Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NOTRE DAME DE PARIS by VICTOR HUGO (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)

Notre Dame de Paris  is a novel by Victor Hugo published in 1831. The French title refers to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, on which the story is centred. The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the largest and most well-known cathedrals in the world.

Victor Hugo began writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1829. 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. By the summer of 1830, Gosselin demanded Victor Hugo to complete the book by February 1831. Beginning in September 1830, Hugo worked nonstop on the project thereafter. The book was finished six months later.

The story begins on Epiphany (6 January), 1482, the day of the "Feast of Fools " in Paris, France. Quasimodo, the deformed hunchback bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, is introduced by his crowning as King of Fools.

Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy  with a kind and generous heart, captures the hearts of many men, including those of a Captain Phoebus and a poor street poet, Pierre Gringoire, but especially those of Quasimodo and his adoptive father, Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Frollo is torn between his obsessive love and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but the hunchback is suddenly captured by Phoebus and his guards who save Esmeralda.

Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged and turned on the pillory  for one hour, followed by another hour's public exposure. He calls for water. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, offers him a drink. It saves him, and she captures his heart.

Esmeralda is later charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy, after seeing him about to have sex with Esmeralda, and is tortured and 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 under the law of sanctuary.  Clopin, a street performer, rallies the Truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda.

Frollo asks the king to remove Esmeralda's right to sanctuary so she can no longer seek shelter in the church and will be taken from the church and killed. When Quasimodo sees the Truands, 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 her phony husband, 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 heights of Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo then goes to the vaults under the huge gibbet of Montfaucon, and lies next to Esmeralda's corpse, where it had been unceremoniously thrown after the execution. He stays at Montfaucon, and eventually dies of starvation. About eighteen months later, the tomb is opened, and the skeletons are found. As someone tries to separate them, Quasimodo's bones turn to dust.


The original French title, Notre-Dame de Paris (the formal title of the Cathedral) 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. With the notable exception of Phoebus and Esmerelda's meeting, almost every major event in the novel takes place in the cathedral, atop the cathedral or can be witnessed by a character standing within or atop the cathedral.

The Cathedral had fallen into disrepair at the time of writing, which Hugo wanted to point out. The book portrays the  Gothic era as one of the extremes of architecture, passion, and religion. The theme of determinism (fate and destiny) is explored as well as revolution and social strife.

The severe distinction of the social classes is shown by the relationships of Quasimodo and Esmeralda with higher-caste people in the book. One can also see a variety of modern themes emanating from the work including nuanced views on gender dynamics.

For example, Phoebus objectifies Esmerelda as a sexual object. And, while Esmeralda is frequently cited as a paragon of purity — this is certainly how Quasimodo sees her — she nonetheless is seen to create her own objectification of the archer captain, Phoebus, that is at odds with reader's informed view of the man.


In the twinkling of an eye, all was ready to execute Coppenole's idea.
Bourgeois, scholars and law clerks all set to work. The little chapel
situated opposite the marble table was selected for the scene of the
grinning match. A pane broken in the pretty rose window above the
door, left free a circle of stone through which it was agreed that the
competitors should thrust their heads. In order to reach it, it was only
necessary to mount upon a couple of hogsheads, which had been produced
from I know not where, and perched one upon the other, after a fashion.
It was settled that each candidate, man or woman (for it was possible to
choose a female pope), should, for the sake of leaving the impression of
his grimace fresh and complete, cover his face and remain concealed in
the chapel until the moment of his appearance. In less than an instant,
the chapel was crowded with competitors, upon whom the door was then

Coppenole, from his post, ordered all, directed all, arranged all.
During the uproar, the cardinal, no less abashed than Gringoire, had
retired with all his suite, under the pretext of business and vespers,
without the crowd which his arrival had so deeply stirred being in the
least moved by his departure. Guillaume Rym was the only one who noticed
his eminence's discomfiture. The attention of the populace, like the
sun, pursued its revolution; having set out from one end of the hall,
and halted for a space in the middle, it had now reached the other end.
The marble table, the brocaded gallery had each had their day; it was
now the turn of the chapel of Louis XI. Henceforth, the field was open
to all folly. There was no one there now, but the Flemings and the

The grimaces began. The first face which appeared at the aperture,
with eyelids turned up to the reds, a mouth open like a maw, and a
brow wrinkled like our hussar boots of the Empire, evoked such an
inextinguishable peal of laughter that Homer would have taken all these
louts for gods. Nevertheless, the grand hall was anything but Olympus,
and Gringoire's poor Jupiter knew it better than any one else. A second
and third grimace followed, then another and another; and the laughter
and transports of delight went on increasing. There was in this
spectacle, a peculiar power of intoxication and fascination, of which it
would be difficult to convey to the reader of our day and our salons any

