I got a rash. I had an allergic reaction. To what, I’m not sure, probably a plant, as I’m allergic to most of them. It started on my legs, worked its way onto my arms, my body and then eventually my face. In fact I had to take a couple of days off of work (and had a brief visit to the emergency room) because my body was so itchy and so sore, and I looked pretty awful. And while I’m not terribly vain, there was just no way I was going to be seen in public looking like that.
When I returned to the office, one of the associates, ‘S’ asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling much better, but I was glad I had taken the time off, because I looked pretty rough. I looked a lot like Quasimodo. And then he stared at me – like I was speaking a different language. So I repeated myself, and said, “Quasimodo… Quasimodo?” Still nothing, “You don’t know who Quasimodo is? How about the Hunchback of Notre Dame?” It was clear he had no idea what I was talking about. Now in fairness to ‘S’, he has admitted freely that he has no sense of pop culture, no sense of reference outside of more or less what he does, which is finance. I would argue that Quasimodo is not really a pop culture idea or character, but I decided to give him a bit of a pass.
A week or so later I am chatting with another associate, ‘A’. I’m not sure how we came to the subject but I made a joke that ‘S’ didn’t know who Quasimodo was. Suddenly, ‘A’ is looking at me like I have a big horn sticking out from the middle of my head. “Are you kidding? You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t know who Quasimodo is?” to which he sheepishly replied, “No”. I said “The Hunchback of Notre Dame? You don’t know who that is?” No. And he seemed really surprised that I was surprised. He followed it up with, “I don’t know pop culture.” But I was past giving passes and said, “It’s not pop culture; it’s a historical figure from literature; a literary icon. You know, the Notre Dame Cathedral? In Paris, France? Victor Hugo? The man’s face was on the French money?” Not a clue.
I’m perplexed, and I start to laugh. All I can think is this is crazy, it’s crazy. I have to ask another person. So I walk into ‘D’s office and ask the same question and to my astonishment I get the same answer. He said, “Well, I’m not artsy like you.” So I asked him, “Didn’t you read in school? In University, didn’t you have any obligatory reading for your courses? It’s not like I’m asking if they had you read Harry Potter.” Although I think Harry Potter should be obligatory reading, but that’s for a future post. But he said no.
So I turn to yet another associate and ask him if he knew of Quasimodo or the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I got the response I was waiting for. “Oh ya, ya. I know what that is” Whew. “I saw that movie in 1995.” My knees nearly gave out on me. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not talking about the Disney movie.” So I turned to a co-worker and said, “Please, please. I am going to lie down here on the floor. Can you can put a blanket over me, I’d like to be warm when I have my stroke. “
I proceeded into another associate ‘M’s office. M is pretty well versed in ‘pop culture’; we have a similar sense of humour and similar perspective on the world, so I figured he might be able to save my sanity. I told him the conversations that had happened and I then said, “Please, tell me you know who I mean when I say Quasimodo, or the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You do know who that is, right?” And he looked at me said, “Yes.” And I sighed and then after a moment realised, and said, “You’re humouring me aren’t you?” He started to laugh as he told me that it sounded familiar but he didn’t know, he didn’t know.
I did, eventually, finally find one associate that didn’t look confused when I asked him. But, he had never read the book.
These are very well educated men. I don’t know if it’s an age thing as the men in their late 20s/early 30s didn’t know, but the men in their late 30s early 40s seemed to be familiar with the name, even if they didn’t know why. Or maybe it’s a gender thing, as all of the women I asked knew who the Hunchback was, and all but one knew the name Quasimodo.
So when I got home I hopped onto Facebook and posted the following question:
Doing a poll for an upcoming blog: How many of you dear FB Friends have never heard of Quasimodo? And if you work in a corporate environment, please ask two or three of your colleagues if they know who Quasimodo is. You can post your feedback here or message me privately if you prefer.
Most of the responses were of disbelief, just like me.
- Huh?? There are people who don’t know???
- Now THAT is a great FB status!
- Isn’t it a given that people know who that is?
