The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (also: Notre-Dame of Paris , original title: Notre-Dame de Paris. 1482 ) is a historical novel published in 1831 by the French writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885).

The focus is on the elaborately depicted Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral . The most important parts of the novel are set in it, especially what is happening around the figure of Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre-Dame. The French writer Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869) celebrated Victor Hugo as “ Shakespeare of the novel” after the novel was published .

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


The novel contains several storylines that gradually flow into one another and paint a colorful and varied picture of the French late Middle Ages and all of its social classes. The story of the misshapen bell ringer Quasimodo, who falls in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, is only one of these threads - although it has mostly been viewed as interesting enough to make it the main plot of a large number of film adaptations. The German title of the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is thus somewhat misguided, because the original French title is more generally Notre-Dame de Paris .

The poet and philosopher Pierre Gringoire is the constant companion in the individual parts and gives the plot an ironic, her own humor through his own views, his survival strategies and his appearance as an antihero.

The novel begins with a mass scene from medieval Paris: the double celebration of the Epiphany and the Fool's Day on January 6th, 1482. The author uses this occasion on the one hand to avoid the licentiousness of this day and the associated legal reversal of what existed in the Middle Ages - to describe the Christian-class order, on the other hand to describe the appearance of the old palace of justice and to point out that the loss of such buildings is regrettable and thus undreamt-of beauties were lost. Such allusions or open opinions can be found at various points in the novel. In addition to the bourgeoisie and junkers of the city of Paris, this crowd scene also includes many university students who use the general turmoil to take advantage of the day's freedoms with gossip and wicked jokes. At this point, the student Johannes (Jean, Jehan) Frollo, also called Mühlenhans, enters the novel for the first time.

Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral - here a view from 1776 - gave the novel its title

As part of the festival of fools, a play in the genre of the moral game is to be performed in the Great Hall of the Palace of Justice , the author of which is the poet Pierre Gringoire. The Cardinal de Bourbon and the Flemish embassy accompanying the wedding of the Crown Prince of France to Margaret of Flanders will also attend this performance . When the cardinal and his entourage have not yet arrived at noon at which the play is to begin, the people force the game to begin. First of all, the citizens listen carefully to the verses, which are difficult and dry for ordinary citizens, whereby they are generally more interested in the costumes of the performers than in the plot of the play. Gringoire notes this with great pride. A little later, however, a real cascade of disturbances occurs (the beggar Clopin Trouillefou, the arrival of the Cardinal of Bourbon, the arrival of the Flemish embassy), which diverts the people's attention to other scenes. Gringoire is still pushing his piece forward, although the citizens of Paris are no longer interested and the guests are bored. Finally, the Ghent hosiery master and revolutionary Jakob (Jacques) Coppenole, who is among the ambassadors, proposes an election as “Pope of Fools” according to “Flemish custom”, which the people enthusiastically approves.

Quasimodo is then elected fool pope at a rough festival . Quasimodo was raised as a misshapen foundling by Dom Claude Frollo, the provost of Notre-Dame with a reputation as a warlock, and trained to be the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame. An important figure in the festival of fools is the gypsy Esmeralda, who wins audiences with her dance and attracts persecutors, including Dom Frollo. When Gringoire follows her, he observes how Quasimodo tries to kidnap Esmeralda in the presence of a dark figure and is captured by a captain of the royal bodyguard named Phoebus. Quasimodo is sentenced to punishment at the stake for his act . This leads to another encounter with Esmeralda; she finally took pity on giving water to the stone-pelted man. Meanwhile, Gringoire ends up in the hands of the gypsies in his search for a place to sleep. They want to hang him, but it is customary that if a woman wants him to be a husband, he is released. So Esmeralda decides to marry him to save his life. The marriage ends with the breaking of a jar. Gringoire now also lives as a gypsy, but quickly realizes that his "marriage of the broken jug" is a Joseph marriage , because Esmeralda is convinced that after her defloration she will no longer be able to find her mother.

However, Esmeralda has fallen in love with her savior, Captain Phoebus. The two meet, and ignorant that the jealous Claude Frollo has pursued the captain, the latter is stabbed by the captain - but as we learn later, Phoebus survived the attack. Esmeralda then faints and is charged with the (attempted) murder of Phoebus and witchcraft because Frollo was able to disappear unnoticed. The Inquisition can force her to confess by torture with the Spanish boot , and so she is sentenced to death by hanging with her goat Djali. Dom Frollo sees his chance to win her over, sneaks into the cave in which she is imprisoned, confesses his love for her and tries to persuade her to flee. But Esmeralda recognizes in him the one who stabbed her beloved Phoebus and sends him away to face death. Quasimodo succeeds in rescuing her on the day of the execution and in providing temporary sanctuary in Notre-Dame for the honored. There she lives protected from Claude Frollo and develops a certain affection for the disfigured Quasimodo. But Dom Frollo wants to snatch them from his hands and incites Gringoire to persuade his gypsy friends to take part in a rescue operation in return for Esmeralda saving him from death. Quasimodo considers the attack of the Rotwelschen on the church under the leadership of Clopin Trouillefou to be an enterprise against the gypsy and decides to resist until death. However, he cannot save her from her execution. Quasimodo then plunges his master, Dom Frollo, down from a tower of the cathedral. About two years later, two intertwined skeletons are found in the Montfaucon crypt, that of Esmeralda and that of Quasimodo.


