Real-life Quasimodo uncovered in Tate archives With his hunched back and deformed face, Quasimodo, the tragic hero of Victor Hugo's novel The Hunch Back of Notre Dame, has always been considered a mythical creation drawn from the depths of the author's imagination.
By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent
The Hunch Back of Notre Dame, 1939 Photo: REX FEATURES A portrait of French writer Victor Hugo dated of the 1880 Photo: EPA
But a new discovery appears to reveal the real-life inspiration behind the character from Hugo's seminal novel, which tells the story of the deaf bell-ringer of Notre Dame and his unrequited love for the gipsy girl Esmeralda.
Clues suggesting that Quasimodo is based on a historical figure have been uncovered in the memoirs of Henry Sibson, a 19th-century British sculptor who was employed at the cathedral at around the time the book was written and who describes a hunched back stonemason also working there.
The documents were acquired by the Tate Archive in 1999 after they were discovered in the attic of a house in Penzance, Cornwall, as the owner prepared to move out.
However, the references to a "hunchback sculptor" working at Notre Dame have only just been discovered, as the memoirs are catalogued ahead of the archive's 40th anniversary this year.
The seven-volume memoirs document Sibson's time in Paris during the 1820s, when he was employed by contractors to work on repairs to Notre Dame Cathedral.
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".