The Hunchback of Notre Dame

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Through a series of tales of thwarted love, the novel reveals a tragic story of medieval Paris. The deformed Quasimodo, befriended by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, Frollo, falls in love with the gypsy dancer, Esmeralda, who in turn is enamored of the aristocratic soldier, Phoebus, who once saved her life. Frollo, demented by his study of alchemy and the black arts, lusts after the dancer, too, and stabs Phoebus when the two lovers meet, allowing Esmeralda to take the blame. Destined for a public hanging, she is saved by Quasimodo, who carries her into the sanctuary of the cathedral. There he manages to fight off the mob of Paris, who, believing the gypsy is a witch, demand her death. Frollo, however, betrays Esmeralda to the crowd, and she is hanged. In revenge, Quasimodo throws the priest to his death from one of the towers of Notre Dame, after which the hunchback disappears from Paris. His whereabouts remain a mystery until years later, when, in a search of the vault where criminals were once buried, the bones of a disfigured man are found wrapped around the disintegrated corpse of a woman dressed as the gypsy.

It is not difficult to account for the popularity of this tale. The carefully drawn picture of the underworld of Paris, the various love triangles which interlock the classes and estates of the medieval world--all this provides a rich fictional tapestry. It is the tragic figure of Quasimodo, however, that gives the novel its mythic resonance, and...

(The entire section is 487 words.)