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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo

Book 6

Book 5

Book 6 (continued)

Summary

It is now March and the warmer weather allows more and more Parisians to stroll around the city. In the Place du Parvis, across from Notre Dame, Phoebus de Chateaupers is visiting a group of fashionable young women at the house of Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, a wealthy aristocrat who wants to marry the dashing young captain. The women are all jealous of Phoebus's affections and fight for his attention. One of the women soon notices La Esmerelda dancing in the square and tries to get Fleur-de-Lys to notice her. She is jealous of La Esmerelda's beauty and pretends not to see her. Phoebus does not notice her at first because he is too busy preventing himself from swearing or referring to other amorous conquests in front of these "proper" women. Fleur-de-Lys tries to get his attention by asking him if the dancing gypsy is the same woman he had saved two months ago from "a dozen robbers." Phoebus immediately recognizes La Esmerelda by her goat, Djali. For a moment, they all notice Archdeacon Claude Frollo watching her from the top of Notre Dame and discuss how much he dislikes Egyptians.

Curiosity gets the better of the women, who shout out to Esmerelda (calling her "Child!") to come over to where they are sitting. She immediately recognizes Phoebus and all the blood rushes to her cheeks. But her beauty suddenly disrupts the "equilibrium" among the ladies and each feels immediately wounded, jealous of her good looks. The narrator comments that one drop of wine is sufficient to redden water, putting the group of women in an ill-humor toward La Esmerelda. They start to make fun of her clothes, telling her that her skirt is too short and that her arms are indecently exposed. These insults hurt her feelings but La Esmerelda fixed her eyes on Phoebus in a look of tenderness. Phebus tries to make her feel better, but then Fleur-de-Lys ask what La Esmerelda has in a leather bag hung around her neck. She replies that it is a secret, but when she is not looking, Fleur-de-Lys opens the bag to find a group of letters individually inscribed on pieces of wood. Djali then arranges them to spell "Phoebus." Fleur-de-Lys is outraged that La Esmerelda is a rival for the captain's affections. She calls her a witch and then faints. La Esmerelda runs off, and Phoebus follows her.

Frollo had been in his secret cell until he heard the sound of La Esmerelda's tambourine. He rushes up to the top of the north tower and with all of Paris at his feet, he focuses solely on the figure of the dancing gypsy. After noticing that Quasimodo is also watching her, Frollo rushes down to the square to find her. When he gets there, she is gone. To his dismay he only finds Pierre Gringoire balancing a chair and cat on his head to the delight of a crowd that has formed around him. He sees Frollo and follows him back into the cathedral. Frollo demands to know where Gringoire has been for the last two months and why he is hanging around the gypsy dancer. Gringoire relates to him the whole story of his "marriage" to La Esmerelda, explaining that she will remain chaste until she finds her parents. Frollo cares nothing for Gringoire's stay with the vagabonds and wants to know everything about La Esmerelda. Gringoire tells him that she has come from Egypt by way of Hungary and that her goat can arrange a group of letters to spell "Phoebus." Neither of them understand the meaning of this and after Gringoire embarrasses Frollo by asking him why he wants to know so much about her, they part ways.

Commentary

Notre Dame remains the center of Hugo's medieval Paris. Frollo is able to watch everything that happens in the square down below the cathedral. The narrator's brief reference to the entire vista of Paris being visible from the top of the tower also hints that Frollo could see anything he wanted, making the cathedral itself not only a symbol of morality but a warning to Parisians that they are being watched. The narrator compares the large rose window in the front of the cathedral to a giant "Cyclops eye" watching the people go by. This is also a subtle reference to Quasimodo (who is often called Cyclops). His own disfigurement thus mirrors the architectural "amalgamations" of Notre Dame, while at the same time representing one of the few senses he has left. Just as the front rose window allows light into the cathedral, Quasimodo's one good eye is his only way of perceiving the outside world.

The reader quickly learns that La Esmerelda's love for Phoebus is misplaced. He has obviously made a habit of frequenting prostitutes and has such a foul mouth that he hardly says anything to avoid scandalizing the wealthy women he has been wooing. But just as no one can see past Quasimodo's hideous exterior, no one is willing to look into Phoebus's hideous interior. They only see his good looks and remember that he is a soldier. Meanwhile, the antagonism between these women and La Esmerelda represents the rise of class differences in French society. Fleur-de-Lys is an aristocrat, while her friends come from middle-class, or bourgeois families; all of them use their backgrounds to emphasize their social and economic superiority over La Esmerelda. The women only see her as an object to look at and not as a real person. Thus, when they see what power her beauty holds over Phoebus, they are determined to humiliate her.

This scene also marks the first time Frollo has used his identity as a priest to an evil end. He was definitely behind Quasimodo's attempted abduction of La Esmerelda, but he would have done anything Frollo asked priest or not. But when Frollo pretends to be concerned about Gringoire's soul in order to learn anything he can about La Esmerelda, he takes his first step toward abandoning his interests in the Church and instead using his priestly attire for his own evil ends. Hugo mirrors Frollo's moral decay and obsessive lust for La Esmerelda with Quasimodo's silent passion for her. Everyone assumes that his torture caused him to be less serious about bell ringing, but in fact, it was the presence of a "rival" that caused him to neglect his beloved bells "for a more beautiful and beloved object." Although Quasimodo almost falls out of sight completely after his torture scene, Hugo is careful to let the reader know that he is constantly watching out for La Esmerelda from the cathedral towers. This not only foreshadows his future rescue attempt but also indicates the extent to which La Esmerelda's stunning act of kindness and forgiveness melted Quasimodo's heart of stone.

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Quasimodo's Name

by PRBleisch, July 05, 2014

The name Quasimodo has a deeper resonance; it sets up a touchstone for judging the actions of all of Hugo’s characters, especially Quasimodo and Frollo.
Frollo chose the name because he found the child on Quasimodo Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The introit (processional chant) appointed for that Sunday begins with the words "Quasi modo." The Introit is taken from I Peter 2:2: Quasi modo geniti infantes rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem. "As newborn infants, desire the rational, guileless milk [of... Read more

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