The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) is an 1831 French novel written by Victor Hugo. It is set in 1482 in Paris, in and around the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The book tells the story of a poor barefoot Gypsy girl (La Esmeralda) and a misshapen bell-ringer (Quasimodo) who was raised by the archdeacon (Claude Frollo). The book was written as a statement to preserve the Notre Dame cathedral and not to 'modernize' it, as Hugo was thoroughly against this.
Hugo began to write Hunchback
in 1829. The agreement with his original publisher, Gosselin, was that the book would be finished that same year. However, Hugo was constantly delayed due to the demands of other projects. By the summer of 1830, Gosselin demanded the book to be completed by February 1831. And so beginning in September 1830, Hugo worked non-stop on the project; he bought a new bottle of ink, a woolen cloak, and cloistered himself in his room refusing to be bothered or to leave his house (except for nightly visits to the cathedral). The book was finished six months later.
Explanation of the novel's title
Hugo finished the book just as he was running out of ink. This tempted him to title the work What There Is in a Bottle of Ink
. He eventually decided against it and called the book Notre-Dame de Paris
. English translations of the book are often titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame
, which have led some to believe that Quasimodo
is the main character. Hugo never liked this title, preferring the original Notre-Dame de Paris
. He gave this title because he considered the cathedral itself to be the main "character" of the story. The story takes place around and inside the church, and Hugo spent much time describing the building as well as decrying its abandonment after the abuse it suffered during the French Revolution
; during the Revolution, the church had been viewed as a symbol of the old regime and was pillaged and vandalized by angry mobs.
The story begins in 1482, the day of the Festival of Fools in Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer, is introduced by his crowning as Pope of Fools.
Esméralda, a beautiful 16-year-old gypsy, captures the hearts of many men but especially Quasimodo’s stepfather, Claude Frollo. Frollo is torn between his lust and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to get her. Quasimodo is caught and whipped and ordered to be tied down in the heat. Esméralda seeing his thirst, offers him water. It saves her, for she captures the heart of the hunchback.
She is later accused of the murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo tried to kill in jealousy, and is sentenced to death by hanging. Quasimodo saves her by bringing her to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Frollo rallies the truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral. The king, seeing the chaos, vetoes the law of sanctuary and commands his troops to take her out and kill her. When Quasimodo sees the truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esméralda, so he drives them off. Frollo betrays Esméralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is hanged. Quasimodo pushes him from Notre-Dame to his death. He then goes to Esméralda’s grave, lies next to her corpse and dies.
Characters in ''The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Pierre Gringoire is a struggling poet. He mistakenly finds his way into the "Court of Miracles", the secret lair of the Gypsies. In order to preserve the secrecy, Gringoire must either be killed by hanging, or marry a Gypsy. Although Esméralda does not love him, and in fact believes him a coward rather than a true man (he, unlike Phoebus, failed in his attempt to rescue her from Quasimodo), she takes pity on his plight and marries him—although, much to his disappointment, she refuses to let him touch her.
- Esméralda is a beautiful young barefoot Gypsy dancer woman. She is the center of the human drama within the story. A popular focus of the citizens' attentions, she experiences their changeable attitudes, being first adored as an entertainer, then hated as a witch, before being lauded again for her dramatic rescue by Quasimodo; when the King finally decides to put her to death, he does so in the belief that the Parisian mob want her dead. She is loved by both Quasimodo and Claude Frollo, but falls in love with Captain Phoebus, who only wants to seduce her.
- Djali is Esméralda's pet goat. She performs tricks that make people believe that Esméralda is an enchantress (witch). These tricks include writing the word "PHOEBUS" in moveable letter-blocks, and tapping the number of beats to indicate the month and hour of the day. These tricks delight the citizens at first, but later horrify them, causing them to believe Esméralda is a witch.
