Places: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831 (English translation, 1833)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1482

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Notre Dame Cathedral

*Notre Hunchback of Notre Dame, TheDame Cathedral. Roman Catholic cathedral on Paris’s Ile de la Cite. The iconic presence of the cathedral dominates the novel, especially through the lives of Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame, and Quasimodo, the cathedral’s deaf bell-ringer. The forces that control the ultimate tragedy of the story arise from the hopeless love of these two men for Esmeralda, the gypsy woman who is herself besotted with the unfaithful soldier, Phoebus de Châteaupers. Frollo’s love for Esmeralda would not drive him to such madness, were he not restrained by his clerical vow of celibacy. The Church separates him from women while his vocation continues his torment. When Frollo plots to have Esmeralda hanged if she will not love him, Quasimodo rescues her by hiding her in the cathedral, where she can claim sanctuary. So long as she remains there, she is safe, even during the violence of the beggars’ attack on the cathedral.

The public square in front of Notre Dame unites the cathedral with the people. As the main characters are drawn together there, it reflects through this coincidence the role of fate. After Frollo has Esmeralda sentenced to death, she must make penance in front of the cathedral before being executed. It is from the square that Quasimodo carries her away to the sanctuary of the church, but not before she sees Phoebus on a nearby balcony. This sight proves that Phoebus is not dead–although Esmeralda has been charged with killing him–and renews Esmeralda’s hope that Phoebus will return to her. Phoebus sees Esmeralda just at the moment he is swearing to another woman that she, Esmeralda, means nothing to him. The square weaves together the multiple relationships that control the characters.

*Place de la Grève

*Place de la Grève (plahz deh lah grehv). Public square on which Quasimodo is applauded as Prince of Fools and where he must serve time in the pillory for his role in Frollo’s attack on Esmeralda. The Place de la Grève also contains the gallows where Esmeralda is destined to be hanged. Hugo would have been especially aware that this square was later named Place de la Concorde to erase the memories of the guillotine it had held during the French Revolution.

*Palace of Justice

*Palace of Justice. Great hall in which the novel opens, when a crowd gathers to choose a Prince of Fools at the same time a morality play is being presented. The palace is later the scene of the trials of both Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Quasimodo is interrogated even though he is deaf and unable to understand what is being asked. Esmeralda is tortured until she confesses. Both are condemned in proceedings that show both the power and the fallibility of the law. The role of the Palace of Justice is ambiguous in the novel, just as the concept of justice in the novel seems quite variable.

Court of Miracles

Court of Miracles. Courtyard close to other places of action that serves as a refuge for the beggars who display artificially contrived wounds or disabilities in order to beg money in the streets. The “miracles” refer to what happens when they return to their own territory and suddenly can walk normally. This courtyard represents the people of the street, Esmeralda’s people, who as gypsies or other marginal characters make a living as best they can. When Esmeralda is in danger, these people rally to her defense, just as Esmeralda comes to the defense of Gringoire by offering to marry him so he will be accepted by her people. The solidarity of this group sets itself against the forces of authority when the beggars attack the cathedral.

BibliographyBrombert, Victor. Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984. An insightful analysis of the visionary qualities in Victor Hugo’s major novels. Examines Hugo’s artistry in describing events from several different perspectives in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.Grant, Richard B. The Perilous Quest: Image, Myth, and Prophecy in the Narratives of Victor Hugo. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1968. Examines Hugo’s creative use of myths and religious images in his novels. Discusses the importance of medieval legends to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.Grossman, Kathryn M. The Early Novels of Victor Hugo: Towards a Poetics of Harmony. Geneva: Droz, 1986. Contains a thoughtful study of Hugo’s first four novels. The chapter on The Hunchback of Notre Dame explores images of women and family relationships in the novel.Houston, John Porter. Victor Hugo. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Contains an excellent general introduction to Hugo’s works and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on Hugo. Discusses images of Paris and the importance of medievalism in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.Maurois, André. Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper, 1956. A well-documented biography of Hugo. Describes well the role of fate and images of Christianity in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
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