Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or What Came Out of a Bottle of Ink

A race against time. Victor Hugo buys a bottle of ink and a knitted robe. He locks up his other clothes, gives the key to his wife, envelops himself in the robe and sits in front of this ink. No more writing a chapter of a novel here, a scene of a drama there. Time is of an essence. He missed deadline after deadline. Only three months separate him from delivering the manuscript of Hunchback of Notre Dame to his publisher, Gosselin. For every week's delay he will forfeit 1,000 francs.


Victor Hugo enters Notre Dame as into "prison", relates his wife. He stops only to eat and sleep. He buys a new bottle of ink, says Maurice Mauris, and does not stop until it runs out. "Notre Dame de Paris" and "Napoleon le Petit" are the only books which I have actually written without interruption", says Hugo. The bottle of ink was emptied just when the word "end" was appended to each of them. So the story goes.

Hugo completed the manuscript of the Hunchback of Notre Dame on January 14, 1831. According to Maurice, Victor thought of naming the novel "What Came Out of a Bottle of Ink". When in June 12, 1852 he completed the pamphlet "Napoleon le Petit" he wrote on the bottle with his last drops of ink :
De cette bouteille sortit
Napoleon le Petit. -V.H.
Or so the story goes.
Victor Hugo, Oeuvres illustrées de Victor Hugo, Paris: J. Hetzel 1853

Maurice Mauris, "Recollections of Victor Hugo. Guernsey", The New York Times, June 15, 1879; Isabel Roche's introduction to Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mass Market Paperback, 2004.

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