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Literature: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The other famous novel by Victor Hugo. Written in 1831, Notre Dame de Paris, known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is a rich, meandering tale that addresses messy relationships, fate, and the future of architecture in 1482. The English title is a misnomer, since the protagonist of the story is Esmeralda, the original title being a metaphor on the cathedral who serves as the central location of the novel, and Esmeralda herself (though one could argue the cathedral is itself a character). Victor Hugo strongly protested against the English title, as it turns the focus from the cathedral onto the characters.

The hunchback is Quasimodo, the deaf, one-eyed, hunchbacked, monstrously ugly bell-ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Abandoned outside the church at the age of four, he was taken in out of kindness by the Archdeacon of Josas, Claude Frollo, who raised him in the church and introduced him to the bells.

When the hitherto chaste Frollo sees the gypsy girl Esmeralda dancing in the street one day, he finds himself stricken with lust, and doesn't know how to deal with it. So, sure as Love Makes You Evil, he grabs Quasimodo (for muscle) and tries to kidnap her. The attempt is foiled by Phoebus, Captain of the Archers. It is spectacularly not foiled by lovable slacker-poet Pierre Gringoire, who gets knocked out trying to save the girl.

Later that night, however, Esmeralda temporarily marries the poet, to save his life from her friends at the Court of Miracles. That doesn't mean she's going to let her new "husband" touch her, mind you, or that she's going to give up her dreams of marrying Phoebus. Phoebus likes the look of her, himself, and although he's already engaged to his teenage cousin Fleur-de-Lys, he's not opposed to a bit on the side.

Esmeralda's kindness to Quasimodo when he is in the stocks for the kidnapping attempt (Frollo having let him take the fall) makes her an angel in Quasimodo's mind, and he is henceforth devoted to her. This eventually, and painfully, puts him in conflict with Frollo, whose combination of lust and loathing for Esmeralda makes him increasingly unstable.

Amidst the drama and tragedy resulting from everybody's fatal obsessions, Hugo includes leisurely chapters on the architecture of Paris and the expected impact of the newly-developed printing press.

Adaptations in English include the the 1996 Disney animated adaptation, and two live-action film versions from Universal: the first was released in 1923 with Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, and the second in 1939 with Charles Laughton in the role. The 1956 French film version starred Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo.

Other adaptations include a French-language rock opera called Notre Dame De Paris.

