Victor Hugo and the Journey Towards Revolutionary Literature


Culminating my master’s degree in English, my dissertation will examine how, specifically in Gothic literature, disability, both physical and psychiatric, affects the concepts of power and vulnerability, causing characters to become misunderstood and often villainised. My research will span literature from the nineteenth to the early twentieth century and argue how writers of Gothic Literature only included disabled characters in their fiction if the characters’ disabilities aesthetically disfigured their visual appearance and thus inspired dread or terror through the reader and amongst the society in which the literature was set. Since my dissertation will encompass the works of Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Gaston Leroux, I decided to centre my data visualisations (a timeline and a juxtapose) on Victor Hugo, considering that Hugo’s literary work, particularly The Hunchback of Notre Dame, heavily influenced the Gothic writing of Dickens and Leroux.

Visualisation 1: Timeline

Using biographical data, the following timeline demonstrates the life of Victor Hugo in sequences. The timeline begins with the historical context of revolutionary France in the late 18th century. It goes on to visualise Hugo’s life, spanning through his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, whilst simultaneously highlighting his most acclaimed literary and political accomplishments along the way. The interactive nature of the timeline allows the viewer to move forward and backward and identify which moments or events in Hugo’s life were happening in tandem.

Visualisation 2: Juxtapose

Using an illustration and a still image, the following juxtapose compares how a disabled character was represented in nineteenth-century Gothic Literature in contrast to a late 20th-century animated feature film. The left side of the juxtapose shows the character of Quasimodo from Notre-Dame De Paris portrayed under a grotesque light. The illustration included in an 1844 illustrated edition of the novel likens Quasimodo’s disability and facial disfigurement to that of a frightening sub-human deserving of punishment. Contrarily, the right side of the juxtapose provides an opposite alternative, with Disney’s Quasimodo resembling both a cheerful and empathetic character.