Quasimodo, a.k.a. the Hunchback of Notre Dame, may not have been Victor Hugo’s invention after all: Information recently discovered in Britain’s Tate Archive suggests that a “humpbacked sculptor” actually did repair work on Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1820s. Hugo began writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1828, and the book was published in 1831.
The reference appears in the memoirs of a British sculptor named Henry Sibson, who referred to his acquaintance as “Mon Le Bossu” [the hunchback], and writes that he “scarcely ever heard any other” nickname for him:
In one entry, he writes: “the [French] government had given orders for the repairing of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and it was now in progress … I applied at the Government studios, where they were executing the large figures [for Notre Dame] and here I met with a Mons. Trajan, a most worthy, fatherly and amiable man as ever existed – he was the carver under the Government sculptor whose name I forget as I had no intercourse with him, all that I know is that he was humpbacked and he did not like to mix with carvers.”
In a later entry, Sibson writes about working with the same group of sculptors on another project outside Paris, where he again mentions the reclusive government sculptor, this time recalling his name as “Mon. Le Bossu”. Le Bossu is French for “the hunchback”.
He writes: “Mon Le Bossu (the Hunchback) a nickname given to him and I scarcely ever heard any other … the Chief of the gang for there were a number of us, M. Le Bossu was pleased to tell Mon Trajan that he must be sure to take the little Englishman.”
We’re guessing that Quasimodo’s battle with the Incredible Hulk is a bit of a historical exaggeration, however.
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