Melissa Rudder's Reviews > The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
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Feb 16, 2012

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Like so many others, I opened Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera as a fan of the musical, eager to delve more deeply into the mysteries of the sordid, yet sympathetic Opera Ghost. Aside from a more stark presence of Western European Orientalism in the formation of the dark recesses of the phantom's sadistic sanctuary and psychotic tendencies, the novel did little to further coax the specter into my presence. It's not surprising, as surely the Angel of Music is most primarily present in his music, which the novel (not being one of those preschool books with colorful musical buttons on the side) lacked. However, the novel did make me feel for Raoul and, most especially, Christine in ways that the musical never did.

One of the most interesting aspects of Christine's portrayal is that, as reader, we often studied Christine through the eyes of others. It broadened the performance aspect of the novel, further emphasizing the uncharted land between fiction and reality as, even in her daily life, Christine was an actress subject to the conceptions and misconceptions of the male gaze. It also brought up questions of identity, and how, in the muddle of the actual and the perceived, the appearance and the authentic, intention and action, it exists, particularly for a female defined by the parts she is given (in terms of her theatrical career and familial relationships).

Notwithstanding my vague (its been months since I finished this book) reflections on Christine's identity and Orientalism, the novel stands in my memory mostly as an adventure book, packed with intrigue, mystery, and action. Though it threatened to be as ornamental and foreign as opera is (to this uncultured reviewer), it was far from it. Once it got going, The Phantom of the Opera was a fast-paced trek through the backstages of the opera house and the hidden corners of the human mind.

"None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learned to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrows and one of sadness, boredom or indifference over his inward joy. You know that one of your friends is in trouble; do not try to console him: he will tell you that he is already comforted; but, should he have met with good fortune, be careful how you congratulate him: he thinks it so natural that he is surprised that you should speak of it. In Paris, our lives are one masked ball."

"You see... there is some music that is so terrible that it consumes all those who approach it."
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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Jones tagging on your comment about Christine, have you found any books which explore further "the uncharted land between fiction and reality as, even in her daily life, Christine was an actress subject to the conceptions and misconceptions of the male gaze. It also brought up questions of identity, and how, in the muddle of the actual and the perceived, the appearance and the authentic..." ?? This was very perceptive.


Melissa Rudder I thought about this for a while, but I still feel like my answer is trapped in the books I've read in the last few months.

I'm pretty sure that my reflections were inspired by the character of Sibyl, an actress and Dorian's love interest, from The Picture of Dorian Gray. Since the novel is so very much about the relationship between art and reality, it overtly deals with how her career as an actress influences her identity and value.

But, stuck as I am in the world of Edith Wharton lately, I think a more interesting study would be Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. We're introduced to her through someone else's eyes and, as early as the first page, the other character credits her with calculating her every expression in an inauthentic way. Since she has no real wealth to speak of, her value comes from her beauty and, more importantly, her ability to act the part that her wealthy friends want her to act. The greatest tension in the novel is her desire to stay true to herself (an issue far more complicated than Polonius' advice to Laertes, "To thine ownself be true" acknowledges, particularly when Lily herself struggles to identify where her character ends and her act begins) and to fit the role society has planned for her. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Phantom of the Opera, the line between reality and acting is further blurred by the presence of art, as Lily performs in a Tableau Vivant and, ironically enough, seems most authentic when posing as another's painting...


message 3: by Michael (last edited Jun 15, 2012 03:20PM) (new)

Michael Jones thank you very much. I just got through 8 chapters of The Age of Innocence. So I guess perhaps I'll tackle that next.

I hadn't thought of myself as acting the "role" everyday, since all I do is put on my postal uniform and go to work. But I realize that I do play act different roles oftentimes depending on who I'm talking to. When I am a minister, I am actually playacting Jesus. My identity gets lost in his. But I can see the way role identification could shape us.

I am humbled by Edith Wharton's exquisite ability to describe places and people! Thank you so much for the jumpstart in thinking about this. I'll come back to your comment when I read the book. Cheers.


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