- Is that a trick question, like maybe “Quasimodo” is a computer system or something?? But since it’s you asking, I’m gonna assume you mean the Victor Hugo character…
- Yes, I have a hunch that I know Quasimodo.
- Never read the book, but I know who he is (and I did know before the Disney movie came out). Unless Quasimodo is also a new search engine or something.
- C’mon people – she said respond if you have NEVER heard of Quasimodo!
- It’s a Notre Dame shame that more people don’t know him…
- Hayden knows…took him awhile, but he got it lol! (Hayden is my 8 year old nephew)
- I know of both but I’m also writing a novel in which a young Victor Hugo is the protagonist.
- I’ve never met him but his name rings a bell. (Glad to be the first to come out with that stinky old nugget)
- Can I claim sanctuary from answering this query?
- Really? There are people who don’t know who Quasimodo is? Althought I bet a couple of guys I work with don’t know. I’ll ask.
- Hunchback of Notre Dame. Do they teach that stuff in school in anymore?
- To be honest…and this is coming from a former English and Drama student and a writer/blogger…I don;t know much about either…especially Quasimodo. I am not very well read in terms of fiction or the classics – except what I had to read for school. I am much more into non-fiction. No shame in saying this publicly. I am very well read in many other areas. And I look forward to reading your blog!!! Maybe it will spark a new interest…or at least I will learn a few things! :)))
- I thought Quasimodo was the hunchback ? It’s been a long time but I did read about him in grade school.
- Well as the foremost Quasimodo scholar in North America, I was thoroughly offended by it and
- I just used his story to teach a little French culture: Hugo, Notre Dame, social injustice – all that. There’s a beautiful song we used: “Belle” by Garou. I’m happy to give any more info.
- I saw the play when I was younger at the Young Peoples Theater.(I think that’s what it was)
- Noah (age 9) didn’t know who Quasimodo was when I asked. He knew who the Hunchback of Notre Dame was, but didn’t associate the two together.
A few days later I followed it up with,
The other week I mentioned Quazimodo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame which garnered a lot of comments. So here’s a new question for you… you may know who and what they are, but have you in fact ever read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
- No, but it’s on my list of classics to read … still struggling through Dubliners by James Joyce.
- Yes, but I think the translation may have been simplified a bit. It had a little bit of a young readers feel.
- Only the Classics Illustrated comic! And the classic Lon Chaney movie.
- I think I read it as a Classics Comic
- Nope. Should I?
- Is this a recommended Roxanne Reads?
- Oh yes, but naturally I read it in French. (Just kidding. That’s meant to make me seem smarter. Truth = I saw the Disney film…)
- The question is….Ms. Book Know It All… is it worth the read??!! Never read the book, but saw the original movie.
- Mais oui… et en français. Est-ce que ça me rends plus smart?!? Cool! …Actually, I think I was forced to in High School.
- No, just watched the movie on tv when I was young. Probably the same year it was written. Lol
All of this made me start thinking about the classics on the whole and their significance in modern culture. Are they relevant anymore? Does anyone actually read them? Or are just part of the curriculum at school? Are they discounted and even feared because they are something we are ‘supposed’ to learn? I admit that I have always had a hesitation to take on a classic because I’m afraid I won’t be smart enough to read it or understand it.
So here’s what I want to know. Which classics have you read? Which ones haven’t you read? And best yet, which ones do you pretend you’ve read?
And now for the challenge:
Notre Dame de Paris (the original title of the book) by Victor Hugo.
In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her, that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.
This book sounds amazing!
I haven’t read Notre Dame de Paris (I can brag that I have read Les Miserables). But I am going to. In fact, I have chosen it as Roxanne Reads first book club pick (for our new format). This summer pick up a copy of the book at the library, or a second hand bookshop or in e-book format and read it with me. Then join me in September in person (date and location to be determined) or via Facebook, Twitter or Skype feed and let’s chat about it. It’s a big book, and the language is challenging, but the story sounds thrilling and I can’t wait to talk with all of you about what you think.
I’ll be posting updates on my progress throughout the summer (without giving away any spoilers), and I hope you will keep me posted on how the book is going for you.