For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have chosen to write about the female lead of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Norte Dame. Esmeralda was a Romani, more commonly referred to as Gypsy, who danced in the streets in order to gain enough money to live on. She truly loves living amongst the Gypsies and dancing with her pet goat. In the book, it is confirmed that her mother had been French and her father Romani, making her only half Romani but raised in their care. She also proved to be one of the only people who could feel any sort of empathy for Quasimodo, the titular Hunchback.
Esmeralda gains the attention of Claude Frollo with her sexy and sultry dancing. In the most sexual Disney song in history, Frollo even sings about how much she creates a wicked desire within him! “Hellfire” is that song, and it is one that Frollo sings to speak of his lust for Esmeralda. Her humanitarian efforts to protect Quasimodo are something that makes her both an object of temptation, as well as the object of his ire.
Frollo sent Quasimodo, who is his adopted son, to kidnap Esmeralda, due to his obsession with her. Initially, Esmeralda is rescued by Captian Phoebus, with whom she fell in love. In the book, there is a more dire and complex love triangle between Phoebus, his fiancee, and Esmeralda. Phoebus only desired Esmeralda as a sexual object, not as a potential life partner, and his fiancee accused her of witchcraft, leading to her near execution.
Later Quasimodo had saved her from this execution giving her sanctuary. At this point, Esmeralda seeks to protect Quasimodo, which easily made him fall in love with her. She shows Quasimodo a great amount of compassion, which he had never before felt from another person. He also would help her escape from Frollo’s clutches in the Disney version.
In the original novel, Quasimodo cannot save Esmeralda from her fate as she ends up being killed as Frollo after repeated attempts to violate her, giving her a choice of being with him or being turned over to soldiers. Esmeralda chooses death over giving in to this heinous man! The novel ends tragically with Quasimodo starving to death as he clutches Esmeralda’s corpse! Obviously, Disney had a lot of work to do when adapting this to keep some of the spirit alive, but with a happy ending.
At the end of the day, Esmeralda was a passionate, empathetic, loving, and kind-hearted young woman. In many ways, it is nice to see her have a happy ending in the Disney version! The original novel is a masterpiece, but the Disney one keeps her fire and compassion, while not needing her to become a martyr. I always have loved this figure, first discovering her in the Disney version, as it came out when I was a child. She made me want to learn to play the tambourine and belly dance, both of which I have taught myself to do! She was also yet another character that loved to be barefoot, which helped me to relate to her. The compassion she showed for Quasimodo made her a good role model for many people. Whether you prefer the tragic novel character or the badass humanitarian dancer of the Disney version, she is a truly unforgettable female character! It is this that made her a perfect choice for Femme Fatale Friday here on White Rose of Avalon. I hope you have enjoyed this character analysis. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a lovely piece of artwork I found based on the Disney Esmeralda. I found the image on https://www.behance.net/gallery/42222613/Esmeralda.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1922)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)