Get The Hunchback of Notre-Dame essential facts below. View Videos or join the The Hunchback of Notre-Dame discussion. Add The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
The novel has been described as a key text in French literature
and has been adapted for film over a dozen times, as well as numerous television and stage adaptations.
The novel's original French title, Notre-Dame de Paris, refers to Notre Dame Cathedral, on which the story is centered. Frederic Shoberl's 1833 English translation was published as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which became the generally used title in English), which refers to Quasimodo, Notre Dame's bellringer.
Illustration from Victor Hugo et son temps (1881)
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. For instance, the medieval stained glass panels of Notre-Dame de Paris had been replaced by white glass to let more light into the church. This explains the large descriptive sections of the book, which far exceed the requirements of the story. A few years earlier, Hugo had already published a paper entitled Guerre aux Démolisseurs (War to the Demolishers) specifically aimed at saving Paris' medieval architecture. The agreement with his original publisher, Gosselin, was that the book would be finished that same year, but Hugo was constantly delayed due to the demands of other projects. In the summer of 1830, Gosselin demanded that Hugo complete the book by February 1831. Beginning in September 1830, Hugo worked nonstop on the project thereafter.
The story is set in Paris in 1482 during the reign of Louis XI. The gypsy Esmeralda (born as Agnes) captures the hearts of many men, including those of Captain Phoebus and Pierre Gringoire, but especially Quasimodo and his guardian ArchdeaconClaude Frollo. Frollo is torn between his obsessive lust for Esmeralda and the rules of Notre Dame Cathedral. He orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but Quasimodo is captured by Phoebus and his guards, who save Esmeralda. Gringoire, who attempted to help Esmeralda but was knocked out by Quasimodo, is about to be hanged by beggars when Esmeralda saves him by agreeing to marry him for four years.
The following day, Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged and turned on the pillory for two hours, followed by another hour's public exposure. He calls for water. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, approaches the public stocks and offers him a drink of water. It saves him, and she captures his heart.
Later, Esmeralda is arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy after seeing him trying to seduce Esmeralda. She is sentenced to death by hanging. As she is being led to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down by the bell rope of Notre-Dame and carries her off to the cathedral, temporarily protecting her - under the law of sanctuary - from arrest.
Frollo later informs Gringoire that the Court of Parlement has voted to remove Esmeralda's right to the sanctuary so she can no longer seek shelter in the cathedral and will be taken away to be killed. Clopin, the leader of the gypsies, hears the news from Gringoire and rallies the citizens of Paris to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda.
When Quasimodo sees the gypsies, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Likewise, he thinks the king's men want to rescue her, and tries to help them find her. She is rescued by Frollo and Gringoire. But after yet another failed attempt to win her love, Frollo betrays Esmeralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is being hanged. When Frollo laughs during Esmeralda's hanging, Quasimodo pushes him from the height of Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo goes to the cemetery, hugs Esmeralda's body, and dies of starvation with her.
In the original, the bodies are found in the charnel house, a mass grave into which the bodies of the destitue and of criminals were indiscriminately thrown, implying that Quasimodo had sought Esmeralda among the decaying corpses and lain beside her, himself to die.
Esmeralda (born Agnes) is a beautiful 16-year-old Gypsy street dancer who is naturally compassionate and kind. She is the novel's protagonist and 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 by Quasimodo. She is loved by both Quasimodo and Claude Frollo, but, unfortunately she falls hopelessly in love with Captain Phoebus, a handsome soldier whom she believes will rightly protect her but who simply wants to seduce her. She is one of the few characters to show Quasimodo a moment of human kindness, as when she gives him water after the hunchback's flogging. She is eventually revealed to not actually be a gypsy, but to have been kidnapped by them and replaced by the deformed Quasimodo.
Claude Frollo, the novel's main antagonist, is the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. His dour attitude and his alchemical experiments have alienated him from the Parisians, who believe him a sorcerer. His parents died from the plague when he was a young man, leaving his dissolute younger brother Jehan as his only family whom he unsuccessfully attempts to reform towards a better life. Frollo also helps care for Quasimodo. Frollo's numerous sins include lechery, failed alchemy and other listed vices. His mad attraction to Esmeralda sets off a chain of events, including her attempted abduction, leading to Quasimodo's sentence to be lashed in the square, and Frollo almost murdering Phoebus in a jealous rage, leading to Esmeralda's execution.