Pierre Gringoire

Pierre Gringoire is the son of the tenant of the Gonesse registry ; his father was hanged by the Burgundians. Because his mother also died (she was killed by the picards during the siege of Paris about 20 years earlier), he had been an orphan since he was 6 years old . Until he was sixteen he got by begging. In the evening he let himself be picked up by the guard in order to have a straw bed in a cell at night. After he had learned that he was not fit to be a soldier, a monk or a carpenter, he came across the school administration. His illiteracy was no obstacle for him, so he made himself a poet and composer , which was more to him than stealing. The priest Claude Frollo finally made him his apprentice, so that today - at the age of 26 - Gringoire is very educated and creative. Nevertheless, he is a rather unsuccessful poet and philosopher. He is proficient in many foreign languages, including ancient Greek and Latin . Pierre Gringoire is tall, thin, with blonde hair and too many wrinkles for his age. He considers himself a great artist and is very irritated when someone criticizes his work. Otherwise he is a rather calm and very cheerful man who is always looking for new paths and goals.

Pierre Gringoire had married into the Red Welschenreich. When by chance he ends up in the beggars' miracle court and is about to be hanged, La Esmeralda has mercy and marries him in order to save his life. However, the two lead a very impersonal and loveless relationship without any physical contact. Pierre likes the goat Djali more. He also felt more sorry for the goat during the witch trial against Esmeralda and Djali. During the battle for the cathedral he succeeds in bringing Esmeralda outside through a small gate, but only to play her back into the hands of Claude Frollo, who now finally brings her to the gallows.

Although they do not always understand him because of his high level of education and his philosophical world of thought, the Red Welsch like Pierre Gringoire and treat him very kindly. But he is by no means the harmless philosopher he likes to portray himself as, but an ice cold opportunist who repeatedly lets himself be harnessed by Claude Frollo and ultimately betrays his lifesaver.


Quasimodo , painting by Antoine Wiertz , 19th century

He got this name from his adoptive father Claude Frollo, who took care of him because the boy at the age of about four had Quasimodogeniti (translated: Like the newborn children, celebrated on the 1st Sunday after Easter) on the stairs of Notre- Lady was found. Quasimodo is extremely ugly because it has a hump and one of its eyes is covered with a wart. Furthermore, he is deaf from years of ringing bells. His love for the Notre-Dame bells and their beautiful sound are his only form of communication. The citizens of Paris enjoy the ringing of bells, the singing of Quasimodo, so to speak, but they detest him because of his ugliness.

(La) Esmeralda

Esmeralda , painting by Antoine Wiertz, 19th century

The Esmeralda is the illegitimate child of a French delight girl from Reims and is actually called Agnès. Even as a small child she was very beautiful. One day when gypsies came to town, they stole the pretty girl and exchanged her for the crippled and ugly Quasimodo. So Agnès grew up to be a young woman among the Gypsies, adopted her customs and way of life and was given the name La Esmeralda. ( Esmeralda = "emerald".) Her mother is convinced that the gypsies had killed her daughter, so she prays and fasts for the rest of her life as a cloister and worships the shoe that the child lost when he was kidnapped like a relic . Esmeralda wears the second shoe in a small pearl sack around her neck, believing that one day she will find her mother again. Only shortly before La Esmeralda's execution do mother and daughter come together again.

In Paris, Esmeralda felt the antiziganism that was prevalent at the time . At the age of 16, she earned her living as a dancer. She has long, black hair, which is delicately braided with zecchins (gold coins), golden-brown skin, large black eyes and velvety long eyelashes. She is slim, petite, has a narrow waist and cute little feet.

Many men fall in love with her. In addition to Gringoire, who quickly comes to terms with the fact that she is not interested in him, the bell ringer Quasimodo and the priest Claude Frollo should be mentioned, but they never get over the fact that the girl does not like or even hates them. But La Esmeralda has little respect for the feelings of others. So she only loves beautiful, strong and heroic men, like Captain Phoebus, whose bad character she pays little attention to.

La Esmeralda is very superstitious , which can be traced back to her childhood with the gypsies. So she always tries to remain chaste, especially since she is firmly convinced that this is the only way to find her mother again. Only Phoebus almost manages to deflower her , but before he succeeds, he is put out of action by Claude Frollo.

