As I said before, I’m really into Notre Dame de Paris right now and I spend a lot of time thinking about the show, primarily its characters. Last time I talked about Esmeralda and today I’d like to focus on the other female character, Fleur-de-Lys.
Fleur-de-Lys is possibly my favorite character in the musical, or at least the one I find the most interesting, because she is the only one who really goes through any kind of change over the course of the story. While Esmeralda, Phoebus, Quasimodo, et. al have more stage time than Fleur, they still end the show as more or less the same person they were when they started it. This is not the case for Fleur-de-Lys.
When Fleur is introduced, she is a young girl in love with Phoebus. He is her joy; she will give anything for him; she seriously thinks the sun shines from him; nothing will make her happier than to marry Phoebus. The Fleur to whom we are introduced is naive and hopeful and that seems to be all there is to her. If we pay close enough attention to her lyrics, however, we can see that there’s something more going on in her mind.
There is a budding sexuality in her songs and an indication that she may be a little more savvy than she appears. She sings to Phoebus “If your words are lies, I won’t believe them” and “The man I love… doesn’t know the realms of my desire” It’s quite an interesting thing for her to say, since Phoebus is lying to her when he sings about how she’s more precious than diamonds and all his other pretty words when he’s already working on seducing Esmeralda. Unfortunately for Esmeralda, Fleur is right when she says that Phoebus doesn’t know the depths of her desire because by the end of the show there is scarcely any room for loving gentility in Fleur.
As Fleur has witnessed Phoebus pursue Esmeralda, she has grown into a more hardened person. She learns that she can be hurt, that love isn’t perfect, and that perhaps she doesn’t even know what love is. When her fiance finally admits his affair to her (and blames it all on Esmeralda, by the way) she realizes that she has the upper hand in the situation and takes full advantage of it. She admonishes him for his transgressions and tells him in no uncertain terms that the only way for him to win her back is to put Esmeralda to death.
This video is of the Spanish cast because they’re my favorite, and even without subtitles, I think you can tell what’s going on.
Even in this song, however, it can still be seen that Fleur is conflicted and would love to return to a time when she was an innocent girl and believed her world was simple. This is what makes her so interesting to me. She has an actual character arc, all the elements of her character develop over the course of the show, and she can be interpreted many different ways. She can be seen as a young girl who seeks revenge after her first heartbreak; she can be seen as someone who learns how to take control of her life and get what she wants; she can be seen as villainous and calculating. There are so many layers to her character and so many ways an actress can play her that she is fascinating to me.
Fleur-de-Lys is a morally ambiguous character. The audience can sympathize with her and understand her actions and I think this makes her one of the best characters in the musical. She has enough development to take the audience on a personal journey rather than just existing as a plot point. I know there are fans out there who have said that Fleur ought to be pitied, but I disagree. Fleur is probably the only person in this musical who managed to get what she wanted by the time the curtain closed and someone like that doesn’t need any pity. She is willful and cunning and while I would hesitate to say “admirable”, she’s definitely worthy of respect.