Esméralda (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)
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|The Hunchback of Notre-Dame character|
Illustration of Esmeralda and Djali from 'Victor Hugo and His Time'. 1882.
|Created by||Victor Hugo|
Esmeralda, or La Esmeralda (French: Esméralda), born Agnes, is a fictional character in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (or Notre Dame de Paris). She is a French Gypsy girl (near the end of the book, it is revealed that her biological mother was a French woman). She constantly attracts men with her seductive dances, and is rarely seen without her clever goat Djali. She is around 16 years old.
Esmeralda's birth-name was Agnes. She is the illegitimate daughter of Paquette Guybertaut, nicknamed 'la Chantefleurie', an orphaned minstrel's daughter who lives in Rheims. Paquette has become a prostitute after being seduced by a young nobleman, and lives a miserable life in poverty and loneliness. Agnes's birth makes Paquette happy once more, and she lavishes attention and care upon her adored child: even the neighbours begin to forgive Paquette for her past behaviour when they watch the pair. Tragedy strikes, however, when Gypsies kidnap the young baby, leaving a hideously deformed child (the infant Quasimodo) in place. The townsfolk come to the conclusion that the Gypsies have cannibalised baby Agnes; the mother flees Reims in despair, and the Gypsy child is exorcised and sent to Paris, to be left on the foundling bed at Notre-Dame.
Fifteen years later, Agnes—now named La Esmeralda, in reference to the paste emerald she wears around her neck—is living happily amongst the Gypsies in Paris. She serves as a public dancer. Her pet goat Djali also performs counting tricks with a tambourine, an act later used as courtroom evidence that Esmeralda is a witch.
Claude Frollo sends his adopted son Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda from the streets. Esmeralda is rescued by Captain Phoebus, with whom she instantly falls in love to the point of obsession. Later that night, Clopin Trouillefou, the King of the Beggars, prepares to execute a poet named Pierre Gringoire for trespassing the Beggars' territory known as The Court of Miracles. In a compassionate act to save his life, Esmeralda agrees to marry Gringoire.
When Quasimodo is sentenced to the pillory for his attempted kidnapping, it is Esmeralda, his victim, who pities him and serves him water. There, Paquette la Chantefleurie, now known as Sister Gudule, an anchoress, curses Esmeralda, claiming she and the other Gypsies ate her lost child.
Two months later, Esmeralda is walking in the streets when Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, the fiancée of Phoebus, and her wealthy, aristocratic friends spot the Gypsy girl from the Gondelaurier house. Fleur-de-Lys becomes jealous of Esmeralda's beauty and pretends to not see her, but Fleur's friends call Esmeralda to them out of curiosity. When Esmeralda enters the room, tension immediately appears—the wealthy young women, who all appeared equally pretty when compared to each other, are plain in comparison to Esmeralda. Knowing that Esmeralda's beauty far surpasses their own, the aristocrats make fun of her clothes instead. Phoebus tries to make Esmeralda feel better, but Fleur grabs Esmeralda's bag and opens it. Pieces of wood with letters written on them fall out, and Djali moves the letters to spell out "Phoebus". Fleur, realizing that she now has competition, calls Esmeralda a witch and passes out. Esmeralda runs off, and Phoebus follows her.
Later that month, she meets with Phoebus and declares her love for him. Phoebus takes the opportunity to kiss her as she speaks, and he pretends to love her. He asks Esmeralda what the point of marriage is (he has no intentions of leaving his fiancée, he just wants to have sex with Esmeralda), which leaves the girl hurt. Phoebus, seeing the girl's reaction, pretends to be sad and says that Esmeralda must no longer love him. Esmeralda then says that she does love him and will do whatever he asks. Phoebus begins to undo Esmeralda's shirt and kisses her again. Frollo, who was watching from behind a door, bursts into the room in a jealous rage, stabs Phoebus, and flees. Esmeralda passes out at the sight of Frollo, and when she comes to, she finds herself framed for murder, for a miscommunication makes the jury believe that Phoebus is in fact dead. Esmeralda proclaims her innocence, but when she is threatened with having her foot crushed in a vice, she confesses. The court sentences her to death for murder and witchcraft (the court has seen Djali's spelling trick), and she is locked away in a cell. Frollo visits her, and Esmeralda hides in the corner (before this point in the book, the readers know that Frollo's lustful obsession of the girl has caused him to publicly denounce and stalk her). Frollo tells Esmeralda about his inner conflict about her, and he gives her an ultimatum: give herself to him or face death. Esmeralda is repulsed that Frollo would harm her to this extent for his own selfishness. She refuses. Frollo, mad with emotion, leaves the city. The next day, minutes before she is to be hanged, Quasimodo dramatically arrives from Notre Dame, takes Esmeralda, and runs back in while crying, "Sanctuary!".
