Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
IN a twinkling burghers, students, and Basochians had set to work, and all was ready to carry out Coppenoles suggestion. The little chapel facing the marble table was chosen as the mise en scène of the grimaces. A pane of glass was broken out of the charming rose-window above the door, leaving an empty ring of stone, through which the competitors were to thrust their heads, while two barrels, procured from goodness knows where, and balanced precariously on the top of one another, enabled them to mount up to it. It was then agreed that, in order that the impression of the grimace might reach the beholder in full unbroken purity, each candidate, whether male or female (for there could be a female pope), was to cover his face and remain concealed in the chapel till the moment of his appearance.
From his place on the platform Coppenole ordered everything, directed everything, arranged everything. During the hubbub, and pretexting vespers and other affairs of importance, the Cardinal, no less disconcerted than Gringoire, retired with his whole suite, and the crowd, which had evinced so lively an interest in his arrival, was wholly unmoved by his departure. Guillaume Rym alone noticed the rout of his Eminence.
Popular attention, like the sun, pursued its even course. Starting at one end of the Hall, it remained stationary for a time in the middle, and was now at the other end. The marble table, the brocade-covered platform, had had their day; now it was the turn of the Chapel of Louis XI. The field was clear for every sort of folly; the Flemings and the rabble were masters of the situation.
The pulling of faces began. The first to appear in the openingeye-lids turned inside out, the gaping mouth of a ravening beast, the brow creased and wrinkled like the hussar boots of the Empire periodwas greeted with such a roar of inextinguishable laughter that Homer would have taken all these ragamuffins for gods.
Nevertheless, the great Hall was anything rather than Olympus, as Gringoires poor Jupiter knew to his cost. A second, a third distortion followed, to be succeeded by another and another; and with each one the laughter redoubled, and the crowd stamped and roared its delight. There was in the whole scene a peculiar frenzy, a certain indescribable sense of intoxication and fascination almost impossible to convey to the reader of our times and social habits.
Picture to yourself a series of faces representing successively every geometrical form, from the triangle to the trapezium, from the cone to the polyhedron; every human expression, from rage to lewdness; every stage of life, from the creases of the newly born to the wrinkles of hoary age; every phantasm of mythology and religion, from Faunus to Beelzebub; every animal head, from the buffalo to the eagle. from the shark to the bulldog. Conceive all the grotesques of the Pont-Neuf, those nightmares turned to stone under the hand of Germain Pilon, inspired with the breath of life, and rising up one by one to stare you in the face with gleaming eyes; all the masks of the Carnival of Venice passing in procession before youin a word, a human kaleidoscope.
The orgy became more and more Flemish. Tenniers himself could have given but a feeble idea of it; a Salvator Rosa battle-piece treated as a bacchic feast would be nearer the mark. There were no longer scholars, ambassadors, burghers, men or women; neither Clopin Trouillefou nor Gilles Lecornu nor Marie Quatrelivres nor Robin Poussepain. The individual was swallowed up in the universal license. The great Hall was simply one vast furnace of effrontery and unbridled mirth, in which every mouth was a yell, every countenance a grimace, every individual a posture. The whole mass shrieked and bellowed. Every new visage that came grinning and gnashing to the window was fresh fuel to the furnace. And from this seething multitude, like steam from a caldron, there rose a humshrill, piercing, sibilant, as from a vast swarm of gnats.
To do our friend Jehan justice, however, he was still visible in the midst of the pandemonium, high up on his pillar like a ships boy in the mizzen, gesticulating like a maniac, his mouth wide open and emitting sounds that nobody heard; not because they were drowned by the all-pervading clamour, terrific as it was, but because doubtless they had reached the limit at which shrill sounds are audiblethe twelve thousand vibrations of Sauveur, or the eight thousand of Biot.
Go on, said he for the third time to his players. Go on, you speaking machines, and proceeded to pace with long strides in front of the marble table. At one moment he was seized with the desire to go and present himself at the round window, if only for the gratification of pulling a face at this thankless crowd. But no, he said to himself, that would be beneath our dignityno vengeance. We will fight on to the end. The power of poetry over the people is great. I shall yet regain my hold. We shall see which will win the day, belles-lettres or grimaces.
Touched to the heart by the stanchness of this audience of one, Gringoire went up to him and accosted him, shaking him gently by the arm, for the good man was leaning against the balustrade dozing comfortably.
In truth, the grimace that beamed through the broken rose-window at this moment was nothing short of miraculous. After all the facespentagonal, hexagonal, and heteroclitewhich had succeeded each other in the stone frame, without realizing the grotesque ideal set up by the inflamed popular imagination, nothing inferior to the supreme effort now dazzling the spectators would have sufficed to carry every vote. Master Coppenole himself applauded, and Clopin Trouillefou, who had competedand Lord knows to what heights his ugliness could attainhad to own himself defeated. We will do likewise, nor attempt to convey to the reader a conception of that tetrahedral nose, that horse-shoe mouth, of that small left eye obscured by a red and bristling brow, while the right disappeared entirely under a monstrous wart, of those uneven teeth, with breaches here and there like the crenated walls of a fortress, of that horny lip over which one of the teeth projected like an elephants tusk, of that cloven chin, nor, above all, of the expression overlying the wholean indefinable mixture of malice, bewilderment, and sadness. Picture such an ensemble to yourself if you can.
There was not a single dissentient voice. They rushed to the Chapel and in triumph dragged forth the thrice lucky Pope of Fools. Then surprise and admiration reached the culminating pointhe had but shown his natural countenance.
Rather, let us say, his whole person was a grimace. An enormous head covered with red bristles; between the shoulders a great hump balanced by one in front; a system of thighs and legs so curiously misplaced that they only touched at the knees, and, viewed from the front, appeared like two sickles joined at the handles; huge splay feet, monstrous hands, and, with all this deformity, a nameless impression of formidable strength, agility, and couragestrange exception to the eternal rule, which decrees that strength, like beauty, shall be the outcome of harmony.
The moment this species of Cyclops appeared in the doorway of the Chapel, standing motionless, squat, almost as broad as he was long, squared by the base, as a great man has described it, he was instantly recognised by his party-coloured coat, half red, half violet, sprinkled with little silver bells, and above all, by the perfection of his ugliness.
Meanwhile Quasimodo, the object of all this uproar, stood grave and unmoved in the doorway of the Chapel, and suffered himself to be admired. One of the scholars, Robin Poussepain I think it was, came up and laughed in his facesomewhat too close. Without a word Quasimodo seized him by the belt and tossed him into the crowd full ten paces off.
Gods cross! Holy Father! exclaimed Master Coppenole in amazement. Yours is the rarest ugliness I have over beheld in all my born days. You deserve to be Pope of Rome, as well as of Paris. And so saying, he clapped a jovial hand on the hunchbacks shoulder.
The mans a devil, growled Robin Poussepain, still giddy from his fall. He shows himself, and you discover he is a hunchback; he walks, and he is bow-legged; he looks at you, and he has only one eye; you speak to him, and he is deaf. Why, what does this Polyphemus do with his tongue?
Meanwhile all the beggars, all the lackeys, all the cutpurses, had tacked themselves on to the scholars, and gone in procession to the wardrobe of the Basoche to fetch the pasteboard tiara and the mock robe reserved for the Fools Pope, with which Quasimodo permitted himself to be invested without turning a hair, and with a sort of proud docility. They then seated him on a chair, twelve officers of the Fraternity of Fools lifted him on their shoulders, and a gleam of bitter and disdainful satisfaction lit up the morose face of the Cyclops as he saw the heads of all these fine, strong, straight-limbed men beneath his misshapen feet.