Let the reader picture to himself a series of visages presenting
successively all geometrical forms, from the triangle to the trapezium,
from the cone to the polyhedron; all human expressions, from wrath
to lewdness; all ages, from the wrinkles of the new-born babe to the
wrinkles of the aged and dying; all religious phantasmagories, from Faun
to Beelzebub; all animal profiles, from the maw to the beak, from the
jowl to the muzzle. Let the reader imagine all these grotesque figures
of the Pont Neuf, those nightmares petrified beneath the hand of Germain
Pilon, assuming life and breath, and coming in turn to stare you in the
face with burning eyes; all the masks of the Carnival of Venice passing
in succession before your glass,--in a word, a human kaleidoscope.

The orgy grew more and more Flemish. Teniers could have given but a very
imperfect idea of it. Let the reader picture to himself in bacchanal
form, Salvator Rosa's battle. There were no longer either scholars or
ambassadors or bourgeois or men or women; there was no longer any Clopin
Trouillefou, nor Gilles Lecornu, nor Marie Quatrelivres, nor Robin
Poussepain. All was universal license. The grand hall was no longer
anything but a vast furnace of effrontry and joviality, where every
mouth was a cry, every individual a posture; everything shouted and
howled. The strange visages which came, in turn, to gnash their teeth
in the rose window, were like so many brands cast into the brazier;
and from the whole of this effervescing crowd, there escaped, as from a
furnace, a sharp, piercing, stinging noise, hissing like the wings of a

"Ho hé! curse it!"

"Just look at that face!"

"It's not good for anything."

"Guillemette Maugerepuis, just look at that bull's muzzle; it only lacks
the horns. It can't be your husband."


"Belly of the pope! what sort of a grimace is that?"

"Hola hé! that's cheating. One must show only one's face."

"That damned Perrette Callebotte! she's capable of that!"

"Good! Good!"

"I'm stifling!"

"There's a fellow whose ears won't go through!" Etc., etc.

But we must do justice to our friend Jehan. In the midst of this
witches' sabbath, he was still to be seen on the top of his pillar, like
the cabin-boy on the topmast. He floundered about with incredible fury.
His mouth was wide open, and from it there escaped a cry which no one
heard, not that it was covered by the general clamor, great as that
was but because it attained, no doubt, the limit of perceptible sharp
sounds, the thousand vibrations of Sauveur, or the eight thousand of

As for Gringoire, the first moment of depression having passed, he
had regained his composure. He had hardened himself against
adversity.---"Continue!" he had said for the third time, to his
comedians, speaking machines; then as he was marching with great strides
in front of the marble table, a fancy seized him to go and appear in
his turn at the aperture of the chapel, were it only for the pleasure of
making a grimace at that ungrateful populace.--"But no, that would
not be worthy of us; no, vengeance! let us combat until the end," he
repeated to himself; "the power of poetry over people is great; I will
bring them back. We shall see which will carry the day, grimaces or
polite literature."

Alas! he had been left the sole spectator of his piece. It was far worse
than it had been a little while before. He no longer beheld anything but

I am mistaken. The big, patient man, whom he had already consulted in a
critical moment, had remained with his face turned towards the stage. As
for Gisquette and Liénarde, they had deserted him long ago.

Gringoire was touched to the heart by the fidelity of his only
spectator. He approached him and addressed him, shaking his arm
slightly; for the good man was leaning on the balustrade and dozing a

"Monsieur," said Gringoire, "I thank you!"

"Monsieur," replied the big man with a yawn, "for what?"

"I see what wearies you," resumed the poet; "'tis all this noise which
prevents your hearing comfortably. But be at ease! your name shall
descend to posterity! Your name, if you please?"

"Renauld Chateau, guardian of the seals of the Châtelet of Paris, at
your service."

"Monsieur, you are the only representative of the muses here," said

"You are too kind, sir," said the guardian of the seals at the Châtelet.

"You are the only one," resumed Gringoire, "who has listened to the
piece decorously. What do you think of it?"

"He! he!" replied the fat magistrate, half aroused, "it's tolerably
jolly, that's a fact."

Gringoire was forced to content himself with this eulogy; for a
thunder of applause, mingled with a prodigious acclamation, cut their
conversation short. The Pope of the Fools had been elected.

