The Hunchback of Notre Dame

From Academic Kids

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in French, Notre-Dame de Paris) was a novel first published in 1831 by the French literary giant Victor Hugo.

The enormous popularity of the novel in France spurred the nascent historical preservation movement in that country and strongly encouraged Gothic revival architecture. Ultimately it helped to preserve Notre Dame Cathedral, where much of the story is based, in its original state.


Plot summary

The work is divided into eleven books each consisting of two to eight chapters.

Book one

The reader is introduced to Pierre Gringoire, a poor playwright who has come to the Great Hall to see his play performed on Epiphany. However, the performance goes awfully, with the play being interrupted by the heckling of the student crowds, the arrival of the Cardinal and the antics of a famous beggar (Clopin Trouillefou). The crowds see Quasimodo and there is a commotion at his hideousness, and are then enchanted by the sight of Esmeralda dancing in the square. Gringoire leaves, bitter over his play's failure and disgusted by the Paris of his times.

Book two

Cold and hungry, Gringoire wanders the streets and finds himself in the thieves' quarter. He sees Esmeralda and her goat Djali performing acts and decides to follow her, in the hope of finding shelter. Quasimodo attempts to kidnap Esmeralda (at the request of the Archdeacon Frollo, who is infatuated with her), but his attempt is foiled by Phoebus, captain of the King's Archers, whom Esmeralda instantly admires. Gringoire wanders into the Court of Miracles, where he is cornered by charlatan beggars. The thieves (led by Trouillefou) sentence him to death for trespassing, but Esmeralda arrives and offers to marry him to save his life. Gringoire accompanies Esmeralda to her home, but she is less than friendly.

Book three

Hugo digresses in two long descriptions, one of the Notre Dame Cathedral, the other of the various streets and architecture of the Paris of the novel, and how it compares to the Paris of Hugo's time. His neo-Gothic viewpoints and criticism of "modernisation" are explained.

Book four

We are told about Quasimodo's background - how he was found as a hideous and abandoned baby and taken in by Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Quasimodo's life within the confines of the Cathedral and his only two outlets - ringing the bells (which eventually deafens him) and his love for Frollo - are described. Frollo is shown to be a formidably intellectual man, forced early on to become a parental figure when he and his little brother are orphaned. As the years go by, we see Frollo's growing withdrawal into himself, and his fascination with alchemy - as well as his related unpopularity.

Book five

Frollo is visited by his friend Coictier and Coictier's mysterious friend Tourangeau, who is inquisitive about Frollo's learning. Frollo explains his quest for alchemic immortality, his meddling with the arcane and how he reads the mystical dimension of the cathedral; his guests think him mad. In parting, Tourangeau hints at his true identity - King Louis XI. In the next chapter, Hugo expands on a comment of Frollo's which portrays two great human endeavours - printing and architecture - as diametrical opposites, and argues that the former has displaced the latter.

Book six

We return to Quasimodo, who is on trial for the attempted kidnapping of Esmeralda. He, a deaf bellringer, is tried by a deaf judge, and the resulting misunderstandings lead to Quasimodo being sentenced to the pillory. During his sentence and flagellation, he is abused and humiliated by both his captors and the crowds; and it is his victim Esmeralda who has pity on him and gives him water after the ordeal is over. At that point, a woman shouts a curse at Esmeralda. The woman is a recluse who has made a cell for herself on the street, as a sign of mourning for her daughter who she believes to have been kidnapped by gypsies. She hates Esmeralda especially, as she is as old as her lost daughter.

Book seven

Esmeralda encounters Phoebus, his wealthy fiancée, and her family, and the gypsy's infatuation with him becomes apparent. Phoebus's hope for a lucrative marriage does not keep him from arranging a rendezvous with Esmeralda. Meanwhile, Frollo's madness and obsession grow as he obtains information about Esmeralda from an unsuspecting Gringoire. With the help of his brother Jehan, Frollo strikes up a deal with Phoebus that allows him to hide and watch Phoebus and Esmeralda during their meeting. Frollo watches their love scene until, unable to control himself, he emerges and stabs Phoebus. Esmeralda faints and wakes up to find herself arrested for murder.