While she stays in the cell at Notre Dame, she slowly becomes friendly with Quasimodo and is able to look past his misshapen exterior. Quasimodo gives her a high-pitched whistle, one of the few things he can still hear, and instructs her to use it whenever she needs help. One day, Esmeralda spots Phoebus walking past the cathedral. She asks Quasimodo to follow the captain, but when Quasimodo finds where Phoebus is, he sees Phoebus leaving his fiancée's house. Quasimodo tells him that Esmeralda wants to see him: Phoebus, believing Esmeralda to be dead, believes Quasimodo to be a devil summoning him to Esmeralda in hell, and flees in terror. Quasimodo returns and says he did not find Phoebus.
For weeks Esmeralda and Quasimodo live a quiet life, whilst Frollo hides in his private chambers thinking about what to do next. One night, he brings his master key to Esmeralda's room. The girl wakes up and is paralyzed with terror until Frollo pins her to the bed with his body and tries to rape her. Unable to fight him off, Esmeralda grabs the whistle and frantically blows it. Before Frollo can make sense of her actions, Quasimodo picks him up, slams him against the wall, and beats him with the intention of killing him. Before Quasimodo can finish, Frollo stumbles into the moonlight pouring in from a far window. Quasimodo sees who Esmeralda's attacker is, and drops him in surprise. Frollo fumes with fury, and tells Esmeralda that no one will have her if he cannot, before leaving the cathedral.
Frollo finds Gringoire and informs him that the Parlement has voted to remove Esmeralda from the sanctuary, and intends to order soldiers to forcibly accomplish the task. Gringoire reluctantly agrees to save the girl, and formulates a plan with Frollo. The next night, Gringoire leads all the Parisian Gypsies to Notre Dame to rescue Esmeralda. Mistakenly responding to this assault, Quasimodo retaliates and uses Notre Dame's defenses to fight the gypsies, thinking that these people want to turn in Esmeralda. News of this soon comes to King Louis XI, and he sends soldiers (including Phoebus) to end the riot and hang Esmeralda. They reach Notre Dame in time to save Quasimodo, who is outnumbered and unable to prevent the gypsies from storming the Gallery of Kings. The gypsies are slaughtered by the king's men, while Quasimodo (who has not realised that the soldiers wish to hang Esmeralda) runs to Esmeralda's room. He goes into a panic when she is nowhere to be found.
During the attack, Gringoire and a cloaked stranger slip into Notre Dame and find Esmeralda about to sneak out of the cathedral (she had feared that soldiers were trying to take her away when she heard the battle). When Gringoire offers to save the girl, she agrees and goes with the two men. The three get into a nearby boat and paddle down the Seine, and she passes out when she hears many people chanting for her death.
When Esmeralda wakes, she finds that Gringoire is gone, and the stranger is Frollo. Frollo once more gives Esmeralda a choice: stay with him or be handed over to the soldiers. The girl asks to be executed. Angry, Frollo casts her into the arms of Gudule (Paquette Guybertaut). There, the two women realize that Esmeralda is in fact Gudule's lost child. The guards arrive, and Gudule pleads for them to show Esmeralda and herself mercy. Gudule follows the guards to the scaffold, kicking and biting along the way. A guard throws Gudule to the ground; she hits her head and dies.
Back at Notre Dame, Quasimodo is still frantically looking for his friend. He goes to the top of the north tower and finds Frollo there. Quasimodo notes Frollo's demented appearance and follows his gaze, where he sees Esmeralda in a white dress, dangling in her death throes from the scaffold.
Many film adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame have been made, which take various degrees of liberty with the novel and the character. For example, in most films, the sex scene between Phoebus and Esmeralda is not shown as intense, if at all.
In the Disney version, Esmeralda is shown to be a kind, caring, independent and witty gypsy who is willing to help others in need. Esmeralda's greatest wish is to see outcasts like Quasimodo and her fellow gypsies be accepted to society and be treated as people.
Among the actresses who have played her over the years are:
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