So, if you missed my first post, the origins of Pinocchio, you may not be aware that I’ve decided to do a little series discovering the origins of our beloved Disney films. Now, this isn’t as shocking as Pinocchio, however, it’s not the happiest of endings.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin…
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is a historical novel by Victor Hugo, published in French as Notre-Dame de Paris in 1831.
The plot centers on Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame, and his struggle to gain acceptance into society.
Quasimodo is the hunchbacked horribly deformed bell ringer at the cathedral of Notre-Dame. Once beaten and pilloried by an angry mob, he has fallen in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, who took pity on him during this ordeal. When the scheming archdeacon Frollo, who is also obsessed with Esmeralda, discovers that she favours Captain Phoebus, he stabs the captain, and Esmeralda is accused of the crime. Quasimodo attempts to shelter Esmeralda in the cathedral, but she eventually hangs; in his grief and despair, Quasimodo throws Frollo from the cathedral tower. Later, two skeletons are found in Esmeralda’s tomb—that of a hunchback embracing that of a woman.
Quasimodo was abandoned at birth by his mother on the steps of Notre Dame. Adopted by the Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo becomes bell ringer of the tower, hiding his grotesque, hunchbacked figure away from prying Parisian eyes. Frollo is consumed by forbidden lust for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, who dances on the square below the cathedral.
Frollo convinces Quasimodo to kidnap her, but his attempts are foiled by the captain Phoebus, who also falls for Esmeralda. Quasimodo is imprisoned for the crime, and is abused and humiliated by his captors. After a particularly brutal flogging, he is tended to by Esmeralda, who gives him water. From this point on, Quasimodo is hopelessly devoted to her. With all three characters under her spell, a dramatic tale of love and deceit ensues. The love-obsessed Frollo spies on Phoebus and Esmeralda, stabbing the former in a jealous rage. Esmeralda is arrested and condemned to death for his murder, and, despite a brave rescue attempt by Quasimodo, is later hanged. Quasimodo, seeing Esmeralda hanging lifeless from the gallows, cries out, “There is all I loved.” The theme of redemption through love struck a universal chord.
Quasimodo and Frollo both fell in love with Esmeralda. At the end of the Disney film Quasimodo pushed Frollo off the roof of the cathedral killing him.
In Hugo’s book Frollo was still pushed off a roof but it was because he was laughing as Esmeralda hanging. Quasimodo then goes to her grave and refuses to leave her ultimately dying of starvation.
Was Quasimodo a real person?
Until recently he believed to be completely fictional. But in 2010 academics uncovered references to a “humpbacked” carver in the memoirs of Henry Sibson, a 19th Century British sculptor working at the cathedral at around the time the book was written.
The documents were found during a house clearance in Penzance, Cornwall, and are now part of the Tate archive.
This didn’t stray too far from Victor Hugo’s novel, however, it is definitely one of the darkest Disney films produced.
Do you have a preference on which is the next film I research?
See you in the next one…