The chapter is noted for a heated encounter between Claude Frollo, who is struggling with his lust over Esmeralda, and Jehan, who wants money from Claude for his debauchery.

Book eight

Although it turns out the stabbing is not fatal, Esmeralda is brought to trial and convicted for Phoebus's attempted murder. Frollo visits her in the dungeon and offers salvation in return for being with him - a proposition which she vehemently rejects. In the meanwhile, Phoebus does nothing to help Esmeralda. Just before she is hanged, Quasimodo dramatically storms down from the Cathedral, takes her and runs back in, leading her to a sanctuary where the law cannot touch her.

Book nine

While Frollo is close to a breakdown because of his obsession with Esmeralda, she is living in sanctuary in the Cathedral tower. She is grateful to Quasimodo for saving her and taking care of her, but is unable to get past his monstrous appearance. Quasimodo even attempts to get Phoebus to meet her, but the fickle archer refuses to go. After Frollo finds out about where Esmeralda's room is, there is a confrontation between him, Quasimodo and Esmeralda and for the first time, there is contention between Frollo and his adopted son.

Book ten

Claude Frollo meets with Gringoire and informs Esmeralda's husband that the Court of Parliament has voted to strip her of her sanctuary and sent her to the gallows within three days' time. In an attempt to save Esmeralda from being in Parliament's grasp, Gringoire organises the thief clans of Paris to march on the Cathedral. This leads to an enormous riot with many casualties (including Jehan), as Quasimodo defends the Cathedral by flinging down stones, timber, and molten lead. Gringoire is almost arrested and put to death by the king in the commotion but escapes. The mob storms the building, only to be forced to retreat when the King's troops arrive on the scene. Quasimodo finds Esmeralda's cell empty, Gringoire having taken her away.

Book eleven

Esmeralda escapes with Gringoire and Frollo, who hides himself till Gringoire slips away. Frollo again pleads with Esmeralda; when she rejects him, he turns her over to the recluse in the cell. She seizes Esmeralda, raising a cry for her to be hanged. Then, she finds out that it is Esmeralda who is actually her daughter - but it is too late as the guards arrive and wrench the two apart. Phoebus witnesses part of the struggle, but does nothing. From the cathedral, Quasimodo sees Esmeralda hanged. He sees Frollo laughing maniacally at the scene, realises that he was the catalyst of the whole plot, and pushes the mad priest off a balcony to his death. Quasimodo, overcome by grief, entombs himself with Esmeralda, and that is where his skeleton is found.

Thematic concerns

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. The book portrays the Gothic era as one of extremes of architecture, passion and religion; which despite being the cause of many problems are seen by Hugo to be more authentic than the sentiments of his time. Like many of his other works, Hugo is also very concerned with social justice, his descripreligious fanaticism are also examined.

Many film adaptations of the novel have simplified the thematic and historical concerns greatly, leading to the most important theme being the mistreatment of Quasimodo for his ugliness, and the moral that one shouldn't judge people by their looks. However, this is a very small part of Hugo's novel (especially as Quasimodo is much less sympathetic than he is in many film adaptations).

Reception of the work

The title given in some English translations has led some people to believe the primary character of the drama was the hunchback, Quasimodo. However, this was not the author's intent. The author felt the primary character was the Notre Dame de Paris itself, the Cathedral. The human drama within the novel revolves around the gypsy Esmeralda, and which of several suitors she will choose. Other notable characters include the philosophical poet Gringoire, Claude Frollo--the lust-haunted priest, and the soldier, Phoebus. Generally most readers consider Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Claude Frollo to be the story's three major characters.

The story has been adapted to the screen a number of times, including:

It was also performed as a musical, the "original" story and the much-altered Disney version.

External links

fr:Notre-Dame de Paris (Victor Hugo) pt:O Corcunda de Notre-Dame


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