Erik: Gaston Leroux’s phantasmagoric Phantom

Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series

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Look! You want to see? See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness! Look at Erik’s face! Now you know the face of the voice! You were not content to hear me, eh? You wanted to know what I looked like? Oh, you women are so inquisitive! Well, are you satisfied? – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)

Mystery is magnetic. Human nature tasks the individual to dig and delve until understanding and comprehension are achieved, in matters of love especially. Gaston Leroux, in his novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (The Phantom of the Opera), gives life to a tragic tale of love lost involving one of literature’s most enigmatic men. The Phantom of the Opera was first published as a serialisation in Le Gaulois from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910 – forcing suspense-driven readers to wait for each instalment to uncover the story’s plot and characters, and so amplifying the tone of alluring mystery lurking in the subtext of words written. The Phantom of the Opera hides in the shadows of the Opera Populaire as a ghost of existence whose actuality is delectably dubious and therefore enticingly attractive.

Leroux’s heroine, singer Christine Daaé, first encounters the Phantom through his beautiful, unearthly voice, which moves Christine beyond what words can describe. She believes the Phantom to be the “Angel of Music” who, according to stories told her by her father, is the personification of musical inspiration – a muse. Sadly, the Phantom’s appearance bears no resemblance to his voice:

Jammes yelled these words in a tone of unspeakable terror; and her finger pointed, among the crowd of dandies, to a face so pallid, so lugubrious and so ugly, with two such deep black cavities under the straddling eyebrows, that the death’s head in question immediately scored a huge success. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)

Christine, unprejudiced by appearance, is wooed by ‘The Voice’ and its mysterious owner. Her intrinsic curiosity overwhelms any sense of foreboding and she is ultimately kidnapped by the Phantom who, unbeknownst to Christine, has fallen desperately in love with her. Christine, although in love with Raoul, cannot help but be captivated by the romance of a man whose desperate love has driven him to extreme measures in a bid to win over the object of his desire. The Phantom’s actions carry with them a long-passed tone of courtly love and Christine begins to find herself attracted to her abductor. But the Phantom’s plans are foiled; Christine’s capture leads to the unmasking of the Phantom, and the man behind the mask (Erik) is revealed. The mystery is de-mystified and so the Phantom’s allure dissipates. What replaces attraction is pity; a pity that transcends Erik’s deplorable nature.

As Christine is confronted with Erik’s physical deformity she symbolically comes face to face with his character, which is as corrupt as his appearance. He is an obsessive control freak, a bitter extortionist, a jealous manipulator and even a murderer. And Erik absolves himself from responsibility by blaming mankind for what he has become:

If I am the phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)

Although the Phantom is morally debauched, he has a propensity for great love, which manifests in his appreciation for art and beauty. Erik’s love for Christine is reflected in his voice, in the sound of music, but his own thinking has reduced him to nothing more than a masquerade; a masquerade that masks a deep hurt. It is love that ultimately saves the Phantom from himself. He kidnaps his beautiful songstress for a second time but after Christine’s kiss, the first he has ever received (not even his mother kissed him), Erik is overcome with emotion and he lets Christine go to live her life as she pleases. His act of unselfish love brings him a great happiness that shines through his misery for one brief moment:

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. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)

The seductive enchantment of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom is enveloped in the mysterious presence and tragic melancholy resonating from the author’s anomalous creation. He is an oxymoron; a phantom made of flesh and blood – a being whose very name renders him without a soul and yet his human nature imbues him with a great aptitude for both love and hate. He calls himself death and yet he lives, he exists as man and apparition; he is an incongruity:

You must know that I am made of death, from head to foot, and it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you! — Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)

He is phantasmagoric.

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