The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
About the Book
Original title
Notre-Dame de Paris
Victor Hugo
Publication date
16 March 1831
French Gothic novel
Plot Summary
Victor Hugo began writing Notre-Dame de Paris in 1829, largely to make his contemporaries more aware of the value of the Gothic architecture, which was neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings or defaced by replacement of parts of buildings in a newer style.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is set in Paris during the 15th century. The story centres on Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and his unrequited love for the beautiful dancer La Esmeralda.
Esmeralda, born Agnès, is perceived to be a French Roma girl. Her biological mother is a former prostitute once known as Paquette la Chantefleurie but now known as Sister Gudule; her paternity is unknown. Fifteen years before the events of the novel, a group of Roma kidnapped the infant Agnès from her mother’s room. Esmeralda has no knowledge of her kidnapping: she lives and travels with the Roma as if she is one of them.
Quasimodo first meets Esmeralda at the Feast of Fools, an annual festival parodying ecclesiastical ritual and cardinal elections. During the festival, Quasimodo is elected “Pope of the Fools” and subsequently beaten by an angry mob. Esmeralda takes pity on him and offers him a drink of water. Quasimodo thereafter falls in love with the dancer and decides to devote himself to protecting her.
Unbeknownst to Quasimodo, two other men vie for Esmeralda’s affection: Quasimodo’s adoptive father, Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, and the womanizing captain Phoebus de Châteaupers. Esmeralda, for her part, has fallen hopelessly in love with Captain Phoebus.
When he asks her to meet him in secret late one night, she enthusiastically agrees. That night Phoebus tries to persuade Esmeralda to sleep with him. From a closet in Phoebus’s room, a disguised Frollo spies on the couple. After he sees Phoebus kiss Esmeralda’s shoulder, the archdeacon, in a fit of jealous rage, breaks down the closet door and stabs Phoebus in the back. Phoebus collapses before he can see his assailant. Esmeralda too loses consciousness, and Frollo escapes, leaving Esmeralda as the only suspect for the attempted murder.
Esmeralda is quickly captured by the king’s guard. Master Jacques Charmolue presides over her trial. Charmolue sentences her to death after she falsely confesses to witchcraft and to murdering Phoebus. (Esmeralda is unaware that Phoebus is alive.)
Quasimodo attempts to shelter Esmeralda in Notre-Dame, but he is ultimately unable to save her. Frollo betrays Quasimodo and Esmeralda by taking Esmeralda from the cathedral and releasing her to an angry mob of Parisians. Shortly thereafter Esmeralda is hanged, and Quasimodo, in his grief and despair, pushes Frollo from the cathedral tower.
The novel ends many years later, when two skeletons—that of a hunchback and that of a woman—are found embracing in Esmeralda’s tomb. Hugo reports that Phoebus also came to a tragic end: “He married.”
Central Themes
a beautiful 16-year-old Gypsy street dancer who is naturally compassionate and kind.
Claude Frollo
the novel's main antagonist, is the Archdeacon of Notre Dame.
a deformed 20-year-old hunchback, and the bell ringer of Notre Dame.
Pierre Gringoire
a struggling poet
Phoebus de Chateaupers
the Captain of the King's Archers, and a minor antagonist in the novel
Clopin Trouillefou
the King of Truands
Jehan Frollo du Moulin
Claude Frollo's 16-year-old dissolute younger brother
Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier
a beautiful and wealthy noblewoman engaged to Phoebus
Sister Gudule
also known as Sachette and formerly named Paquette Guybertaut "la Chantefleurie", is an anchoress, who lives in seclusion in an exposed cell in central Paris.
Louis XI
Tristan l'Hermite
Esmeralda's pet goat
the King of France
a friend of King Louis XI
Henriet Cousin
Florian Barbedienne
Jacques Charmolue
the city executioner, who hangs Esmeralda.
the judge who presides over Quasimodo's case for kidnapping Esmeralda
Claude Frollo's friend in charge of torturing prisoners
Jacques Coppenole
Pierrat Torterue
The unnamed magistrate
Robin Poussepain
a man who appears in the beginning of the novel as one of the Flemish guests at the Feast of Fools
the torturer at the Châtelet.
the one who presides over Esmeralda's case after she is falsely accused of stabbing Phoebus
Jehan Frollo's companion who appears with him during the Feast of Fools and Quasimodo's flogging in the public square.
Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame considers what it means to be a monster.
The novel makes Quasimodo’s defining characteristic his physical monstrosity, and his entire identity is constructed around being perceived as a monster.
He is described by one of the women of Paris as a “wicked” ugly man. Several characters suggest that he is some kind of supernatural being that prowls around Paris, casting spells on its citizens.
Quasimodo is juxtaposed with the dashing Captain Phoebus, who shares his name with the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. Phoebus is described as an imposing young man, “one of those handsome fellows whom all women agree to admire.” Yet it is Quasimodo—not Captain Phoebus—who attempts to save Esmeralda and who ultimately kills the archdeacon, thereby ending his reign of terror.
Esmeralda is also perceived as a kind of monster. Although she is not, in fact, a Rom, she is seen and treated as one. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame the Roma are associated with witchcraft and the supernatural. They are viewed as exotic outsiders and are said to practice magic, possess satanic goats, and kidnap Parisian children among other things. Frollo exploits their association with the supernatural to sanction a Roma purge, just as Charmolue uses it to authorize Esmeralda’s execution.
The novel condemns the society that heaps misery on the likes of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. In the end, Hugo indicates that the real monsters are not Quasimodo and Esmeralda but Frollo and Phoebus.