"Noel! Noel! Noel!"* shouted the people on all sides. That was, in
fact, a marvellous grimace which was beaming at that moment through the
aperture in the rose window. After all the pentagonal, hexagonal, and
whimsical faces, which had succeeded each other at that hole without
realizing the ideal of the grotesque which their imaginations, excited
by the orgy, had constructed, nothing less was needed to win their
suffrages than the sublime grimace which had just dazzled the assembly.
Master Coppenole himself applauded, and Clopin Trouillefou, who had
been among the competitors (and God knows what intensity of ugliness his
visage could attain), confessed himself conquered: We will do the same.
We shall not try to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedral nose,
that horseshoe mouth; that little left eye obstructed with a red, bushy,
bristling eyebrow, while the right eye disappeared entirely beneath an
enormous wart; of those teeth in disarray, broken here and there, like
the embattled parapet of a fortress; of that callous lip, upon which one
of these teeth encroached, like the tusk of an elephant; of that forked
chin; and above all, of the expression spread over the whole; of that
mixture of malice, amazement, and sadness. Let the reader dream of this
whole, if he can.

     *  The ancient French hurrah.

The acclamation was unanimous; people rushed towards the chapel. They
made the lucky Pope of the Fools come forth in triumph. But it was then
that surprise and admiration attained their highest pitch; the grimace
was his face.

Or rather, his whole person was a grimace. A huge head, bristling
with red hair; between his shoulders an enormous hump, a counterpart
perceptible in front; a system of thighs and legs so strangely astray
that they could touch each other only at the knees, and, viewed from
the front, resembled the crescents of two scythes joined by the
handles; large feet, monstrous hands; and, with all this deformity,
an indescribable and redoubtable air of vigor, agility, and
courage,--strange exception to the eternal rule which wills that force
as well as beauty shall be the result of harmony. Such was the pope whom
the fools had just chosen for themselves.

One would have pronounced him a giant who had been broken and badly put
together again.

When this species of cyclops appeared on the threshold of the chapel,
motionless, squat, and almost as broad as he was tall; squared on the
base, as a great man says; with his doublet half red, half violet, sown
with silver bells, and, above all, in the perfection of his ugliness,
the populace recognized him on the instant, and shouted with one

"'Tis Quasimodo, the bellringer! 'tis Quasimodo, the hunchback of
Notre-Dame! Quasimodo, the one-eyed! Quasimodo, the bandy-legged! Noel!

It will be seen that the poor fellow had a choice of surnames.

"Let the women with child beware!" shouted the scholars.

"Or those who wish to be," resumed Joannes.

The women did, in fact, hide their faces.

"Oh! the horrible monkey!" said one of them.

"As wicked as he is ugly," retorted another.

"He's the devil," added a third.

"I have the misfortune to live near Notre-Dame; I hear him prowling
round the eaves by night."

"With the cats."

"He's always on our roofs."

"He throws spells down our chimneys."

"The other evening, he came and made a grimace at me through my attic
window. I thought that it was a man. Such a fright as I had!"

"I'm sure that he goes to the witches' sabbath. Once he left a broom on
my leads."

"Oh! what a displeasing hunchback's face!"

"Oh! what an ill-favored soul!"


The men, on the contrary, were delighted and applauded. Quasimodo, the
object of the tumult, still stood on the threshold of the chapel, sombre
and grave, and allowed them to admire him.

One scholar (Robin Poussepain, I think), came and laughed in his face,
and too close. Quasimodo contented himself with taking him by the
girdle, and hurling him ten paces off amid the crowd; all without
uttering a word.

Master Coppenole, in amazement, approached him.

"Cross of God! Holy Father! you possess the handsomest ugliness that I
have ever beheld in my life. You would deserve to be pope at Rome, as
well as at Paris."

So saying, he placed his hand gayly on his shoulder. Quasimodo did not
stir. Coppenole went on,--

"You are a rogue with whom I have a fancy for carousing, were it to cost
me a new dozen of twelve livres of Tours. How does it strike you?"

Quasimodo made no reply.

"Cross of God!" said the hosier, "are you deaf?"

He was, in truth, deaf.

Nevertheless, he began to grow impatient with Coppenole's behavior, and
suddenly turned towards him with so formidable a gnashing of teeth, that
the Flemish giant recoiled, like a bull-dog before a cat.

Then there was created around that strange personage, a circle of terror
and respect, whose radius was at least fifteen geometrical feet. An old
woman explained to Coppenole that Quasimodo was deaf.

"Deaf!" said the hosier, with his great Flemish laugh. "Cross of God!
He's a perfect pope!"

"He! I recognize him," exclaimed Jehan, who had, at last, descended from
his capital, in order to see Quasimodo at closer quarters, "he's the
bellringer of my brother, the archdeacon. Good-day, Quasimodo!"

"What a devil of a man!" said Robin Poussepain still all bruised
with his fall. "He shows himself; he's a hunchback. He walks; he's
bandy-legged. He looks at you; he's one-eyed. You speak to him; he's
deaf. And what does this Polyphemus do with his tongue?"

"He speaks when he chooses," said the old woman; "he became deaf through
ringing the bells. He is not dumb."