Quasimodo is a deformed 20-year-old hunchback, and the bell ringer of Notre Dame. He is half blind and deaf, this because of all the years ringing the bells of the church. Abandoned by his mother as a 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 rarely ventures outside the Cathedral because the citizens of Paris despise and shun him for his appearance. The notable occasions when he does leave include taking part in the Festival of Fools (which is celebrated on January 6)--during which he is elected the Pope of Fools due to his perfect hideousness--and his subsequent attempt to kidnap Esmeralda, his rescue of Esmeralda from the gallows, his attempt to bring Phoebus to Esmeralda, 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 Esmeralda, whom they abducted.
Pierre Gringoire is a struggling poet. He mistakenly finds his way into the "Court of Miracles", the domain of the Truands. In order to preserve the secrecy, Gringoire must either be killed by hanging, or marry a Gypsy. Although Esmeralda does not love him, and in fact believes him to be a coward rather than a true man, she takes pity on his plight and marries him. But, because she is already in love with Phoebus, much to his disappointment, she will not let him touch her.
Phoebus de Chateaupers is the Captain of the King's Archers, and a minor antagonist in the novel. After he saves Esmeralda from abduction, she becomes infatuated with him, and he is intrigued by her. Already betrothed to the beautiful but spiteful Fleur-de-Lys, he wants to lie with Esmeralda nonetheless but is prevented when Frollo stabs him. Phoebus survives, but Esmeralda is taken to be the attempted assassin by all, including Phoebus himself, who no longer wants her. He is condemned to a miserable married life with Fleur-de-Lys.
Clopin Trouillefou is the King of Truands. He sentences Gringoire to be hanged, and presides over his "wedding" to Esmeralda. 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.
Jehan Frollo "du Moulin" (alternately named Joannes Frollo "de Molendino") is Claude Frollo's 16-year-old dissolute 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. After his brother stops giving him money, Jehan becomes rogue. When he joins Clopin and his beggars to raid the cathedral, he briefly enters the cathedral by ascending one of the towers with a borrowed ladder. Afterwards he sees Quasimodo and tries to shoot an arrow at the hunchback's eye, but Quasimodo throws him down to his death.
Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier is a beautiful and wealthy noblewoman engaged to Phoebus. Phoebus's attentions to Esmeralda make her insecure and jealous, and she and her friends respond by treating Esmeralda with contempt and spite. Fleur-de-Lys later neglects to inform Phoebus that Esmeralda has not been executed, which serves to deprive the pair of any further contact--though as Phoebus no longer loves Esmeralda by this time, this does not matter. The novel ends with their wedding.
Madame Aloïse de Gondelaurier is Fleur-de-Lys' mother.
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. 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 Esmeralda, a fact she discovers only moments before Esmeralda is hanged. Gudule is accidentally killed by one of the King's soldiers while attempting to prevent them from taking her daughter.
Djali is Esmeralda's pet goat. In addition to dancing with Esmeralda, Djali can do tricks for money, such as tell time, spell Phoebus' name, and do impressions of public figures. Later during Esmeralda's trial when Esmeralda is falsely accused of the stabbing of Phoebus, Djali is falsely accused of being the devil in disguise. In the end of the novel, Djali is saved by Gringoire (who has become fond of the goat during his marriage to Esmeralda) after Esmeralda is captured and hanged.
Louis XI is the King of France. He appears as an old and sick man, but his personality is very sly and Machiavellian, as well as self-centred. He appears briefly when he is brought the news of the rioting at Notre Dame. He orders his guard to kill the rioters, and also the "witch" Esmeralda, because of being misinformed about the reason of rioting.
Tristan l'Hermite is a friend of King Louis XI. He leads the band that goes to capture Esmeralda.
Henriet Cousin is the city executioner, who hangs Esmeralda.
Florian Barbedienne is the judge who presides over Quasimodo's case for kidnapping Esmeralda. He is also deaf, which makes it more difficult because when he asks Quasimodo for his name, age and profession, Quasimodo does not respond. He sentences the hunchback to be tortured in the public square: one hour of flogging for attempted kidnap, and another hour of public disgrace after he thought Quasimodo was mocking him.
Jacques Charmolue is Claude Frollo's friend in charge of torturing prisoners. He gets Esmeralda to falsely confess to killing Phoebus. He then has her imprisoned.
Jacques Coppenole is a man who appears in the beginning of the novel as one of the Flemish guests at the Feast of Fools. He convinces the Parisians to select the Pope of Fools.
Pierrat Torterue is the torturer at the Châtelet. He tortures Esmeralda after her interrogation to the point in where he hurts her so badly she falsely confesses, sealing her own fate. He was also the official who administered the savage flogging to which Quasimodo was sentenced by Barbedienne.