- Quasimodo is the hunchback of Notre Dame. He lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame and rings the bells, which have made him become deaf. When he was a hideous and abandoned baby, he was adopted by Claude Frollo. Quasimodo's life within the confines of the cathedral and his only two outlets—ringing the bells and his love and devotion for Frollo—are described. He ventures outside the Cathedral rarely, since people despise and shun him for his appearance. The notable occasions when he does leave include his taking part in the Feast of Fools—during which he is elected Fools'-Pope due to his perfect hideousness—and his subsequent attempt to kidnap Esméralda, his rescue of Esméralda from the gallows, his attempt to bring Phoebus to Esméralda, and his final abandonment of the cathedral at the end of the novel. It is revealed in the story that the baby Quasimodo was left by the gypsies in place of Esméralda, whom they abducted.
- Claude Frollo is the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Despite his celibacy vows as a priest, he finds himself madly in love with Esméralda. He nearly murders Phoebus in a jealous rage from seeing Phoebus nearly rape Esméralda. He is killed when Quasimodo pushes him off the cathedral. His dour attitude and his alchemical experiments scared and alienated him from the Parisians, who believed him a sorcerer, and so he lived without family, save for Quasimodo and his spoiled brother Jehan.
- Jehan Frollo is Claude Frollo's over-indulged younger brother. He is a troublemaker and a student at the university. He is dependent on his brother for money, which he then proceeds to squander on alcohol. Quasimodo kills him during the attack on the cathedral.
- Phoebus de Chateaupers is the captain of the King's Archers. After he saves Esméralda from abduction, she becomes infatuated with him, and he himself is intrigued by her. He attempts to seduce her, but is interrupted in the attempt when Frollo tries to kill him. After recovering, Phoebus returns in shame to his fiancée, and for a time believes that Esméralda has been executed for witchcraft and his 'murder'. He later leads the archers in fighting off the gypsy attackers of Notre Dame, and searches the Cathedral and the city for Esméralda. After the events of the novel, he suffers the 'tragedy' of marriage to the beautiful but spiteful Fleur-de-Lys Gondelaurier.
- Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier is a beautiful and wealthy socialite engaged to Phoebus. Phoebus's attentions to Esméralda make her insecure and jealous, and she and her friends respond by treating Esméralda with contempt and spite. Fleur-de-Lys later neglects to inform Phoebus that Esméralda has not been executed, which serves to deprive the pair of any further contact. Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys marry at the end of the novel.
- Sister Gudule, formerly named Paquette la Chantefleurie, is an anchorite, who lives in seclusion in an exposed cell in central Paris. She is tormented by the loss of her daughter Agnes, whom she believes to have been cannibalised by gypsies as a baby, and devotes her life to mourning her. Her long-lost daughter turns out to be Esméralda.
- Louis XI is the King of France. Appears briefly when he is brought the news of the rioting at Notre Dame.
- Tristan L'Hermite is a friend of King Louis XI. He leads the band that goes to capture Esméralda.
- Henriet Cousin is the city executioner.
- Florian Barbedienne is the judge who sentences Quasimodo to be tortured. He is also deaf.
- Jacques Charmolue gets Esméralda to falsely confess to killing Phoebus. He then has her executed.
- Clopin Trouillefou is the King of Tunis. He rallies the Court of Miracles to rescue Esmeralda from Notre Dame after the idea is suggested by Gringoire. He is eventually killed during the attack by the King's soldiers.
As stated by many critics and scholars, the Cathedral of Notre Dame appears to be the main setting, which is almost elevated to the status of a character. Indeed, the original French title of the book, Notre-Dame de Paris
(the formal title of the Cathedral) shows that the cathedral (and not Quasimodo) is the subject of the story. The book portrays the Gothic
era as one of extremes of architecture
, passion, and religion
. Like many of his other works, Hugo is also very concerned with social justice, and his descriptions of religious fanaticism are also examined. Another unique element of the book is the way in which Hugo changes the roles of protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, between characters throughout the novel.
Literary significance and reception
The enormous popularity of the book in France spurred the nascent historical preservation movement in that country and strongly encouraged Gothic revival
architecture. Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th century led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc
. Much of the cathedral's present appearance is a result of this renovation.