"That he lacks," remarks Jehan.

"And he has one eye too many," added Robin Poussepain.

"Not at all," said Jehan wisely. "A one-eyed man is far less complete
than a blind man. He knows what he lacks."

In the meantime, all the beggars, all the lackeys, all the cutpurses,
joined with the scholars, had gone in procession to seek, in the
cupboard of the law clerks' company, the cardboard tiara, and the
derisive robe of the Pope of the Fools. Quasimodo allowed them to array
him in them without wincing, and with a sort of proud docility. Then
they made him seat himself on a motley litter. Twelve officers of the
fraternity of fools raised him on their shoulders; and a sort of bitter
and disdainful joy lighted up the morose face of the cyclops, when he
beheld beneath his deformed feet all those heads of handsome, straight,
well-made men. Then the ragged and howling procession set out on its
march, according to custom, around the inner galleries of the Courts,
before making the circuit of the streets and squares.


We are delighted to be able to inform the reader, that during the whole
of this scene, Gringoire and his piece had stood firm. His actors,
spurred on by him, had not ceased to spout his comedy, and he had not
ceased to listen to it. He had made up his mind about the tumult, and
was determined to proceed to the end, not giving up the hope of a return
of attention on the part of the public. This gleam of hope acquired
fresh life, when he saw Quasimodo, Coppenole, and the deafening escort
of the pope of the procession of fools quit the hall amid great uproar.
The throng rushed eagerly after them. "Good," he said to himself, "there
go all the mischief-makers." Unfortunately, all the mischief-makers
constituted the entire audience. In the twinkling of an eye, the grand
hall was empty.

To tell the truth, a few spectators still remained, some scattered,
others in groups around the pillars, women, old men, or children,
who had had enough of the uproar and tumult. Some scholars were still
perched astride of the window-sills, engaged in gazing into the Place.

"Well," thought Gringoire, "here are still as many as are required to
hear the end of my mystery. They are few in number, but it is a choice
audience, a lettered audience."

An instant later, a symphony which had been intended to produce the
greatest effect on the arrival of the Virgin, was lacking. Gringoire
perceived that his music had been carried off by the procession of the
Pope of the Fools. "Skip it," said he, stoically.

He approached a group of bourgeois, who seemed to him to be discussing
his piece. This is the fragment of conversation which he caught,--

"You know, Master Cheneteau, the Hôtel de Navarre, which belonged to
Monsieur de Nemours?"

"Yes, opposite the Chapelle de Braque."

"Well, the treasury has just let it to Guillaume Alixandre, historian,
for six hivres, eight sols, parisian, a year."

"How rents are going up!"

"Come," said Gringoire to himself, with a sigh, "the others are

"Comrades," suddenly shouted one of the young scamps from the window,
"La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda in the Place!"

This word produced a magical effect. Every one who was left in the hall
flew to the windows, climbing the walls in order to see, and repeating,
"La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda?" At the same time, a great sound of
applause was heard from without.

"What's the meaning of this, of the Esmeralda?" said Gringoire, wringing
his hands in despair. "Ah, good heavens! it seems to be the turn of the
windows now."

He returned towards the marble table, and saw that the representation
had been interrupted. It was precisely at the instant when Jupiter
should have appeared with his thunder. But Jupiter was standing
motionless at the foot of the stage.

"Michel Giborne!" cried the irritated poet, "what are you doing there?
Is that your part? Come up!"

"Alas!" said Jupiter, "a scholar has just seized the ladder."

Gringoire looked. It was but too true. All communication between his
plot and its solution was intercepted.

"The rascal," he murmured. "And why did he take that ladder?"

"In order to go and see the Esmeralda," replied Jupiter piteously. "He
said, 'Come, here's a ladder that's of no use!' and he took it."

This was the last blow. Gringoire received it with resignation.

"May the devil fly away with you!" he said to the comedian, "and if I
get my pay, you shall receive yours."

Then he beat a retreat, with drooping head, but the last in the field,
like a general who has fought well.

And as he descended the winding stairs of the courts: "A fine rabble of
asses and dolts these Parisians!" he muttered between his teeth; "they
come to hear a mystery and don't listen to it at all! They are engrossed
by every one, by Chopin Trouillefou, by the cardinal, by Coppenole, by
Quasimodo, by the devil! but by Madame the Virgin Mary, not at all. If
I had known, I'd have given you Virgin Mary; you ninnies! And I! to
come to see faces and behold only backs! to be a poet, and to reap the
success of an apothecary! It is true that Homerus begged through the
Greek towns, and that Naso died in exile among the Muscovites. But may
the devil flay me if I understand what they mean with their Esmeralda!
What is that word, in the first place?--'tis Egyptian!"

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