The unnamed magistrate is the one who presides over Esmeralda's case after she is falsely accused of stabbing Phoebus. He forces her to confess to the crime and sentences her to be hanged in the gallows.
Robin Poussepain is Jehan Frollo's companion who appears with him during the Feast of Fools and Quasimodo's flogging in the public square.
The novel's original French title, Notre-Dame de Paris, indicates that the cathedral itself is the most significant aspect of the novel, both the main setting and the focus of the story's themes. The building had fallen into disrepair at the time of writing, which was something Hugo felt strongly about. The book portrays the Romantic era as one of extremes in architecture, passion, and religion. The theme of determinism (fate and destiny, as set up in the preface of the novel through the introduction of the word "ANANKE") is explored, as well as revolution and social strife.
Architecture is a major concern of Hugo's in Notre-Dame de Paris, not just as embodied in the cathedral itself, but as representing throughout Paris and the rest of Europe an artistic genre which, Hugo argued, was about to disappear with the arrival of the printing press. Claude Frollo's portentous phrase, 'Ceci tuera cela' ("This will kill that", as he looks from a printed book to the cathedral building), sums up this thesis, which is expounded on in Book V, chapter 2. Hugo writes that 'quiconque naissait poète se faisait architecte' ("whoever was born a poet became an architect"), arguing that while the written word was heavily censored and difficult to reproduce, architecture was extremely prominent and enjoyed considerable freedom.
Il existe à cette époque, pour la pensée écrite en pierre, un privilège tout-à-fait comparable à notre liberté actuelle de la presse. C'est la liberté de l'architecture.
There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture.
--Book V, Chapter 2
With the recent introduction of the printing press, it became possible to reproduce one's ideas much more easily on paper, and Hugo considered this period to represent the last flowering of architecture as a great artistic form. As with many of his books, Hugo was interested in a time which seemed to him to be on the cusp between two types of society.
The major theme of the third book is that over time the cathedral has been repaired, but the repairs and additions have made the cathedral worse: "And who put the cold, white panes in the place of those windows" and "...who substituted for the ancient Gothic altar, splendidly encumbered with shrines and reliquaries, that heavy marble sarcophagus, with angels' heads and clouds" are a few examples of this. This chapter also discusses how, after repairs to the cathedral after the French Revolution, there was not a significant style in what was added. It seems as if the new architecture is actually now uglier and worse than it was before the repairing.
Literary significance and reception
Hugo introduced with this work the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre. A giant epic about the history of a whole people, incarnated in the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist of that history, and the whole idea of time and life as an ongoing, organic panorama centered on dozens of characters caught in the middle of that history. It is the first novel to have beggars as protagonists.
A significant aspect of Notre Dame de Paris is that it encompasses the whole of life, from the King of France to Paris sewer rats, in a manner later co-opted by Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert and many others, including Charles Dickens. 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."
In 2010, British archivist Adrian Glew discovered references to a real-life hunchback who was a foreman of a government sculpting studio in Paris in the 1820s who worked on post-Revolution restorations to the Cathedral.
Allusions in other works
The name Quasimodo has become synonymous with "a courageous heart beneath a grotesque exterior."
To date, all of the film and TV adaptations have strayed somewhat from the original plot, some going as far as to give it a happy ending, including in the classic 1939 film (although Quasimodo loses Esmeralda to Gringoire in this version). The 1956 French film is one of the few versions to end almost exactly like the novel, although it changes other sections of the story. Unlike most adaptations, the 1996 Disney version has an ending that is inspired by an opera created by Hugo himself.
In 1993, a dramatic sung-through musical with book and lyrics by Gary Sullivan and music by John Trent Wallace. After a production at the Mermaid Theatre in London it was published by Samuel French Ltd in 1997 and has received several UK productions as well as productions in New Zealand and Australia. In 2010 it was re-written as a conventional musical, with the new title Notre Dame.
El Jorobado de París (1993), an Argentinian sung-through musical with book and lyrics by Pepe Cibrián Campoy and music by Ángel Mahler. Revised versions opened in 1995, 2006 and 2013.
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) in Berlin. A cast recording was also recorded in German. The musical premiered in the United States in 2014.
A rock musical version was released in Seattle, Washington in 1998 titled "Hunchback" with music and script by C. Rainey Lewis.
A re-adaptation of the piece entitled Our Lady of Paris, with music and lyrics by David Levinson and book by Stacey Weingarten, was produced in a reading format in Manhattan. It re-sets the action to 1954 at the beginning of the French Algerian conflict. After the first reading, the piece underwent revisions; a second reading was produced in January 2011 under the musical's new title, Les Enfants de Paris.