The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

by

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in Franche-Comte, in France, in 1802. His parents, Léopold and Sophie, had differing political and religious views. Léopold had been a supporter of Napoleon and the people’s Republic during the French Revolution, which took place in 1789 and in which the French monarchy was deposed, while Sophie was a strict Catholic and Royalist. Léopold was an officer in the French army and Hugo and his family travelled throughout Italy and Spain while Hugo was a child. As a young man, Hugo took his mother’s side in politics and religion and wrote several pieces of work that showcased his loyalty to the monarchy and the Church. However, as he grew older, his views began to change and, by the end of his life, Hugo supported democracy and the idea of a people’s Republic to keep the monarchy in check. Hugo married his childhood friend Adèle Foucher in 1822 and the pair had five children, one of whom died in infancy. Hugo had several affairs throughout their marriage, and he traveled extensively with his long-time mistress, Juliette Drouet. He was devastated by the loss of his eldest daughter Léopoldine, who died in 1843. Hugo published his first novel in 1823 and, by the 1830s, Hugo was a well-respected poet, playwright, and prose writer. His novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published in 1831, and it was followed by Les Misérables in 1862. Hugo was an extremely famous public figure in France and a vocal advocate for many political causes. In 1855, when Napoleon III reinstated the monarchy in France, Hugo was exiled for his criticisms of Royalism and went to live on the island of Guernsey. He returned to Paris 1870 and died there in 1885. Over two million people attended his funeral.
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Historical Context of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written in 1830 and is set in 1482. It concerns both historical events from 1482, which Hugo had meticulously researched, and later historical events, such as the French Revolution, which had taken place in 1789, just before Hugo was born. The novel refers to the history and architecture of Paris throughout the medieval period, as different monarchs rule the city and as the city expands with growing industrial trades. In 1482, when the novel is set, France is under the rule of Louis XI, who is a cruel and tyrannical leader and a minor character in the novel. The frequent use of capital punishment in the novel is linked to the reign of Louis XI, as the monarch was a great believer in public execution and interrogation techniques, such as torture, which he used on political prisoners. The novel also discusses aspects of French life in the 1830s and laments that capital punishment and public executions were still used in the French justice system at the time of the novel’s writing. Capital punishment was still legal in France until 1977. Certain events in the novel, such as Louis XI’s appearance in the Bastille (a famous prison in Paris) while a riot rages outside Notre Dame, foreshadow the French Revolution, when a riot broke out in Paris and protestors stormed the Bastille, released the prisoners, and executed the royal family. The novel also inspired the real-life renovation of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which took place after the publication of the novel and was largely the result of Hugo’s passionate praise of Gothic architecture.

Other Books Related to The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Gothic novel. With its medieval setting, inclusion of stock Gothic characters (such as the demonic and lust driven priest, Claude Frollo) ,and tragic ending, Hugo’s novel is similar to Gothic novels from the 18th century, such as The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole and The Monk by Matthew Lewis. The use of historical events in the novel, particularly those which concern the lives of ordinary people rather than famous political figures, is reminiscent of historical novels by Walter Scott, such as Waverley or Ivanhoe. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is also similar to James Hogg’s novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which deals with themes of fate, predestination, and fanatical religious belief. In its combination of Gothic plot and encyclopedic information about history and architecture, Hugo’s novel is like Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick, which combines an adventure story with information about marine life and historical whaling techniques. The 19th-century British author Charles Dickens was heavily influenced by Hugo and uses aspects of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, such as historical references to the French Revolution and criticism of and justice system, in his novels A Tale of Two Cities and Bleak House. With its detailed descriptions of Paris and Parisian culture, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is also related to novels by Emile Zola, such as Thèrese Raquin and The Ladies’ Delight. Hugo also recycles themes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, such the repression of the poor and the unjust use of capital punishment, in his 1862 novel Les Misérables. Historical and regional descriptions of Paris, mixed with Gothic themes, can also be seen in Anne Rice’s novel The Vampire Lestat.
Key Facts about The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Full Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • When Written: 1830
  • Where Written: Paris, France
  • When Published: 1831
  • Literary Period: Romantic
  • Genre: Gothic novel
  • Setting: Paris, France
  • Climax: Claude Frollo finally succeeds in having Esmeralda hung for witchcraft and, while he watches her execution from the tower of Notre Dame, is pushed to his death by Quasimodo.
  • Antagonist: Dom Claude Frollo
  • Point of View: Third-person

Extra Credit for The Hunchback of Notre Dame

War to the Demolishers. Before he wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo wrote a furious pamphlet called War to the Demolishers, in which he railed against the damage done to historical architecture by modern architects and developers in the city of Paris. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a continuation of this idea for Hugo and caused a widespread interest in the preservation and protection of historical buildings in France.

Capital Punishment. Hugo was passionately opposed to the death penalty and gave many influential speeches in the French Parliament on this topic. One of his early novels, The Last Day of a Condemned Man, charts the final hours of a prisoner destined to be executed. Hugo’s campaign against capital punishment contributed to the abolishment of this practice in Portugal, Columbia, and Geneva.