The real-life Quasimodo


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Quasimodo. Victor Hugo’s famously feared and reviled monster by fictional townspeople, and sympathized for, loved, and found morbidly curious by generations of readers, found sanctuary in an unlikely love that is fulfilled only in death. And though we’ve come to identify Quasimodo by his physical deformity, the infamous hunchback that seems only as horrible as the imagination that could conjure it, there is in fact more thruths to be had in this literature than imagination need invent.

For instance, the hunched back is, in fact, a type of medical malady known as kyphosis. While the imagery conjured for Quasimodo’s hump more often depicts the hump as a tumorous like growth — akin to the “wart” that grows over Quasimodo’s eye — kyphosis is actually a disorder involving an extreme and abnormal upward curvature of 50 degrees or more of the spine. Kyphosis may be congenital (the condition being present at birth), result in old age (from osteoporosis or bone weakness), or may present itself in the time in between as a result of a diseased thoracic vertebra, injury, and a number of other various conditions. Kyphosis can also be a hereditary defect. With kyphosis, a hump as large as the one depicted in Hugo’s Quasimodo is, in fact, possible.

Furthermore, a UK archivist has found what he believes is the real-life inspiration for the French novelists character Quasimodo. Adrian Glew, who works on the Tate collection’s archives in London, was studying the seventeen-volume handwritten autobiography of the 19th century British sculptor Henry Sibson when he came across an entry referencing a Frenchman whose nickname was “le bossu,” or hunchback. Sibson had been contracted in the 1820s to carve stone as part of the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris which had suffered damage in the French Revolution of the 1790s. After a falling out with one of his contractors sent him looking for employment at the government studio, Sibson met a carver called Trajan, a name Glew indicates as being suspiciously similar to the name of the main characcter in the earlier version of Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” whose name was originally Jean Trajean, and was later altered by Hugo to Jean Valjean.

In his studies, Glew noted that Sibson was describing French artisans who were active in the same part of Paris as where Hugo lived in the 1820s, and with Hugo’s interest in the restoration of Notre Dame, it was quite plausible that writer may have seen, may very well had even known, Trajan. So why is this association with Trajan noted as a sort of missing puzzle piece. Because Trajan was under the government employ of a man whom Sibson cannot recall the name of but described in his writings as being humpbacked. This humpbacked employer of Trajan was known as M. Le Bossu, a nickname given to him for which Sibson recalls only ever knowing the man by.

Furthermore, Glew found that Sibson, Trajan, and Trajan’s hunchbacked boss were working in Dreaux, a town near Paris, at the same times as Hugo, where he proposed to his wife-to-be.

Glew is still researching the mysterious humpbacked boss, though he has yet to discover the man’s real name.

Sibson’s memoir will be on display outside the Hyman Kreitman Reading Room at the Tate Britain Gallery from August 16 until the end of the month.

And if you haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and no, seeing the Disney movie does not count, you can download the audio ebook for FREE from Gutenberg Project. Visit

Collett-White, Mike. “UK Archivist Says Uncovers Real-life Quasimodo.” Yahoo News. Reuters, 16 Aug. 2010. Web. 17 Aug. 2010.

2 comments so far

  1. Victoria on

    Dear admin, thnx for sharing this blog post. I discovered it wonderful. Best regards, Victoria…

  2. […] (Source) […]

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