Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Tale of Gaston Leroux & The Phantom of the Opera

 Gaston Leroux (1868-1927)

"I decided to go 'one better' than Conan Doyle, and make my 'mystery' more complete than even Edgar Allan Poe had ever done in his stories of Mystery and Imagination. The problem which I set myself was exactly the same as theirs – that is, I assumed that a crime had been committed in a room which, as far as exits and entrances were concerned, was hermetically closed."

"I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears... and she did not run away!...and she did not die!... She remained alive, weeping over me, weeping with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer." 

FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF GASTON LEROUX’S THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, 1911, illustrated by Andre Castiegne

"The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade." 

The Life of Gaston Leroux
 Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was a french Gothic and mystery novelist, journalist and playwright. Born in Paris, the son of Dominique Alfred Leroux, a wealthy public contractor, and Marie Bidault. Leroux's grandparents owned a ship-building company in St. Valery-en-Caux, Normandy, where he grew up. While at school, he began writing stories in the style of Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo. To please his father, Leroux abandoned his plans to become a writer and went to Paris to study law, receiving his degree in 1889. His father died later in the same year and after inheriting nearly a million francs, Leroux spent the following six months of his life drinking and gambling.

Finding most of his money gone, Leroux started to work as a theater critic and reporter for L'Écho de Paris. His breakthrough piece was a sonnet he composed about an actress. By the end of 1890 Leroux had become a courtroom reporter, covering the Dreyfuss affair as one of his assignments. Between the years 1894 and 1906 he travelled to different countries throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia as a correspondent. Leroux wrote for the daily newspaper Le Matin and L'echo de Paris and reported amongst other things about the Russian Revolution of 1905. While in Switzerland in 1902, he met Jeanne Cayatte, the love of his life, who became his mistress and bore him two illegitimate children. Stubbornly, Leroux's wife, Marie Lefranc refused to grant him a divorce until 1917 which is when they were later married.

From 1909 Leroux devoted himself entirely to writing, focusing on plays and popular novels of mystery and detection. Often his ideas came to him in dreams.  Le Fantôme de l'opéra, produced from the author's fascination with the Paris Opera House, really is set above a network of catacombs. Before publishing the novel, Leroux had written an account of the 1896 disaster, in which one of the chandelier's counterweights had fallen down and killed a patron of the playhouse. Leroux also owned the architectural plans of the building and knew about its secret passageways. After a skeleton was found in the Opera cellars, Leroux began to work on the novel by mixing fact and fiction: "In those labyrinthine cellars and the mysterious subterraneas lake which was visible through iron grilles in the floor only if a torch was lit to pierce the blackness, there was an atmosphere that seemed to demand that yard to be told."
Le Fantôme... was first serialized in Le Gaulois, then published in book form, but the work was only a moderate success until newspapers in Great Britain and the United States published a serialized version of the story, with images of the Phantom.

The Phantom of the Opera, translated into English by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, is a version of the classic tale 'Beauty and the Beast', but the real object of fatal obsession is music, embodied in the character of Erik. "Erik was born in a small town not far from Rouen. He was the son of a master mason. He ran away at an early age from his father's house, where his ugliness was a subject of horror and terror to his parents." After years of wandering, Erik hides himself in the corridors and underground locales of the Paris Opera House. He has helped in the reconstruction of its cellars, and incorporated many trapdoors in the building. He falls in love with a young singer, Christiane Daaé, and arranges a series of deaths to advance her career. Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, is also in love with Christine, but she is forbidden by Erik to respond to his advances. When the Opera managers refuse to make her a star, the unmasking of Erik's evil side leads to his destruction. "'Know,' he shouted, while his throat throbbed and panted like furnace, 'know that I am built up of death from head to foot and that this is a corpse that loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!..."
The plot is presented as a story pieced together from journal entries, alternating first-person narratives, and interviews, revealing the "true" history of the Opera Ghost.


Leroux's narrative was fast moving, and he often used complicated plots. Later mature work show the influence of Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, especially 'The Masque of the Red Death' (1842) in The Phantom... and the tale 'Thou Art the Man,' in which the detective turns out to be the murderer - the idea appeared again in The Mystery of the Yellow Room. In the novella The Burgled Heart (tr. 1925) Leroux employed supernatural elements - the astral body of a French woman is abducted by an English artist. The Kiss that Killed (tr. 1934) and The Machine to Kill (tr. 1935) featured a vampire and a robot as murderers.

Gaston Leroux died of a urinary tract infection at the age of fifty-nine, on 15 April 1927 at his home in Nice, France. He now rests in the Cimetiére du Château in Nice, France.

 
SOURCES
The Secret of the Night, 1914, New York, The Macaulay Company
The Real Opera Ghost and Other Tales, 1994, Sutton Publishing Ltd
Please feel free to leave any comments,

3 comments:

Stanley said...

Great post. Loved the novel and read it ages ago.

Maggie Peters said...

Loved the film. Always wanted to read the book but never got around to it. I'll have to now!

Kimberly Eve said...

Thank you both for commenting.
Phantom of the Opera has always intrigued me as a story.

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