This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism / Adaptational Villainy: Phoebus is a selfish jerk in a book. Many screen adaptations tends to make him either an outright villain or a hero.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Phoebus can't be bothered to remember Esmeralda's name, so he usually just takes a stab at it.
  • Agony of the Feet: Esmeralda is threatened with having her foot crushed in a vise unless she confesses to Pheobus's murder.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: When he's about to be executed, Gringoire begs for his life to the King quite verbosely. It works.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Frollo, Quasimodo and (to a lesser extent) Gringoire are in love with Esmeralda, who only has eyes for Phoebus, who is engaged to Fleur-de-lys and only interested in Esmeralda for sex.
  • Ambiguous Gender: At least in the English translation, Djali is referred to with masculine and feminine pronouns, with Esmeralda specifically stating, "She is [her] sister." Gringoire notes that the innocent and na´ve Esmeralda does not seem to distinguish between male and female.
  • Annoying Arrows: Arrows don't have much of an effect on Quasimodo.
  • Anti-Villain / Tragic Villain: Frollo. He was originally a good man. When baby Quasimodo was abandoned on the cathedral's foundlings bed, nobody would take him because of his ugliness, except Frollo, who raised him like a son. He also raised his younger brother, Jehan when their parents died, and supported him later, even though he disapproved of Jehan's lifestyle. He did evil things only because of his obsessive and unrequited love for Esmeralda, and it's described how much he's suffering (being aware that you're slowly going insane is NOT a pleasant process.)
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the story, only Phoebus, Fleur-de-Lys, Gringoire and Djali are left alive.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At the end nearly everybody dies, Phoebus also has a tragic ending. He got married.
  • Attempted Rape: Frollo tries to rape Esmeralda one night in the bell tower, until Quasimodo comes and nearly kills him before he recognizes Frollo. When he does, he completely submits to him, and Esmeralda uses a dagger to threaten Frollo out of the room.
  • Author Filibuster: But they're interesting. It's Victor Hugo's M.O.
  • Author Stand-In: Gringoire.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Quasimodo's devotion to Esmeralda starts when she shows him kindness and brings him water on the scaffold even though the only reason he's up there is because he tried to kidnap her at Frollo's behest.
  • Burn the Witch!: Esmeralda is charged with witchcraft, among other offenses. However, she's sentenced to death by hanging, not by burning at the stake.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: What kicks off the plot.
  • Byronic Hero: Frollo.
  • Come to Gawk
  • Contrived Coincidence: mostly in the sub-plot about Esmeralda's search for her mother.
  • Deconstruction: Phoebus is a fitting deconstruction of the Knight in Shining Armor, as he does manage to save Esmeralda from Quasimodo and Frollo in the beginning, although rather than being chivalrous and noble, he is a drunk, a womanizer, and a bully, with virtually no idealistic qualities, behaving more like...well, like a medieval soldier. Likewise, Esmeralda, as the 16-year-old Distressed Damsel, is also fickle, foolish, and hopelessly idealistic. Interestingly enough, the Disney version decided it would be easier to play the tropes straight.
  • Demonization: Film adaptations often omit Frollo's compassionate side and present him as an evil villain with a selfish motivation behind raising Quasimodo. Disney's 1996 adaptation especially.
  • Doorstop Baby: Quasimodo was abandoned outside the church and adopted by Frollo.
  • Downer Ending
  • Death Is Dramatic
  • Did Not Get the Girl: "Why was I not made of stone like thee?"
  • Disney Villain Death: Frollo's death scene actually happens in a vaguely similar way to the Disney version, for once. The big difference is that it was Quasimodo who threw him off to his doom, in a fit of rage after Esmeralda was hanged, and there is no molten copper in the book. Instead, Frollo falls onto the roof of a house, rolls off and hits the pavement.
  • Distant Finale: The ending takes place generations later when a group of surveyors discover two long-rotted corpses Together in Death.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Esmeralda in some adaptations, most notably the 1956 film version with Lollobrigida.
  • Driven to Suicide: Quasimodo, having seen or participated in the deaths of everyone he loves
  • Face-Heel Turn / Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Frollo
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: the amount of detail of Frollo's last moments was slightly nauseating, especially when you're used to portrayals in which death by falling is quick and clean.
  • Faux Interracial Relationship: Esmeralda is actually a French girl swapped for Quasimodo.
  • Fleur de Lis: The name of a character, among other things
  • Gentle Giant: Semi-averted. Except to the people he loves (all two of them), Quasimodo is unsociable, violent, and mean.
  • Go Through Me: Quasimodo's solution to his dual loyalties to Frollo and Esmeralda.
  • The Grotesque: Quasimodo.
  • The Hedonist: Jehan Frollo is the 15th century equivalent of a frat boy. Supposedly a student, he spends all of his freetime and (his brother's) money on hedonistic pursuits: expensive clothes, parties, and courting loose women.
  • Historical-Domain Character: King Louis XI. Gringoire was also a real person.
  • Hope Spot: When it turns out that Gudule is actually Esmeralda's mother, she hides Esmeralda in her cell, and it seems that she will escape the executioners. Gudule manages to convince the soldiers that Esmeralda ran away, and they are about to leave... but just then, Esmeralda hears Phoebus' voice and cries out for Phoebus to help her. Phoeus doesn't even hear her, but the soldiers grab her and take her to the gallows. Gudule is killed while trying to protect her.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Esmeralda fits the appearance, but not the personality; she's quite innocent and a virgin, rather than fiery and worldly. Furthermore, she was raised by Gypsies, but not one by birth.
  • The Ingenue: Again, Esmeralda, especially the negative features of such a character.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Quasimodo does what he can to make Esmeralda happy, including acting as a messenger to Phoebus, whom he knows to be a jerk.
  • Implicit Prison - The cathedral serves as this for Esmeralda when she avoids arrest by staying there.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: The chapter titles, as was the style in the day. For example, "The Inconveniences of Following a Pretty Woman through the Streets in the Evening" or "The Retreat in which Monsieur Louis of France says his Prayers".
