Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Phantom of the Opera was written for publication as a feuilleton (a newspaper serial) in Le Gaulois, one of three such daily serials that Gaston Leroux wrote in 1910. Works of this kind inevitably tend to be episodic, crammed with incident and full of such narrative hooks as mysterious apparitions and seemingly inexplicable disappearances; in these terms, The Phantom of the Opera is a bravura performance. Like many feuilletons, it is presented as a quasi-journalistic endeavor: a story carefully pieced together from interviews with the parties involved, which can only be displayed in its entirety by virtue of the investigative flair of the reporter.
Having credited his “sources,” the reporter lays down the background history of the Opera Ghost, a mysterious figure with a face like a death’s head. The main story concerns a period when the Ghost’s appearances suddenly become more frequent and the demands that he makes upon the theater’s managers more forceful, after which he was never seen again.
The Ghost’s increased activity begins with the insistence that a particular box always be left empty for his use and that regular payments of money be deposited there. He also issues instructions to the effect that a singer named Christine Daaé be promoted to leading roles. The intimidated managers of the theater immediately hand the problem over to a new team, Firmin Richard and Armand Moncharmin. Believing...
(The entire section is 730 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The long stretch of time between the collapse of the empire of Napoleon III in 1871 and the start of the First World War in 1914 was a relative peaceful and prosperous period for France. Napoleon, like his predecessor Napoleon Bonaparte, had sought to remake Paris on a grand scale, restructuring its centuries-old layout and adding outlying provinces to the city proper. He had also, however, tried to leave his mark as a great military leader, which ended up in his defeat by the Prussians. The fall of the emperor was followed by a four-year period of political anarchy, marked by the uprising known as the Paris Commune (discussed in The Phantom of the Opera for the rebels who hid under the tunnels under the opera house). Stability was established under the Third Republic, which came to power in 1875, the same year that the magnificent opera house designed by Charles Garnier was completed.
During the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, Paris saw a burst of technology that was integrated into ordinary daily life with ease. Electric lighting became available in the early 1880s and spread quickly; in the 1890s, automobiles became available; and, just before the turn of the century, the first moving pictures were exhibited. The 1900 Paris Expo, a large party to herald in the twentieth century, hosted nearly fifty-one million visitors: more than the population of the entire country. While...
(The entire section is 556 words.)
The Phantom of the Opera is told from the point of view of a narrator whose name is never given, who is examining the events of the novel thirty years after the fact. The Preface gives details of his search: how he examined the records of the opera library, interviewed people who had been present at the time of the story (including Little Meg Giry and the Persian, whose name is withheld but who proves to be a major part of the action in the book’s final chapters), and examined a skeleton found in the catacombs under the opera house, assuming it to be the remains of the phantom. Throughout the course of the novel, this narrator sometimes makes his presence felt, with statements like “I assume” and “we know now that,” but for the most part he stays out of the story and relates the facts as a third person narrator would.
There are several ways in which this narrator gives over the telling of the story to other participants. One way is in quoting songs that were sung at the opera while the story was being lived, giving readers a greater sense of immediacy than they would get from a scholarly recap of the events. The most striking example occurs when he gives the narrative over to the Persian in chapters 22 through 26, using the excuse that these are the exact words that the Persian wrote in his memoir of the events. It is significant that, at the height of this suspenseful story, the narrator changes to one of the two...
(The entire section is 271 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1880: Transportation within Paris is by horse carriage; for cross-country trips, the locomotive is available.
1910: In the year following the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Blériot, Parisians realize that the age of aviation has arrived. Automobiles are common on Parisian streets.
Today: Paris’s streets, designed in the 1870s, are choked with automobile traffic. For travel on the continent, the TGV, or bullet train, travels at speeds often exceeding 186 miles per hour.
1880: Paris is the artistic center of the world, home to impressionist painters such as Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne.
1910: Paris is the home of the influential and challenging Cubist artistic movement, promoted by painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
Today: The best-known Parisian artists, such as Jean-Marc Bustamante and Sophie Calle, are photographers.
1880: The Garnier Opera building is less than five years old and is revered as an architectural triumph.
1910: At the advent of the age of Modernism, the Garnier Opera building is seen as an ornate and almost gothic structure.
Today: The Garnier Opera building is considered to be one of Paris’s most important cultural landmarks.