Allusions and references
Allusions to actual history, geography and current science
In The Hunchback of Notre Dame
, Victor Hugo makes frequent reference to the architecture of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
He also mentions the invention of the printing press, when the bookmaker near the beginning of the work speaks of "the German pest."
Victor Hugo lived a few homes away from Victor of Aveyron, the first well-documented feral child. Although, the inspiration for Quasimodo's character is not directly linked to Victor of Aveyron.
Allusions in other works
The name Quasimodo
has become synonymous with "a courageous heart beneath a grotesque exterior."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
To date, all of the film and TV adaptations have greatly strayed from the original plot.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has had a number of film adaptations:
It has also appeared on TV numerous occasions:
- Opera Esmeralda, by Arthur Goring Thomas (1883) based on theVictor Hugo novel.
- Opera Esmeralda, by Dargomyzhsky (1847), also based on the same Victor Hugo novel.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1993), an Off Broadway musical with music by Byron Janis, lyrics by Hal Hackady and book by Anthony Scully
- In 1999, "Notre Dame de Paris (musical)" opened in Paris and became an instant success. It is considered the most successful adaptation of any novel except for "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Misérables." It was also adapted for the stage by Nicholas DeBaubien.
- From 1999 to 2002, the Disney film was adapted into a darker, more Gothic musical production called Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (translated in English as The Bellringer of Notre Dame), re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by the Disney theatrical branch, in Berlin, Germany. A cast recording was also recorded in German. There has been discussion of an American revival of the musical.
- A rock musical version was released in Seattle, Washington in 1998 titled "HUNCHBACK" with music and script by C. Rainey Lewis. A 2 Disc CD of the songs from the show could be found in a handful of internet stores like amazon.com
- A musical version, scored by Dennis DeYoung, will open in Chicago at the Bailiwick Reperatory in the summer of 2008
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
is widely available in English language editions.
- 1978, USA, Penguin Classics ISBN 0140443533, Pub date 26 October 1978, paperback
- 2001, USA, Signet Classics ISBN 0451527887, Pub date 10 April 2001, paperback
- 2002, USA, Modern Library Classics ISBN 0679642579, Pub date 8 October 2002
- 2006, USA, Ann Arbor Media ISBN 1587264021, Pub date 14 July 2006, hard cover
- A description of Quasimodo upon his election as the fool's pope: "We shall not attempt to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedron nose-that horse-shoe mouth-that small left eye over-shadowed by a red bushy brow, while the right eye disappeared entirely under an enormous wart-of those straggling teeth with breaches here and there like the battlements of a fortress-of that horny lip, over which one of those teeth projected like the tusk of an elephant-of that forked chin-and, above all, of the expression diffused over the whole-that mixture of malice, astonishment, and melancholy. Let the reader, if he can, figure to himself this combination." (p. 62)
- On the connection between architecture and culture: "When a man understands the art of seeing, he can trace the spirit of an age and the features of a king even in the knocker on a door." (p. 184)
- Quasimodo's reaction to Esmeralda's gift of a drink of water while he is being heckled on the pillory: "Then from that eye, hitherto so dry and burning, was seen to roll a big tear, which fell slowly down that deformed visage so long contracted by despair. Perhaps it was the first that the unfortunate creature had ever shed." (p. 322)
- Quasimodo, explaining why he won't enter Esmeralda's cell: "The owl goes not into the nest of the lark." (p. 502)
- After Esmeralda's execution: "Quasimodo then lifted his eye to look upon the gypsy girl, whose body, suspended from the gibbet, he beheld quivering afar, under its white robes, in the last struggles of death; then again he dropped it upon the archdeacon, stretched a shapeless mass at the foot of the tower, and he said with a sob that heaved his deep breast to the bottom, 'Oh-all that I've ever loved!" (p. 678)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831 from the Victor Hugo Website
- Hugo, Victor The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1996, Barnes & Noble Books.
- Rebello, Stephen The Art of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1996, Hyperion.
- Pascal Tonazzi, Florilège de Notre-Dame de Paris (anthologie), Editions Arléa, Paris, 2007, ISBN 2869597959