The Huncback of Notre Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris) is an 1831 historical fiction novel by the French author Victor Hugo. The action takes place in Paris in the late fifteenth century. The novel's French title refers to the Parisian cathedral in and around which most of the novel takes place. The title character of most English-language translations of the novel is Quasimodo, the cathedral's ugly hunchbacked bell ringer who has been made deaf by the loud bells. Quasimodo is found abandonned as a baby and is adopted by Archdeacon Claude Frollo.
A central character in the novel is the Gypsy girl Esmeralda. Four characters in the novel fall in love with her: Quasimodo, Frollo, Captain Phoebus and Pierre Grignoire. Esmeralda shows sympathy and tenderness towards the other characters but has love only for Captain Phoebus. Although he is a priest and required to be celibate, Archdeacon Frollo wants to keep Esmeralda as his mistress. Frollo's desire and jealousy ultimately lead to Esmeralda's death and the novel's tragic ending.
On January 6, 1482, the Feast of Fools in Paris, Pierre Grignoire, a poet and playwright, attempts to put on a play, Quasimodo is crowned King of the Fools, much to the disgust of his adopted father Archdeacon Claude Frollo, and a Gypsy girl named Esmeralda dances for the crowd. Both Pierre Grignoire and Archdeacon Frollo are captivated by Esmeralda's beauty. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda but he is captured by Captain Phoebus and his guards who rescue Esmeralda.
Pierre Grignoire unintentionally finds himself in the Gypsies' secret hide-out, known as the "Court of Miracles" because it is a place where the "blind" can see and the "lame" can walk. To prevent him from revealing the court's secrets, he is told that he will be put to death unless a Gypsy woman takes him as her husband. Esmeralda agrees to marry Grignoire in order to save his life but she does not love him, she has already fallen in love with Captain Phoebus, and does not allow Grignoire to touch her.
Quasimodo is sentenced to be whipped and left on public display for two hours after his whipping. During his punishment, Quasimodo cries out for water. Esmeralda takes pity on him and gives him some water to drink. Her act of kindness makes Quasimodo fall in love with the Gypsy girl.
Frollo is jealous of Esmeralda's love for Captain Phoebus. He tries to murder Phoebus but fails. Esmeralda is accused of the attempted murder of Phoebus and witchcraft. She is found guilty and sentenced to be executed by hanging. On the way to her execution, Esmeralda is forced to pray in front of Notre Dame cathedral. Quasimodo climbs down a rope, takes Esmeralda inside the cathedral and cries, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" Esmeralda is safe inside the cathedral where the authorities are unable to touch her. She comes to appreciate Quasimodo's kindness but is incapable of loving him because of his ugliness. When she resists Frollo's advances, the archdeacon pleads with the king to remove Esmeralda's right to sanctuary so that she can be taken from the cathedral and put to death.
The thieves and beggars of Paris band together and plan to storm the cathedral and take Esmeralda to safety. Quasimodo sees people attacking the cathedral and wrongly assumes that they intend to do harm to Esmeralda. He attempts to drive them off by throwing heavy objects from the belltower. He also mistakenly believes that the soldiers who enter the cathedral to arrest Esmeralda are trying to save her and tries to help them.
Frollo and Grignoire rescue Esmeralda but when she rejects Frollo's advances again, the archdeacon hands her over to the authorities. Frollo watches Esmeralda's execution from the top of Notre Dame cathedral and laughs when she dies. Quasimodo reacts by pushing Frollo off the top of the cathedral, causing him to fall to his death.
Quasimodo leaves Notre Dame cathedral never to return. He goes to Montfaucon cemetery, where the bodies of all those who are executed in Paris are dumped. He finds Esmeralda's body and stays by its side day and night, neither eating nor drinking. Quasimodo slowly starves to death. Some time later, workmen discover the skeletons of Quasimodo and Esmeralda locked together. When they try to separate the two skeltons, they crumble to dust.
Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been adapted as stage plays, operas, ballets, musicals, radio plays, television specials and miniseries, animated cartooons and comic books.
The novel has been adapted for the cinema ten times. The best known movie versions are the 1923 silent version starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, the 1939 version starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda, the 1956 version starring Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo and Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda and the 1996 animated Disney version which features the voice of Tom Hulce as Quasimodo and the voice of Demi Moore as Esmeralda. All of the movie versions have departed somewhat from the original novel. The 1939 version has a largely happy but somewhat bittersweet ending. Quasimodo and Esmeralda both survive. Esmeralda finds true love with Grignoire but Quasimodo is left alone, lamenting that he cannot be like other men. The 1996 Disney version ends with Esmeralda finding love with Captain Phoebus and Quasimodo finally being accepted into the society that has shunned him for so long.
The Disney cartoon movie was adapted by Jason Lapine into a German stage musical called Der Gloeckner von Notre-Dame that ran in Berlin from June 1999 to June 2002. The adaptation is considerably darker than the cartoon on which it is based. Several elements from Hugo's novel that were not in the Disney movie are restored, including the death of Esmeralda. The living gargoyles, introduced in the Disney film, appear. However, it is made clear that they are merely figments of Quasimodo's imagination. As in the 1996 movie, Frollo is a judge rather than an archdeacon, however, it is stated in the musical that he used to be a priest.
The novel was adapted into the highly successful 1999 stage musical Notre-Dame de Paris by the Canadians Riccardo Cocciante and Luc Plamondon. It was first performed in French in Paris on September 16, 1990 and has been performed in thirteeen different countries, including a short version in Las Vegas and a full production in London. It is the third most successful musical based on a novel, following the adaptations of Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera.
- Text of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame in French and English on Wikisource.
- Free public domain audiobooks of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in French and English from LibriVox.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame on the SparkNotes website.
- Video of the 1923 silent movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Wikimedia Commons.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (title) on the Internet Movie Database.
- There is an article about Quasimodo on the Halloween Wiki.