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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo

Book 7

Book 6 (continued)

Book 7

Summary

Pierre Gringoire and the other vagabonds have been worrying about La Esmerelda for more than a month, unable to find any trace of her. Gringoire hears a rumor of her being seen with an officer but he doesn't believe it. One day he is passing in front of the Palace of Justice when he hears of a woman being put on trial for murdering an officer of the King's archers. Gringoire finds judges to be so stupid that he hopes the trial will lift his spirits. To his horror, he discovers that it is La Esmerelda who is on trial and that she is also suspected of sorcery. He listens to the owner of the house where Phoebus de Chateaupers was murdered give testimony. She is unable to explain what happened, just that Phoebus and a "spectre in the habit of a priest" came in first, followed by the girl and her goat, Djali. After she heard a scream the women says she saw the priest figure jump into the Seine and swim toward the Cité.

Jacques Charmolue, who is Claude Frollo's associate, is the prosecutor. He asks the court to remember that a dagger was found on La Esmerelda and that the "specter" was most likely a demon of hell that she conjured up to murder Phoebus. Upon hearing the word "Phoebus," La Esmerelda cries out wildly and asks where he is. Charmolue responds that Phoebus is dying and will most likely not make it through the night. To make matters worse, the judge suspects that her goat is also an instrument of Satan and brings it in as a second prisoner. The court accuses the goat of being possessed. They begin asking Djali what time it is and have it spell "Phoebus" out of a group of letters. These are all tricks that La Esmerelda taught it for their street performances, but to the court, it appears to be witchcraft. La Esmerelda refuses to acknowledge that her goat is possessed and then refuses to confess to having killed Phoebus. Charmolue mocks her references to a "goblin-monk" and asks the court for permission to torture her.

La Esmerelda is taken to a room of "sinister aspect," willed with a variety of instruments, such as tongs, piercers, and pincers. Charmolue asks her to confess on three separate occasions and finally orders a "doctor" to stretch La Esmerelda's body into four different directions. Her pain is immense but she still resists confessing to a crime she did not commit. She cries out to Phoebus as the pain becomes intolerable and she finally screams for mercy, confessing to everything the prosecutor asks her. Back in the courtroom, Djali starts to imitate the judge, providing further "proof" of La Esmerelda's witchcraft. The judge sentences both of them to public penance before Notre Dame and then to be hanged in the Place de Grève. La Esmerelda is convinced that she is dreaming.

Imprisoned in a dark cell far underground, La Esmerelda prays that she will soon see her Phoebus again, even in death. Shut off from any light source, she has no clue what day it is and can still not distinguish the reality of her situation from a waking dream. A constant drop of water falling at equal intervals first preoccupies her mind and then begins to drive her crazy. Suddenly a man appears, claiming to be a priest. It turns out to be Frollo and she is horrified at the ghastly face of the priest who has tormented her for so long and robbed her of her one true love. Frollo breaks out into a tirade, claiming that he has always loved her and that he set her up for murder so he could visit her privately in jail. He claims that he shunned all women until laying eyes on her and felt the hand of Fate direct his sick love toward her. He begs her to love him and offers to save her life, explaining that he never loved her more until her life was in danger. She refuses to even go near him, screaming that they will never be together, not even in hell. She cries out to Phoebus. As Frollo turns to leave, he says the words "he is dead."

Commentary

This section picks up where Quasimodo's chaotic and absurd trial leaves off. The judge and prosecutor are more concerned with giving the spectators a good show than with proving La Esmerelda's alleged crime. Their only proof of La Esmerelda's guilt is the strange behavior of her goat and the old woman's insistence that the coin Phoebus gave her later turned into a leaf. The court believes that torture will always lead to the truth and thus fails to realize that La Esmerelda will admit to anything under such enormous pain. Hugo uses these unjust courtroom and torture scenes to refer to the Spanish Inquisition, which was also happening in the late fifteenth century. Unlike other French Romantic writers who praised France's "Christian past," Hugo condemns the middle ages for its religious hypocrisy. The most benevolent, compassionate and forgiving character is La Esmerelda, who does not even believe in God.

Frollo's obsession with Fate climaxes in this section. As the narrator somberly points out, Frollo's comparison of the fly getting caught in the spider's web and La Esmerelda's ultimate fate turns out to be accurate. As she is strapped in to a leather bed and stretched until her bones begin to creak and she must beg the torturer for mercy, she closely resembles a fly caught in a spider's web. Later, when Frollo accosts her in the dungeon of the Palace of Justice, he insists that it was never his intention to fall in love with her or to harm her in any way, but he "felt the hand of Fate" upon him. He then insists that "Fate proved more mighty than I… it was Fate that caught thee, and threw thee among the terrible works of the machine which I had secretly constructed." Hugo does acknowledge that fate plays a powerful role in the novel, but the implication is not that free will is impossible. On the contrary, Hugo suggests that Frollo's utter faith in fate and the resignation of his free will is what allows him to become such a horrible person. The implication is that we must all exercise our free will to retain our sense of morality and human decency.

Despite La Esmerelda's intense suffering in this section, she is not without her own faults, particularly her unflagging faith in Phoebus. She does not truly love him as a person, but is instead infatuated with his name and the idea of a knight in shining armor. He is more a symbol of hope than an actual person to her. His name means "the sun" in Greek and she comes to associate the light with their love. It is fitting that when she is condemned to death, she is plunged underground and into darkness. Even though Phoebus turns out to still be alive, La Esmerelda believes that he is dead because she can no longer see anything. Her excess dreaming and careless infatuation with Phoebus is partially responsible for her imprisonment and execution.

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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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