Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo’s second novel, emphasizes the theme of anank, the Greek word for fate or necessity. Anank appears in the novel chiefly as inevitable transition; stylistically, the transition is from classicism to Romanticism and, ultimately, from the human to the divine. The cathedral of Notre-Dame is the embodiment of what must be recognized as the permanence of transition. In origin a Gallo-Roman temple to the classical deity Jupiter, it became a Christian basilica and, later, in the twelfth century, a Romanesque cathedral; as its construction continued into the thirteenth century, the Gothic style overtook and succeeded the Romanesque configuration; and the cathedral, completed in 1345, stood as the architectural scripture of its own history. The novel is about this cathedral as a statement of anank more than it is about any particular one of its many characters. In that sense, to translate the title, Notre-Dame de Paris, into The Hunchback of Notre Dame is seriously to delimit the magnitude of the novel.
The action of the novel begins on January 6, 1482, and ends in July of the same year, with an epilogistic chapter disclosing the fate of Quasimodo, the hunchback, dated to mid-1484. Esmeralda, a sixteen-year-old woman, identified as a gypsy and dancing in the company of her trained goat, catches the eye of Archdeacon Frollo, who orders his misshapen ward, Quasimodo, to kidnap...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Louis XI, king of France, is to marry his oldest son to Margaret of Flanders, and in early January, 1482, the king is expecting Flemish ambassadors to his court. The great day arrives, coinciding both with Epiphany and with the secular celebration of the Festival of Fools. All day long, raucous Parisians assemble at the great Palace of Justice to see a morality play and to choose a Prince of Fools. The throng is supposed to await the arrival of the Flemish guests, but when the emissaries are late, Gringoire, a penniless and oafish poet, orders the play to begin. In the middle of the prologue, however, the play comes to a standstill as the royal procession passes into the huge palace. After the procession passes, the play is forgotten, and the crowd shouts for the Prince of Fools to be chosen.
The Prince of Fools has to be a man of remarkable physical ugliness. One by one the candidates, eager for this one glory of their disreputable lives, show their faces in front of a glass window, but the crowd shouts and jeers until a face of such extraordinary hideousness appears that the people acclaims this candidate at once as the Prince of Fools. It is Quasimodo, the hunchback bell ringer of Notre Dame. Nowhere on earth is there a more grotesque creature. One of his eyes is buried under an enormous wen. His teeth hang over his protruding lower lip like tusks. His eyebrows are red bristles, and his gigantic nose curves over his upper lip like a snout. His long...
(The entire section is 1890 words.)
Hugo begins The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a detailed account of the life and culture of fifteenth-century Paris. There is to be a royal wedding, and the city is alive with performances and pomp. One of the main characters is introduced in the person of Pierre Gringoire, a poet and playwright, whose drama is presented amidst noise and many interruptions.
One of those interruptions is caused by La Esmeralda, a woman whose beauty attracts crowds and cheers. After the play is finally abandoned, Gringoire follows La Esmeralda, watches her dance, and later witnesses Quasimodo attempting to kidnap her. Claude Frollo has prompted Quasimodo to take the woman back to the cathedral. When Gringoire tries to rescue La Esmeralda, Quasimodo hits him and knocks him out. In the meantime, the handsome captain of the king’s archers, Phoebus, arrests Quasimodo as Frollo sneaks away.
Gringoire searches for a place to sleep and ends up with the gypsies, whose leader Clopin Trouillefou threatens to kill him unless a woman in their midst agrees to marry him. La Esmeralda, who recognizes Gringoire, agrees to save him. After they are married, La Esmeralda tells him she wants only a platonic relationship. Gringoire accepts but secretly hopes that one day he will win her love.
Hugo then describes the cathedral of Notre Dame. Great details are provided about the church’s history and its...
(The entire section is 1570 words.)