Study Guide

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Narrator Point of View

By Victor Hugo

Narrator Point of View

Third Person (Omniscient)

WARNING: Do not assume that the narrator of this novel is Victor Hugo. Sure, he may constantly remind us of how he is writing the novel in the 1830's, like when in Book VII.IV in the middle of the narrative he mentions a bit of graffiti from 1829. Sure, he keeps referring to "the reader," as if aware of the fact that he is the writer. But we at Shmoop are here to tell you to ignore every bit of your intuition.

Now, it may not seem immediately harmful to assume that Hugo is the narrator. But instead we're going to suggest that you assume that the narrator, while he is clearly the writer of the novel, is also a character as well. There's a really good reason why you should do this too. The narrator of The Hunchback is a really opinionated guy. He makes a lot of sarcastic comments about the characters and the way things were run way back in medieval Paris (which you can read more about in our Tone section). But we don't want to assume that those opinions belong to the real flesh-and-blood Hugo for the simple fact that there are novels out there in which we're not supposed to trust the narrator's opinion.

Sometimes, we get books where we're supposed to know that the narrator is taking a stance that is the opposite of what the writer agrees with. Take a book like Pride and Prejudice, for example, which back-handedly makes fun of everyone's obsession with marriage and money by pretending to also be obsessed with marriage and money.

So it's a good rule of thumb to just always maintain that distance between a narrator and a writer. Which brings us to another point about why the narrator is in fact a character and not Hugo: the Author's Preface. In it, the author claims that he was inspired to write the novel based on some medieval graffiti that he saw one time at Notre-Dame. This fun little anecdote might be true, but there is also nothing preventing it from being completely made up. Its real purpose is to help situate the novel in "reality." We as readers know that the novel is fiction, but we suspend our disbelief and pretend for a while that Louis XI really did visit a made-up character like Frollo one night in 1481.

So while it's completely plausible that Hugo's narrator is just Hugo, we need to recognize that this is still a work of fiction and that there is nothing stopping Hugo from making things up and claiming that it is real. It might only be "real" in the world of the narrator. Everything is fair game in fiction.