THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME by Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Type of work Gothic Romance
Setting Paris, France; 1842
16-year-old gypsy girl
Pierre Gringoire, a poet and writer
Claude Frollo, an archdeacon who desires Esmerelda for his own
Phoebus, captain of the guard, loved by Esmeralda
It was the Festival of Fools day in Paris. A boisterous crowd had gathered to witness the performance of a play written by poet Pierre Gringoire – and to choose the Prince of Fools, the title bestowed on the ugliest person in all Paris. Several acts into the play, however, the Parisians grew restless and demanded that the “Prince of Fools” be elected immediately.
To Gringoire’s consternation, the crowd turned its attention from his production to the contestAfter several hideous contestants had shown their faces, one particularly grotesque figure appeared before the judges. His huge head was “covered with red bristles [and] between his shoulders rose an enormous hump.” This candidate had a forked chin and lip from which protruded a tusk, and one eye was covered by a wart. In spite of his deformities, he was surprisingly strong and agile. This hideous creature was unanimously acclaimed Prince of Fools.
“It’s Quasimodo,” the crowd roared, “the bell ringer of Notre Dame.” Placing a jester’s hat on his head, a miter in his hand, and a robe on his rounded back, they paraded him through the streets of the city, singing and playing instruments. Quasimodo was overcome; this was the first time he had ever felt “the gratification of self-love.” Deaf from long years of ringing Notre Dame’s massive bells, he grinned in dignified muteness at the spectacle around him.
The procession paused when the crowd reached a spot where a trained goat danced gracefully to the enchanting sounds of a beautiful young gypsy girl’s tambourine. The girl was named Esmerelda. Suddenly, the Archdeacon Claude Frollo barged through the crowd, snatched the scepter from Quasimodo’s hand, and ripped off the hat and robe. The gathering stood aghast at the Archdeacon’s harsh treatment – yet they knew Quasimodo would submit himself to the master who, many years earlier, had taken in a deformed, unwanted baby left in the foundling box at the gates of the cathedral.