December 29, 2020

#08-029: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Great French Novel

engraving of Quasimodo hanging from a gargoyle high atop Notre Dame
Hanging around at Notre Dame

Note: You may have seen Disney's 1996 animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or perhaps the 1956 classic live-action version of the same story. Both are based on the 1831 historical novel by one of France's most-honored authors, Victor Hugo.

Get Ready: What does the word "sanctuary" mean? Explore its many meanings before reading the story below.

Set in the Medieval period, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells of Quasimodo, a grotesque-looking bell ringer at Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral (the one that caught fire in April of 2019), and the sad figure's great love for the beautiful "gypsy" girl, Esmeralda.

It is considered a key work of French literature, portraying the panorama of Parisian social life in the Middle Ages from the king to the church to the lowliest of beggars.

In the novel, the girl Esmerelda (meaning essentially "green," and representing nature) has captured the attention of Phoebus (which means "Sun God"), Captain of the King's Archers--among many other men. One of these is the despicable Archdeacon Claude Frollo, who as a churchman is prohibited from being with women, but feels he must have her.

He instructs the hapless bell ringer to kidnap the girl, but Quasimodo is captured by Phoebus. He is sentenced to a flogging and placed in a pillory for two hours, and suffers public exposure for another. When he calls out for water, Esmerelda brings him some, capturing his heart. (In a sub-plot, the girl has agreed to marry Pierre Gringoire, a poet and playwright, in order to save him from hanging, foreshadowing her kindheartedness.)

Later, Frollo tries to kill Phoebus, but Esmerelda is arrested for the attempted murder. She is being led to the gallows when Quasimodo, swinging down on the Cathedral's bell rope, snatches her and takes her to Notre Dame, where she is sheltered under the "law of sanctuary."

Frollo has her right of sanctuary removed, and Clopin, head of her gypsy people, leads a charge on the Cathedral to save her. Quasimodo, however, assumes they're coming to harm her, and fights to defend her. Frollo makes one more try to win her love, and when rebuffed, hands her over to the Guards and watches from the church's tower as she is hanged. When the evil churchman laughs at her plight, Quasimodo pushes him off the Cathedral's heights, then vanishes forever.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. foreshadowing
  2. gallows
  3. grotesque
  4. hapless
  5. panorama
  6. pillory
  7. plight
  8. rebuffed
  9. sanctuary
  10. sub-plot

  1. rejected
  2. fantastically ugly
  3. indicating what is to happen later
  4. a device for holding a prisoner in public
  5. unlucky
  6. a secondary story
  7. a wide view of something
  8. immunity from arrest
  9. a difficult situation
  10. a structure from which people are hanged

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 29, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. j; 3. b; 4. e; 5. g; 6. d; 7. i; 8. a; 9. h; 10. f