The Hunchback of Notre-Dame: Novel Summary: Book III Chapter 1

Victor Hugo, writing from the mid-nineteenth century, uses this chapter to lament the changes that have been made to the church of Our Lady at Paris (i.e. Notre Dame de Paris) by men over the years. “That magnificent art which the Vandals had produced” he states, “the academies have murdered.” He notes that the cathedral was constructed during a period of architectural transition from the Roman style to the Gothic, thus it is adorned with both heavy pillars and vaulted arches. Hugo declares that all great works of architecture, like Notre Dame, are the products of national trends and societal effort and each wave of time leaves its mark upon buildings as each generation seeks to makes its impression. “Time is the architect,” he concludes, “nation is the builder.” He notes that the basic design for cathedrals is essentially the same whether the style is Roman, Gothic or Revival. Typically there are two naves crossing at right angles, the upper extremity is rounded into a chancel and two low sides for processions and the chapels. Beyond that it is the prevailing tastes which determine how the structure shall grow and be adorned. “The trunk of the tree is unchanging,” he writes, “the vegetation is capricious.”