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Read-through of Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera"

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Read-through of Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera" Empty Read-through of Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera"

Post  MarySkater Thu Nov 12, 2020 7:34 pm

On a Facebook group recently, I hosted a read-through of the Leroux novel. In the hope that it might be of interested to people still checking this forum (and that it doesn't overlap existing threads too much) I thought I'd repeat it here. I'll post a summary of the current chapters, and I'd welcome any comments.

Introduction (also called Foreword or Prologue), Chapters 1-2.
(Please don't mention anything that comes after Ch 2. Next time we'll discuss the next 3 chapters.)

The most common translation of the novel is that by De Mattos, but his translation is abridged. Some of the modern translations are more complete. I'm reading De Mattos, because that's what most people have, but I am also skimming the translations by David Coward and Mireille Ribiere. Where I feel that De Mattos left out something important to the story, I'll quote from one of the others, to give people a chance to know what is missing.

Leroux starts by telling us that the Opera Ghost really existed. I'm sceptical about this since I know his book is classed as a novel, not as history, and you find it on the fiction shelves. It's a common literary device to tell a story as though it were real. The rest of the introduction tells me that we are supposed to regard the narrator as an investigating journalist (a job which Leroux actually did at one time). He throws a lot of names at us, which I won't attempt to remember until I find out which of them are important to the story.

(This sounds a rather lukewarm way to talk about a tale that brings us all together. I love the story of Phantom, but I'm not always fond of the way Leroux chooses to tell it.)

Chapter 1.
The ballet girls, and other staff, were convinced that there was a real ghost, and any mishap was attributed to him, even very trivial things. Perhaps not very convincing. But Joseph Buquet apparently had a close look at him, a skeletal man in evening clothes. Then a fireman, who should be a reliable witness, saw something strange but different, a disembodied fiery head. We might think the chattering girls were making things up or exaggerating. But then we have the first really sinister event. Joseph Buquet was found hanged.

De Mattos misses out some bits such as a description of dancer Sorelli's looks. I don't see that as a problem. But when it comes to the news of Buquet's death, this is how De Mattos describes it:
"Yes, he was found hanging in the third-floor cellar!"
"It's the ghost!" little Giry blurted, as though in spite of herself;
But the Coward version gives more detail:
"It's true!... They've just found him hanging under the stage, on the third level down... But the worst thing," the worthy lady went on breathlessly, "the worst thing is that the scene-shifters who found the body are saying they heard a sound like a death march echoing over the corpse!"
"It was the ghost" Meg Giry cried instinctively
The Ribiere translation gives the same information as Coward, although worded slightly differently. I think the report of strange music is significant to the story, and shouldn't have been omitted.

Chapter 2.
There was a grand gala, and Christine's performance was a triumph, and a surprise. Meg said that six months ago she sang badly, although that can't be literally true, as she has been singing minor roles in the opera. The chapter goes on to introduce the Chagny brothers, Philippe and Raoul, and gives us enough information to suggest that they will be important to the story. Philippe was 40 and sophisticated, Raoul was 21 and naive. Philippe had an understanding with the dancer Sorelli; Raoul had an interest in Christine, saw that she was unwell after singing, and insisted on going to her dressing room. Philippe was pleased and amused that his little brother was finally showing an interest in a girl. In the dressing room, Raoul claimed a childhood friendship with Christine, but she apparently did not know him, and asked to be left alone. Everyone went out, but Raoul waited outside the door, and heard a man's voice inside, talking to Christine. Then Christine came out and went away, not seeing Raoul. He investigated the dressing room, but there was no one there.

This is the first part of the conversation which Raoul overheard:
He had heard a man's voice in the dressing-room, saying, in a curiously masterful tone:
"Christine, you must love me!"
And Christine's voice, infinitely sad and trembling, as though accompanied by tears, replied:
"How can you talk like that? When I sing only for you?"
This tells us that Christine is involved in the mystery of the Opera House. But what does it tell us about the man with her? "You must love me" is a strange thing to say. Love cannot be commanded.

De Mattos describes Christine's performance as "a triumph", but skips this description by a music critic (Coward).
The great critic P. de St.-V. preserved the memory of that wonderful night in a piece which he called ‘The New Marguerite’. Like the great artist that he himself was, he revealed in the simplest terms what the beautiful, sweet creature had brought to the stage of the Opera that night: not just her art, but her whole heart. Every last devotee of the Paris Opera knew that Christine had stayed as pure as she had been at fifteen, and P. de St.-V. wrote that ‘to understand the change that has come over Daaé, it must be supposed that she has just discovered love for the first time! I am perhaps being indiscreet’, he went on, ‘but only love could bring about such a miracle, so overwhelming a transformation. Two years ago, we heard Christine Daaé sing when she auditioned for a place at the Conservatoire. Then she seemed to be a charming prospect. Where on earth did she get the glorious voice she has today? If it did not float down from heaven on the wings of love, I can only conclude that it rose from hell and that Christine, like the master-singer of Ofterdingen, has signed a pact with the devil! If you have never heard Christine sing the final trio of Faust you do not know Faust:
Not only does this tell us more about the remarkable change in Christine's singing, it also tells us something about her age. How old would she have to be to enter the Conservatoire? Eighteen, perhaps? Then she is now twenty at the start of the story.

While Philippe and Raoul were making their way to the dressing room, De Mattos skips a description of the crowds and bustle backstage after the gala, which was maybe not essential to the story, although Leroux wanted to express the atmosphere. But De Mattos also skips the description of Raoul's feelings towards Christine. Coward tells us:
That night, the chaos had never been so complete, but Raoul had never been less shy. Using his solid shoulder, he brushed aside anybody and anything that got in his way, paying no attention to the comments people made around him, and not even trying to understand what the flustered stagehands were saying. All he wanted was to see the woman whose magical voice had pierced his heart. Yes, he had the feeling that his poor, untried heart no longer belonged to him. He had tried, truly he had, to keep up his defences from the first moment Christine, whom he had known since she was a little girl, had come back into his life. In her presence he had felt sweet emotions which he had thought about and tried to chase away, for his self-respect and his religious upbringing had made him swear to love no woman except the one who would become his wife, and naturally there was no question that he should ever think of marrying a singer. But then those sweet emotions had been followed by a terrible sensation. Was it a sensation or was it a feeling? It was half physical, half emotion. He had an ache in his chest, as though someone had cut it open and removed his heart. It felt hollow, as if it were an empty space which could never be filled except by another heart. These are psychological symptoms of a particular kind which are said to be comprehensible only to those who have been similarly smitten and been struck by that strange lightning bolt called in common parlance: love at first sight.
When you have read this, it's easier to understand why Raoul was smitten with jealousy when he heard Christine talking to another man behind a closed door.

Okay, people, over to you. Questions, comments?  What strikes you about these first chapters?

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