The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

This article is about the Victor Hugo novel. For other uses, see The Hunchback of Notre Dame (disambiguation).
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

1st edition cover
Author Victor Hugo
Original title Notre-Dame de Paris
Translator Frederic Shoberl (English)
Illustrator Luc-Olivier Merson (original)
Country France
Language French
Genre Romanticism, Gothic fiction
Set in Paris, 1482
Publisher Gosselin
Publication date
14 January 1831
Published in English
Media type Hardback
Pages 940, in 3 volumes

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris) is a French Romantic/Gothic novel by Victor Hugo, published in 1831. The original French title refers to Notre Dame Cathedral, on which the story is centered. English translator Frederic Shoberl named the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1833 because at the time, Gothic novels were more popular than Romance novels in England.[1] The story is set in Paris, France in the Late Middle Ages, during the reign of Louis XI.


Illustration from
Victor Hugo et son temps (1881)

Victor Hugo began writing Notre-Dame de Paris in 1829, largely to make his contemporaries more aware of the value of the Gothic architecture, which was neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings, or defaced by replacement of parts of buildings in a newer style. For instance, the medieval stained glass panels of Notre-Dame de Paris had been replaced by white glass to let more light into the church.[2] This explains the large descriptive sections of the book, which far exceed the requirements of the story. A few years earlier, Hugo had already published a paper entitled Guerre aux Démolisseurs (War to the Demolishers) specifically aimed at saving Paris' medieval architecture.[3] 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. In the summer of 1830 Gosselin demanded that Hugo 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 gypsy Esmeralda captures the hearts of many men, including those of Captain Phoebus and Pierre Gringoire, but especially Quasimodo and his guardian Archdeacon Claude Frollo. Frollo is torn between his obsessive lust for Esmeralda and the rules of the Notre Dame Cathedral. He orders bandits to kidnap her, but the hunchback is captured by Phoebus and his guards, who save Esmeralda.

The following day, 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, approaches the public stocks and offers him a drink of water. It saves him, and she captures his heart.

Later, Esmeralda is arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy after seeing him trying to seduce Esmeralda. She is 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, temporarily protecting her from arrest.

Frollo later informs Gringoire that the Court of Parlement has voted to remove Esmeralda's right to sanctuary so she can no longer seek shelter in the cathedral and will be taken away to be killed. Clopin, the leader of the Gypsies, hears the news from Gringoire and rallies the citizens of Paris to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda.

When Quasimodo sees the Gypsies, 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 later goes to Montfaucon, a huge graveyard in Paris where the bodies of the condemned are dumped, where he stays with Esmeralda's dead body and dies of starvation. About eighteen months later, the tomb is opened, and the skeletons are found. As someone tries to separate them, they crumble to dust.


Major themes

The novel's original French title, Notre-Dame de Paris, 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.[4] The building had fallen into disrepair at the time of writing, which was something Hugo felt strongly about. The book portrays the Romantic era as one of extremes in architecture, passion and religion. The theme of determinism (fate and destiny, as set up in the preface of the novel through the introduction of the word "ANANKH") is explored, as well as revolution and social strife.[5]


Architecture is a major concern of Hugo's in Notre-Dame de Paris, not just as embodied in the cathedral itself, but as representing throughout Paris and the rest of Europe an artistic genre which, Hugo argued, was about to disappear with the arrival of the printing press. Claude Frollo's portentous phrase, ‘Ceci tuera cela’ ("This will kill that", as he looks from a printed book to the cathedral building), sums up this thesis, which is expounded on in Book V, chapter 2. Hugo writes that ‘quiconque naissait poète se faisait architecte’ ("whoever was born a poet became an architect"), arguing that while the written word was heavily censored and difficult to reproduce, architecture was extremely prominent and enjoyed considerable freedom.

Il existe à cette époque, pour la pensée écrite en pierre, un privilège tout-à-fait comparable à notre liberté actuelle de la presse. C'est la liberté de l'architecture.
There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture.
Book V, Chapter 2

With the recent introduction of the printing press, it became possible to reproduce one's ideas much more easily on paper, and Hugo considered this period to represent the last flowering of architecture as a great artistic form. As with many of his books, Hugo was interested in a time which seemed to him to be on the cusp between two types of society.[6]

The major theme of the third book is that over time the cathedral has been repaired, but the repairs and additions have made the cathedral worse: "And who put the cold, white panes in the place of those windows" and "...who substituted for the ancient Gothic altar, splendidly encumbered with shrines and reliquaries, that heavy marble sarcophagus, with angels' heads and clouds" are a few examples of this. This chapter also discusses how, after repairs to the cathedral after the French Revolution, there was not a significant style in what was added. It seems as if the new architecture is actually now uglier and worse than it was before the repairing.

Literary significance and reception

Hugo introduced with this work the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre. A giant epic about the history of a whole people, incarnated in the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist of that history. The whole idea of time and life as an ongoing, organic panorama centered on dozens of characters caught in the middle of that history. It is the first novel to have beggars as protagonists.

Notre Dame de Paris was the first work of fiction to encompass the whole of life, from the King of France to Paris sewer rats, in a manner later co-opted by Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert and many others, including Charles Dickens. The enormous popularity of the book in France spurred the nascent historical preservation movement in that country and strongly encouraged Gothic revival architecture. Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th century led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Much of the cathedral's present appearance is a result of this renovation.

Allusions and references

Allusions to actual history, geography and current science

In The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo makes frequent reference to the architecture of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. He also mentions the invention of the printing press, when the bookmaker near the beginning of the work speaks of "the German pest."

In 2010, British archivist Adrian Glew discovered references to a real-life hunchback who was a foreman of a government sculpting studio in Paris in the 1820s who worked on post-Revolution restorations to the Cathedral.[7]

Allusions in other works

The name Quasimodo has become synonymous with "a courageous heart beneath a grotesque exterior."[8]

Drama adaptations

To date, all of the film and TV adaptations have strayed somewhat from the original plot, some going as far as to give it a happy ending, as in the classic 1939 film starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda (although Quasimodo loses her to Gringoire in this version). The 1956 French film, starring Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida, is one of the few versions to end almost exactly like the novel, although it changes other sections of the story. Unlike most adaptations, the 1996 Disney version has an ending that is inspired by an opera created by Hugo himself.





Musical theatre



The book was twice adapted and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 as its Classic Serial:

Video games

Translation history

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame has been translated into English many times. Translations are often reprinted in various imprints. Some translations have been revised over time.

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.



  2. fr:Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
  3. fr:Notre-Dame de Paris (roman)#cite note-21
  4. Zaretsky, Rob. "Victor Hugo and Architecture", Engines of our Ingenuity. Accessed 2 June 2016.
  5. "". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  6. "". 26 January 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  7. "Real-life Quasimodo uncovered in Tate archives", Roya Nikkhah, The Daily Telegraph, 15 August 2010
  8. Webber, Elizabeth; Mike Feinsilber (1999). Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions. Merriam-Webster. p. 592. ISBN 0-87779-628-9.
  9. "Know Before You Go: The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (PDF). Retrieved 21 October 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  10. BWW News Desk (22 January 2016). "Sanctuary! THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Cast Album Released Today".
  11. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  12. "". 5 December 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  13. "". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  14. Mainstage 1997 – Nicholas De Beabien's The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
  15. Collins, Suzanne. "". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  16. "Hunchback". Hunchback. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  17. "Hunchback of Notre Dame Musical By Styx Front-Man to Play Chicago's Bailiwick". Playbill. Retrieved 31 May 2011.


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