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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

This is one of the greatest novels by the French writer Victor Hugo. Its moving story has touched millions of readers. In this review, you can download a free copy of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in PDF format.

The masterly descriptions of 15th-century architecture and society have made this work a classic of French and universal literature.

We have enjoyed various film and theater adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Some of them have remained forever in the collective imagination, as is the case of the Disney film of the same name.

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Summary of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame begins with a celebration: the feast of the Epiphany (what we know today as Three Kings Day) around the Cathedral.

It was a very well attended event, where the poet Pierre Gringoire would make a recital of religious teachings which caused great expectation among the public. 

But soon the poet’s act would be overshadowed, as the people took on the task of electing the “King of Fools”, an activity they did for fun.

Although there were several candidates, the decision was clear when everyone saw Quasimodo ringing the cathedral’s bells: a hunchbacked, one-eyed, and deformed man. It could not be any other way! So they applauded him and named him king. 

To finish sabotaging Gringoire, a young and beautiful gypsy girl, named Esmeralda, put on an act in the middle of the square with her little white goat, which left the crowd excited and mesmerized.

The few who saw Gringoire’s act went off to enjoy the girl’s witticisms. 

Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo’s caretaker, with whom he lived in the cathedral, came to take the hunchback away. At that moment, when he saw the young gypsy girl, he fell in love with her.

Then, he had no better idea than to send Quasimodo to kidnap her, supposedly to give her “protection” since she was in danger with the other gypsies. 

As Gringoire leaves the celebration, he hears screams in one of the alleys. When he approaches to see what was happening, he sees Quasimodo taking Esmeralda by force, he tries to stop him but the hunchback is stronger and hits him.

Suddenly, soldiers commanded by Captain Febo de Châteaupers appear and save her from the situation.

In the middle of the square, Quasimodo is tied up and exposed to receive the worst insults, blows, and other humiliations from the people, who despised him for what he had done, as well as for his hideous physical appearance. 

Esmeralda approaches and sees that Quasimodo kept saying: “water, water, water! Taking pity on the poor man, the young gypsy girl approaches him and gives him the water he asked for. 

From that moment on, the hunchback is totally grateful to her, so he decides to protect her always, this time in a sincere way.

Meanwhile, Esmeralda was in love with Captain Febo and he reciprocates, but Gringoire also likes the young woman and manages to marry her due to an accident.

For his part, the captain decided to arrange a meeting with her. He wanted to sleep with Esmeralda because he found her very beautiful and for him, it was like winning a prize.

Meanwhile, Frollo, the archdeacon, learns of the encounter and, blinded by jealousy, approaches the place, hides, and in one swift movement … stabs the captain and flees!

As Esmeralda was the only one present at the scene, she was blamed for the murder, and although the captain did not die, she did not deny the fact and allowed her to be condemned to death.

On the day of the execution, Quasimodo managed to outwit the executioners and, pulling himself by a rope, he carried Esmeralda in his arms and carried her into the cathedral, shouting “Asylum!, along the crowd who saw this as a heroic act.

Other misfortunes came into Esmeralda’s life later on, would Quasimodo manage to save her from all of them?

FAQ about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

What does the name Notre Dame mean?

Notre Dame means “Our Lady”, which gives its name to the Cathedral of Paris. Its Renaissance architecture and grandeur impressed Victor Hugo, to the point of writing the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to prevent it from being demolished, a goal he certainly achieved successfully.

What happened to the Hunchback of Notre Dame?

First, the hunchback attempted to kidnap Esmeralda on Frollo’s orders but failed in the enterprise. For this crime, he was condemned to public humiliation. It was Esmeralda who took pity on him at that moment, leaving a loving mark on him.

From that moment on, he became the hero who saved her from danger, except at the end when it was impossible for him to rescue her from the scaffold.

How does Esmeralda die?

After failing, Frollo finally succeeds in kidnapping Esmeralda, but she flatly refuses to be his wife. The archduke hands her over to the authorities and she is condemned to death.

Quasimodo kills Frollo but fails to save Esmeralda and his deep sadness leads him to die with her.

Who adopted Quasimodo?

Quasimodo was abandoned in the Cathedral of Notre Dame when he was very young. Archduke Claude Frollo adopted him then, so he was like a father figure to the hunchback and the most important person in his life before Esmeralda appeared.