Claude Frollo

Archdeacon Frollo is the antagonist of the novel, but does not embody the typical bad character. He devotedly takes care of his younger brother Jean, who thanks him by gambling away all his money and neglecting his studies. He also tries to teach Quasimodo, which is made much more difficult by his deafness . Frollo's descent into black magic and madness is explained by his failure to shape Jean or Quasimodo according to his own ideas. For him, Quasimodo is a mindless tool that has to obey his commands, and yet he tries to protect him from the disgust of the Parisians. His heart flares up for Esmeralda when he meets her for the first time. He is torn between his feelings for Esmeralda and his ecclesiastical vows. When Esmeralda finally makes it clear to him that she hates him, Frollo prefers to deliver her to the gallows than to allow someone else to meet her.

Clopin Trouillefou

Clopin Trouillefou (fou: French "the fool") is the king of the Red Welschen kingdom of the Wunderhof , which includes all marginal groups who are powerful in the Rotwelschen (French Argot) - beggars, tramps, robbers, thieves, prostitutes ... -. Trouillefou is introduced as a fictional character right from the start when Pierre Gringoire tries to perform a moral play at the Paris Fools' Festival in the city's great hall, where a large part of the population has gathered. Clopin - in the appearance of a beggar - is indirectly involved in the first disturbance of this play by placing himself in a clearly visible position below the dais built for the embassy from Flanders in order to ask for more alms. Also of interest is Hugo's reference to the sideline of bag tailoring, medieval pickpocketing: "a ragged beggar who, confused and cramped in the crowd, had not been able to beg properly and had not found sufficient compensation in the pockets of his neighbors".

When Clopin, whose appearance is described as pathetic and ragged and who has a bad, open wound on his arm, begins to beg in his raised, clearly visible place, he is met by the cheeky and unbridled Johannes (Jean) Frollo, brother of Claude Frollo, discovered, who recognizes him and exclaims loudly: “Holla, friend? Did your leg wound embarrass you because you put it on your arm? ”This exclamation, which draws the attention of the entire crowd of Gringoir's pieces to Clopin, exposes him as a“ Klencker ”, a“ dishonest beggar ” is not really sick or mutilated, but is making artificial wounds to arouse pity. The name Clopin is probably also an allusion to this false begging and is derived from the French verb clopiner, which means something like hobble or limp . Nevertheless, Clopin collects some alms in his old, tattered felt hat. Calm returns and Gringoire's piece can go on undisturbed for a short time.

When the Flemish embassy arrives a little later, Clopin remains outrageously seated on the gold brocade of the dais, and luck would have it that the hosiery and revolutionary Jakob Coppenole, popular with the people and hated and feared by the authorities, took his seat on the dais above him and Clopin recognizes as an old friend. Hand in hand, the two of them begin to talk and when the cardinal observes the scene from a distance, he thinks that the beggar wants to ask alms from the ambassadors and wants him to be thrown into the river. Coppenole defends Clopin loudly: "But this is my friend and I will not allow that!". This creates great embarrassment for the cardinal, but Coppenole wins the applause of the people.

When Jakob Coppenole later launched the election of the Pope of Fools “in the Flemish fashion” - that is to say that the one who makes the best grimace wins - Clopin emerges as a promising candidate, but is defeated when Quasimodos appears. Clopin is involved in the parade for the Pope of Fools through Paris, along with the entire Red Welsh kingdom.

Phoebus de Châteaupers

Phoebus de Châteaupers is captain of the Archers du Roy, the royal bodyguard. He is engaged to Fleur de Lys, but that doesn't stop him from having affairs. He himself is attractive to women, which he takes advantage of. Unfortunately, La Esmeralda also falls in love with the handsome and young captain, whose first name means sun , which goes well with his blond hair . But Phoebus is only interested in spending one night with her. He ignores her wish to remain a virgin. When Esmeralda is accused of murder and witchcraft, he does not stand by her side, but returns to Fleur de Lys.

Phoebus is friends with Jean Frollo and likes to go around the houses with him.

It is said of Phoebus at the end of the novel that he ended tragically: he got married.

Je (h) to Frollo

The parents of Je (h) an (French = Johannes) Frollo du Moulin died when he was a small baby in a plague epidemic . Thereupon his big brother, the devilish priest and alchemist Claude Frollo, took care of him, who had an intimate relationship with him and whose greatest goal and life's work was to make Jean a learned and cultivated person. So he sent him to school and let him study. But Jean always gives Claude great grief. He is cheeky and neglects his studies. In addition, he is lazy and ungrateful. So in the end he also becomes a tramp and moves into the Court of Miracles . Jean is sixteen years old, has blond curly hair, rosy lips, perky blue eyes and a snub nose. He is very confident of himself, raves about the fact that all girls are in love with him, and thinks he's all powerful. This arrogance eventually leads to his death. Although Jean Frollo du Moulin is very disrespectful to the beggar king, Clopin Trouillefou shows him a relatively great affection. While storming Notre-Dame, he is killed by Quasimodo, who takes him for a soldier.

