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MonkeyNotes-The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
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Chapter 40

Summary

In truth, Phoebus is not dead. He recovers from his injuries and rejoins his company. When he returns to Paris, he visits Fleur de Lys. He tells her he has been away with his company, not mentioning the incident with La Esmeralda. He ignores the gallows in the street, looking back on his time with La Esmeralda with embarrassment.

Phoebus courts Fleur de Lys, who tells him about the witch who is being hanged in the street below. They go to the window and are both shocked to see that the "witch" is none other than La Esmeralda. Though Phoebus would like to go back inside, Fleur de Lys insists on watching. La Esmeralda does not raise her eyes from where she stands. She is almost a picture of purity amidst the chanting and shouting of the mob. As she and her goat are untied, she whispers the name "Phoebus." She is then made to walk barefoot on the hard pavement to the foot of the steps leading to the gallows. A rope is fastened around her neck and trails behind her. A long procession of priests advances toward her, including Claude Frollo. Though he is there to ask for her confession, he also asks her if she will be his. He tells her Phoebus is dead, and no one else can save her. At that moment, Frollo looks up to see Phoebus on the balcony with Fleur de Lys. La Esmeralda looks up as well. Spying Phoebus, she cries out with joy. Phoebus quickly withdraws inside, and La Esmeralda faints.

Quasimodo suddenly appears on the scene and begins to fight the guards. He then snatches La Esmeralda, holding her above his head. As he runs inside the cathedral with her, he cries one word: "Sanctuary!" Master Charmolue and the executioners are helpless since they have no authority to harm someone who has fled into the church for refuge.


Notes

Hugo was an opponent of capital punishment, and in this chapter, he constructs an ingenious way for La Esmeralda to escape her fate on the gallows. The entire chapter is filled with action and suspense.

The reader learns that Phoebus is not dead. After recovering from his wounds, he returns to his military position and tries to forget about the incident with La Esmeralda. He also courts Fleur de Lys. One day when he visits her, she tells him that a witch is about to be executed on the gallows. Wanting to watch the hanging, she leads Phoebus out on her balcony, which is right over the pillory. When they look down upon the scene, both of them are surprised to learn that the person to be executed is La Esmeralda.

La Esmeralda is still a thing of beauty. As she prepares to die, she reveals that she is still in love with Phoebus, whispering his name, although she believes he is dead. When she spies him, alive and well, looking down on her from the balcony, she faints, as he rushes inside. Phoebus is not the only man affected by La Esmeralda’s impending death. Claude Frollo emerges from the crowd with the other priests. Even at this critical hour, he is still filled with lust for the gypsy. As he asks for her confession, he also pleads for her love.

Quasimodo’s entrance is both surprising and heroic. Bravely battling the guards, he reaches La Esmeralda and steals her away. Carrying her above his head, he calls for sanctuary and carries her into the cathedral. The astonished officials can do nothing, for it is illegal for them to enter the church to apprehend someone who has taken refuge inside. Hugo comments on the nobility of Quasimodo’s action by stating that the hunchback "at that moment was really beautiful."

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