Skip over navigation

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo

Book 7

Book 7

Book 8

Summary

While La Esmerelda is being tortured by the court and then by Claude Frollo, Sister Gudule is undergoing a torture of her own. Instead of reminding her of a child at play, the little embroidered shoe she carries around is an "instrument of torture." One morning, her grief is even more violent than usual and she laments the disappearance of her baby so many years ago. She cries out to God, asking why her child had to be taken away, and begging for her return. She claims that her knees have been flayed from begging for her child's return for fifteen years. The narrator comments that grief like hers never grows old: even though the cloth of her suffering has gone threadbare and lost its color, her heart remains as black as ever. Suddenly, she hears rejoicing in the streets and learns that La Esmerelda is going to be hanged. She springs toward the Place de Grève like a spider toward its net.

Meanwhile, Phoebus has fully recovered from his wounds even though they had been so severe that no one thought he would survive. In fact, Frollo truly believed what he was saying when he told La Esmerelda that Phoebus was dead. Phoebus, for his part, was so embarrassed at having been superstitious about the circumstances surrounding the attack, that he doesn't mention it to anybody. Because there were no newspapers and news traveled so slowly and irregularly at that time, no one who knows Phoebus suspects that he was the apparent murder victim in La Esmerelda's trial. After a long absence from Paris, he returns to the city, determined to make Fleur-de-Lys his wife. He declares his undying love and calls her the most beautiful woman in the world.

As they discuss their wedding plans, a large crowd gathers in front of Notre Dame. Phoebus asks Fleur-de-Lys what is going on and she tells him that a witch is about to be executed. No one can remember what her crime was, since so many witches had been executed recently. Suddenly, Phoebus recognizes La Esmerelda and he turns pale. Fleur-de-Lys is still jealous of her and demands that Phoebus stay outside and watch her public humiliation. He still finds her incredibly beautiful; even with hollow cheeks, she has a sublime figure. The narrator notes that despite the jeers of the forming crowd, many of the mob were moved to tears by her beauty. La Esmerelda starts whispering the word "Phoebus" under her breath and looking off into the distance realizes that she is actually looking straight at him. She cries out to him wildly, and is shocked to see him frown and go back inside Fleur-de-Lys's house.

It dawns on her that she has been wrongly condemned to death. She starts to swoon. The executioners tie her up again and bring her to the Place de Grève. Meanwhile, Quasimodo, who has been watching the entire scene unfold, ties a rope to one of the statues along the facade of Notre Dame. Swinging down from out of nowhere, he knocks down two guards and runs like a bolt of lighting back toward the cathedral with La Esmerelda swung over his shoulder. As he gets to the entrance, he cries out "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" and the crowd cheers him on, responding with cries of "Sanctuary!" themselves. Medieval law dictated that Notre Dame was a place of refuge from the law. La Esmerelda could not be harmed by the executioners as long as she stayed inside its walls.

Commentary

Hugo strives for great historical accuracy. At one point in this section, the narrator hopes to "deserve the character of a faithful historian." The "sanctuary" loophole was a common practice in the Middle Ages. The Church was regarded as a separate from the law in French medieval society until the French Revolution. The clergy's lands and property were extensive and under its immediate and complete jurisdiction. People convicted of crimes by the King's court could seek asylum and be saved by churches that would protect them from further prosecution or execution, but only as long as they stayed within the church's walls. As the narrator notes, many criminals who claimed sanctuary grew old and died without ever leaving their church again.

La Esmerelda is not executed in front of Notre Dame since hangings always occurred in the Place de Grève. Instead, she is "publicly humiliated" with a rope. The narrator's comparison of the rope to a snake recalls Frollo's attraction to an image of a snake biting its own tail. It is especially ironic that La Esmerelda's humiliation occurs in the same spot where she used to dance for money. La Esmerelda remains an object to look at, and is never regarded as a real person by the crowd. Her lack of individual identity is reflected in the wide variety of names she is given: "La Esmerelda," "the Bohemian," "the Egyptian," and "the gypsy." Even her real name, Agnes, is an adopted name given to her by Sister Gudule. These different names both add romantic mystery to her character, and highlight a failure on Hugo's part to describe his lead female character as an actual person rather than an object of masculine attention.

Just as La Esmerelda's beauty brings out the worst in Frollo, her compassion and kind heart bring out the best in Quasimodo. For the first time in his life, he is truly "beautiful" as the brave hero rescuing a woman in distress. As opposed to the opening scene of the novel where Quasimodo is an object of ridicule in the Pope of Fools parade, here he is a genuine hero. The crowd repeats his cries of sanctuary, approving not only of Quasimodo's actions, but of Quasimodo as a person. This scene allows him to demonstrate his inner beauty to the outside world, while the supposedly brave and beautiful Phoebus pretends not to see La Esmerelda. All of Quasimodo's public actions have a dramatic and theatrical quality. From the Pope of Fool's procession to bowing in front of the awestruck crowd with La Esmerelda swung over his shoulder, Quasimodo is always conscious that people are staring at his ugliness and takes advantage of that attention.

More Help

Previous Next
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

0 Comments

3 out of 3 people found this helpful

Follow Us