1880: Interior light is provided by open gas flames, lanterns, or...
(The entire section is 232 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Examine the history of the Paris Commune, which Leroux says lived in the jails upon which the Opera House was built. Find out how much the underground life led in the 1870s corresponds to the underground life that Raoul discovers while going to find the place where the phantom lives.
This story centers on the opera company’s performance of Faust. Read a version of the Faust story and write a short play in which Erik and Faust meet, telling each other about their common experiences.
One of this story’s conceits is that, through the use of ventriloquism, Erik is able to make it seem as if his voice is coming out of places that are far from where he is hiding. Prepare a report on ventriloquism: its capabilities, its shortcomings, and its greatest practitioners. In what ways would proficiency in ventriloquism help Erik in pretending to be the Opera ghost?
Study another opera house, either in person or on the Internet. Report on what areas behind and under the stage would be handy for this house to harbor its own phantom.
(The entire section is 183 words.)
The 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera was one of the first horror films ever made and remains one of the most influential movies in film history. Lon Chaney Sr. played Erik, the phantom, and Mary Philbin played Christine. The film was directed by Rupert Julian. It was re-released in 1929, with edits and a new score. Both versions are available on DVD in a package called The Phantom of the Opera— The Ultimate Edition, from Image Entertainment.
A second movie was made in 1943, with Claude Rains and Nelson Eddy. This one used all of the sets from the original silent film and augmented them with sound and color. It is available on DVD from Universal.
The version of this story that is perhaps most familiar to late twentieth-century and twentyfirst century audiences is the musical version that debuted at Her Majesty’s Theater in London on October 9, 1986, and as of 2004 was still running. The music is by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and the lyrics are by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. By the early 2000s it had been in more than fifty major theaters worldwide and had won more than ninety major awards.
In 1989, a theatrical motion picture version of The Phantom of the Opera was released, starring Robert Englund and Jill Scholen. It is available on videocassette and DVD from Columbia Tristar.
In 1990, Tony Richardson directed a miniseries of the phantom story for USA network,...
(The entire section is 272 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
In his entertaining 1993 novel The Canary Trainer, Nicholas Meyer, writing as Sherlock Holmes’s confidant Dr. Watson, has Holmes interact with characters from Leroux’s novel, as he tries to capture the opera ghost.
There are many comparisons to be made between the story of the phantom and Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, which also deals with an outcast from society. In Shelley’s novel, though, the philosophical questions of what it means to be human are much more significant.
The costume ball with the mysterious death’s head figure in attendance is an almost exact copy of the scene Edgar Allan Poe used in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death.” This story is available in most anthologies of Poe’s works, including the one published by the Library of America.
Readers who enjoy Leroux’s style might want to read more of his writings. His 1907 detective novel The Mystery of the Yellow Room, which was one of his most popular works during his lifetime, is available in a 2002 release from Indypublish.com. Also, a number of his macabre stories were collected in The Gaston Leroux Bedside Companion: Weird Stories by the Author of the “Phantom of the Opera,” but as of 2004 this collection was out of print.
This novel is closely associated with Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Leroux’s Erik, Hugo’s Quasimodo is a deformed genius who occupies...
(The entire section is 302 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Hogle, Jerrold E., The Undergrounds of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Palgrave, 2002, p. 117.
Wolf, Leonard, “Introduction,” in The Essential “Phantom of the Opera,” edited by Leonard Wolf, Plume, 1996, pp. 2–3.
Johnson, James H., Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, University of California Press, 1996. Focused on the history of silence in the concert hall and opera house, this book gives a good sense of the cultural tendencies of opera goers at the time of the novel.
Perry, George, The Complete “Phantom of the Opera,” Henry Holt, 1991. Though focused on the London musical, this book is filled with information about the novel and about the Paris opera house.
Skinner, Cornelia Otis, Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, Houghton Mifflin, 1962. Skinner examines the social life of uppercrust Parisian society during the Belle Époque. These are the people who would have made up the opera audience during the time that this story takes place.
Zizek, Slavoj, “Grimaces of the Real, or When the Phallus Appears,” in October, Vol. 58, Fall 1991, p. 46. This analysis examines the correlation in some folk traditions between the size of a man’s nose and his masculinity and the implications of this theory on Erik’s physical deformity.
(The entire section is 198 words.)