Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
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.
The work is divided into eleven books (each consisting of two to eight chapters)
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 in disgust at the Paris of his times, and homeless, having been evicted.
Cold and hungry, Gringoire wanders the streets and finds himself in the thieves' quarter. He sees Esmeralda and her goat Djali performing and decides to follow her, in the hope of finding shelter. Quasimodo attempts to run off with Esmeralda (at the request of the Archdeacon Frollo, who is infatuated with her), but his attempt is foiled by Captain Phoebus, with whom Esmeralda falls in love. Gringoire sees the procession of the criminals in the Court of Miracles and tries to find his way back but gets lost and captured. The thieves (led by Trouillefou) sentence him to death for trespassing, but he is rescued by Esmeralda, who offers to marry him to save his life. Gringoire accompanies Esmeralda to her home, but she is less than friendly.
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.
We are told the background of Quasimodo - how he was found as a hideous and abandoned baby and taken in by Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame and a man of great intellectual capacity and emotional coldness. Quasimodo's life within the confines of the Cathedral and his only two outlets (ringing the bells and his love for Frollo) are described. Then, we see Frollo's growing withdrawal into himself, and the arcane arts - as well as his related unpopularity.
Frollo is visited by his friend Coictier and Coictier's 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. He further amazes his friends (who by now think he is mad) by going on an extended tirade about how printing will destroy architecture and religion, as he presents the two as diametrically opposed worldviews.
We return to Quasimodo, who is on trial for the attempted kidnapping of Esmeralda. Due to a misunderstanding, caused by a deaf judge, he is sentenced to time in 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 (namely Esmeralda).
While Esmeralda attempts to pursue Phoebus, his bride and family find out, which causes Phoebus to lose his interest (so as not to ruin the prospect of a lucrative marriage) and replace it with treachery. Meanwhile, Frollo's madness and obsession grow, as he obtains information about Esmeralda by talking to an unsuspecting Gringoire. With the help of his brother Jehan, Frollo strikes up a deal with Phoebus that allows him to watch Phoebus and Esmeralda during their meeting, while crouched out of sight. Frollo watches their love scene until, unable to control himself further, he rushes his girl and stabs Phoebus. Esmeralda faints and upon waking up finds herself being arrested.
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.
Although it turns out the stabbing is not fatal, Esmeralda is brought to trial and convicted for his attempted murder. Frollo visits her in the dungeon and offers salvation in return for being with him - a proposition which is vehemently rejected. Leading up to the public hanging, Phoebus does nothing to help Esmeralda. Just before she is hung, Quasimodo dramatically storms down from the Cathedral, takes her and runs back in, leading her to a sanctuary where the law cannot touch her.
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 this fails. After Frollo finds out about where in the tower she is, there is a confrontation between him, Quasimodo and Esmeralda and for the first time, there is contention between Frollo and his adopted son.
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 enormous riot with many casualties, 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, wanting to save Esmeralda, finds her cell empty, Gringoire having taken her away.
As Gringoire and Esmeralda try to escape, they are relentlessly pursued by Frollo. After momentarily losing them, the recluse in the cell sees them and siezes 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 come and have to wrench Esmeralda away from the cell, to the cries of the mother. Phoebus witnesses part of the struggle, but does nothing. From the cathedral, Quasimodo sees his love hanged, this time fatally. He sees Frollo laughing maniacally, realises that he was the catalyst of the whole plot and so pushes Frollo off the cathedral, watching the mad priest fall to his death. As Phoebus marries, Quasimodo, overcome by grief entombs himself with Esmeralda, and that is where his skeleton is found.
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 enchanting goat, Djali. 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:
- 1923 Silent version starring Lon Chaney, Sr. as Quasimodo
- 1939 Live-action film starring Charles Laughton
- 1956 Live-action film starring Anthony Quinn
- 1982 Live-action film starring Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi
- Disney animation 1996 as an animated film by Walt Disney Pictures
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