a stunning photograph of the young Du Maurier in a bathing costume on the rocks, poised to take flight into the sea that was such an inspiration to her work.

The poems were discovered by auctioneer Roddy Lloyd of Rowley’s auction house, Ely, as he prepared the archive of Du Maurier materials belonging to the late Maureen Baker-Munton for auction on April 27. Baker-Munton was PA to Daphne’s husband, Lt Gen Sir Frederick “Boy” Browning and she became a close and important friend to the Du Maurier Browning family, as expert Ann Willmore explains on the Du Maurier website.

Du Maurier with her husband Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning in 1956.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

Du Maurier is still primarily known as a novelist – as well as the bestseller Rebecca she is also rightly revered for the great Cornish novels, Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman’s Creek (1941) and My Cousin Rachel (1951). But, as I argue in the book I am writing on Du Maurier, she was a far more versatile, wide-ranging, and experimental writer than is currently recognised. Du Maurier wrote plays, short stories and biographies throughout her career but she was also a poet, as her son Kits Browning explained to me when we spoke over the telephone recently.




Read more:
Du Maurier’s Rebecca at 80: why we will always return to Manderley


Honing her craft

The newly discovered poems were written when Du Maurier was honing her craft as a writer in the late 1920s. At that stage she was primarily writing short stories but, as Browning told me: “My mother wrote poetry throughout her life and career.” Indeed Du Maurier often used poetry as a way of exploring an experience or emotion or testing out a character before then expanding on her ideas in a short story or novel. One of the newly discovered poems focuses on loneliness:

When I was ten, I thought the greatest bliss,
would be to rest all day upon hot sand under a burning sun…
time has slipped by, and finally I’ve known,
The lure of beaches under exotic skies,
and find my dreams to be misguided lies,
For God! How dull it is to rest alone.

Du Maurier’s work is preoccupied by the difference between fantasy and reality – and the dangers of dreaming – and her work repeatedly returns to the tension between the desire for independence and the need for companionship and human contact.

Gender and sexuality

Another poem: Song of the Happy Prostitute, portrays a woman who is frustrated with the way her profession is represented.

Why do they picture me as tired and old…
selling myself with sorrow,
just to gain a few dull pence to shield me from the rain.

Song of the Happy Prostitute.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

What on first sight might seem an unusual, even controversial, topic for the young writer in fact reflects the dominant themes of her early work, as Ann Willmore, of Bookends of Fowey, explained to me recently. Willmore discovered the unpublished Du Maurier short story The Doll in which a young woman, suggestively named Rebecca, protects her personal independence by keeping a sex doll. “The Happy Prostitute poem fits in with Daphne’s interests in gender and sexuality, especially in her early work, and she did seem to want to shock her readers”, Willmore told me.

The poem also, in my view, relates to two early short stories from the same period of Du Maurier’s life in which she created the character of a prostitute called Mazie who boldly claimed that her work enabled her to be independent. “I’m free, I don’t owe anything to no one, I belong to myself”, Mazie declares in the short story Piccadilly. Growing up in the 1920s, when the freedom and autonomy of women was increasingly a topic for public debate, Du Maurier’s choice of subject matter reflects the concerns of her day.

Du Maurier and her children at Menabilly, the house near Fowey in Cornwall in which she and her family lived for many years. The house was the inspiration for the novel Rebecca.
Image courtesy of Deep South Media

Du Maurier was a very privileged young woman, growing up in the grandeur of Cannon Hall in Hampstead – but her background was theatrical and Bohemian, as the daughter of celebrated actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and stage actress Muriel Beaumont. And, as her son Kits Browning stressed, she was an avid reader and gained much imaginative experience of the world from the books she devoured as a teenager.

As to why the poems were hidden behind the photograph – either by Du Maurier herself or someone else – we are unlikely ever to find out. Browning told the Daily Telegraph that perhaps she did not want her parents to read them. Perhaps the Happy Prostitute found fuller expression in the Mazie short stories.

These newly discovered poems shed important light on Du Maurier’s early work and writing practice. Still often dogged by the incorrect label of “romantic novelist”, these poems highlight the important themes of independence, gender, and sexuality that were to fascinate Du Maurier throughout her career, in both prose and poetry. They show her boldness, spirit, and strength, just like the photograph behind which they were concealed for all these years.The Conversation

Laura Varnam, Lecturer in English Literature, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.