Mathias Hunyadi Spicali

The second Red Welschen leader is Spicali. He is Duke of Bohemia and Egypt and Gypsy captain. He is quite old and frail, very superstitious and above all knows about white and black magic. He always wears a rag wrapped around his head.

Guillaume Rousseau

Guillaume Rousseau is the Emperor of Galilee. He always wants to have fun, so he often deals with prostitutes , is fat and always drunk. He is the third great ruler over the Red World Empire.


Djali is the little goat from La Esmeralda. She is well-built, petite, and lithe, has a completely snow-white coat, and her hooves and horns are gold-plated. Her cuteness quickly conquers the heart of Pierre Gringoire, and he ultimately loves her more than Esmeralda, so that in the end he also saves the animal from death instead of Esmeralda. Djali has mastered a lot of small tricks like imitating certain people or forming words with letter stones, which gets La Esmeralda quite in trouble. During the trial of Esmeralda, Djali used the stones to form the word "PHOEBUS", which the judges interpreted as a sign of witchcraft and guilt. Djali always follows her mistress and comes with her to the Wunderhof.

Andry le Rouge, Bellevigne de l'Etoile & Francois Chante-Prune

These three Rotwelschen are the henchmen of Clopin Trouillefous. You are responsible for hanging the Wunderhof intruders . While the gigantic Bellevigne de l'Etoile has to climb the crossbeam of the gallows and jump onto the victim's shoulders at Trouillefous Signal to guarantee a quick and certain death, the red Andry has to overturn the stool on which the Victim stands. After all, when François Chante-Prune (also affectionately called “plum”) claps, he also has to hang on the legs of the man to be executed. Bellevigne de l'Etoile dies when the tramps attack the cathedral.

Fleur de Lys

Fleur de Lys is a noblewoman and the fiancée of Phoebus de Châteaupers. Her hair is light blonde and her skin is delicate and white. She loves Phoebus very dearly, but suspects that he is having an affair with Esmeralda. In the end, she forgives him everything and marries Phoebus.

Louis XI.

The King of France is a timid and stingy man of thin stature, with wrinkled hands that make him look very old, and a long aquiline nose. His clothes are shabby and instead of living in the Louvre he prefers to hide in the Bastille . He allows himself to be manipulated by his doctor Coctier because he is very afraid for his health. In addition, there is a noble barber under his command, Olivier le Daim. All in all, he is a cruel person who values Archdeacon Frollo because of his alchemical knowledge and who leads a bloody reign. Tristan l'Hermite is his "rough man" who will gladly execute those appointed by the king. He gives the order to hang La Esmeralda and to put down the mob in front of Notre-Dame. He dies a year after the tragedy.

Work editions

  • Notre-Dame in Paris. Translated by Friedrich Bremer. Reclam, 1884
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Else von Schorn. Abridged version, first published in 1914. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 978-3-458-33481-1 .
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Philipp Wanderer. Diogenes, Zurich 1984, ISBN 3-257-21290-9 .
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Hugo Meier. Manesse, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-7175-8060-4 .
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Arthur von Riha. Goldmann, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-442-07743-5 .


Stage works

Film adaptations (selection)

There are also other TV and cartoons.

Radio plays

Audio book


The historical novel Im Schatten von Notre-Dame (2000) by Jörg Kastner takes on motifs and characters from the novel.


In the 20th century, the bells received an electric bell. Its process computer was named Quasimodo by the technicians .

In the week of the major Notre Dame fire in 2019 , “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” became a new bestseller in the “Books” category of the mail order company in France, in various editions in first, third, fifth, seven and eighth places on the am most of the products sold. The publishing director of Groupe Madrigall announced a special edition of the paperback edition of 30,000 copies on the radio station France Inter . The publisher reckons with 50,000 to 100,000 euros, which should contribute “modestly” to the reconstruction of the church. Other publishers also announced reprints with reconstruction contributions.

Web links

Commons : Notre-Dame de Paris (Victor Hugo)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Notre-Dame de Paris  - Sources and full texts (French)

Individual evidence

  1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame , new edition 2007, each page 72 (
    “Sixteen years before this story began, Quasimodo was a living creature on Sunday in the Church of Our Lady in Paris, on the board in front of the picture of St. Christopher was abandoned. "
    " Indeed, the little creature, which was about 4 years old, was a real paragon of ugliness. "
  2. Die Musikforschung 58 (2005) Heft 2, pp. 113–130.
  3. ^ "Hunchback of Notre-Dame" becomes a bestseller , RP online from April 17, 2019; accessed on April 17, 2019