  • Jerkass: Phoebus, and to a lesser extent, Jehan Frollo.
  • Joker Jury: Gringoire's trial in the Court of Miracles.
  • Just Whistle: Quasimodo gives Esmeralda a literal whistle for this purpose.
  • Karma Houdini: Phoebus, who has no problem taking advantage of Esmeralda's innocence, or letting her die on trumped up charges including charges of his own murder. However, he suffers a tragic fate at the end: he gets married.
  • Kill 'em All: Seriously. Who doesn't die in this book? Gringoire, Djali, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys. And that's about it.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Phoebus more or less fits this trope, especially in Esmeralda's eyes. He's still a jerk, though.
  • Laughing Mad: Frollo, when he completely loses it at the end.
  • Lost in Imitation: Quasimodo's role has been exaggerated and romanticized in the public mind though many adaptations, and the architectural themes minimized.
  • Lovable Coward: Gringoire. He tries to do his best to help save Esmeralda, but when his own neck is at stake he decides he'd rather not.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Frollo, Quasimodo, Phoebus, and Gringoire are all attracted to Esmeralda, who is married to Gringoire, but has eyes only for Phoebus, who is engaged to Fleur-de-Lys.
  • Love at First Sight: Esmeralda for Phoebus, Frollo for Esmeralda (albeit a lot less purely).
  • Love Makes You Evil: Frollo's unhealthy obsession with Esmeralda drives the plot.
  • Love Martyr: Esmeralda
  • Male Gaze: Every description of Esmeralda. Did we really need the details of her half-dressed state, her "waving locks, more lustrous than the raven's wing", her "half-naked shoulders" and "bare legs" — as she's being dragged to the gallows?
  • Market-Based Title: Published in the original French as Notre-Dame de Paris, usually published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
  • Meaningful Name: "Quasi modo" in Latin translates to "almost standard". The Disney film tells us it means half-formed.
    • Actually, the name is in line with common medieval naming conventions, Quasi modo actually means "Similar to", and is derived from the Introit of the day he was found, which starts with "Like newborn babies". Meaningful nonetheless, though.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Gringoire is deemed a coward by the other characters but otherwise is easily the nicest character in the book.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Believe it or not, Djali, Esmeralda's adorable and intelligent goat, is not a Disney creation.
  • Oedipus Rex: Both Quasimodo and his father-figure are in love with the same woman.
  • Only One Name: Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Esmeralda has an amulet which is supposed to help her find her mother.
  • Promotion to Parent: Frollo's parents die while he's a young man, leaving him to raise his baby brother, and then Quasimodo, whom he adopts.
  • Pure Is Not Good: Quasimodo and Frollo have no idea how to deal with sexual frustration since they've lived all their lives away from the opposite sex.
  • Rescue Romance: Esmeralda and Phoebus.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: See The Siege, below.
  • Roma: Esmeralda but not really. Probably Quasimodo, by birth.
  • Scenery Porn: Hugo goes into a lot of detail when describing his beloved cathedral.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: Everyone knows this scene.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Hinted at with Frollo.
  • Sexless Marriage: The one between Esmeralda and Gringoire.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Jehan's death acts as a gigantic "Bad End Incoming" flag.
    • Gringoire leaving with Djali also qualifies.
  • Shown Their Work: Just say Victor Hugo's novels are educational.
  • The Siege: Quasimodo bravely and single-handedly defends the cathedral against an armed horde. Who were trying to rescue Esmeralda. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero
  • Sinister Minister: Frollo, but only because love made him evil.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: If Esmeralda was unattractive, or even if she was just slightly less attractive, none of the bad things in the novel would've happened.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Frollo again. Quasimodo, too. And Esmeralda is this to Phoebus.
  • Taking the Heat: Only Quasimodo is punished for the initial kidnapping attempt.
  • The Tramp: The entire Court of Miracles.
  • Together in Death: Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Esmeralda takes on severe shades of this when she's hiding in her mother's cell, trying to evade detection by the guards...and getting away with it...only to dash for the window and start crying for Phoebus the moment she hears his voice.
  • Torches and Pitchforks
  • Virgin Power: Esmeralda has an amulet which is supposed to help her find her mother, but believes it will only work so long as she is a virgin.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: For those used to how Frollo was in the Disney version, his characterization here (a man who tried so hard to be genuinely good that his perverse lust drives him tragically insane) can be a bit surprising.
    • Quasimodo also qualifies; sure he's a nasty little misanthrope, but considering the fact that he's pretty much been rejected by society at large because of his appearance, can you really blame him?
  • Writers Suck: Gringoire's career as a poet is an abject failure. The opening chapters make clear that no one except him is paying any attention to his mystery play.
  • Wrongly Accused: Esmeralda is arrested for stabbing Phoebus, which was actually done by Frollo in a fit of jealousy.
  • Yandere: Frollo.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: An especially cruel example. Esmeralda's mother, Paquette, was a prostitute who doted upon her daughter. When Esmeralda was kidnapped by Gypsies when she was still a baby, Paquette was completely devastated and became an anchoress, spending fifteen years in a small cell, repenting and begging for God to give her back her daughter. They're eventually reunited... only for Esmeralda to be taken away to be executed almost immediately afterwards. Paquette is killed while trying to prevent Esmeralda's arrest.
  • Younger than They Look: Archdeacon Claude Frollo is only 36 years old yet he is nearly bald, with only a few white hairs on his head.


Gulliver's TravelsPublic Domain StoriesThe Iliad
A Hero of Our Time 19 th Century LiteratureThe Hunting of the Snark
The Girl Who Played GoFrench LiteratureIn Search of the Castaways

alternative title(s): Notre Dame De Paris; Hunchback Of Notre Dame
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