“The Phantom of the Opera” is a French novel by the writer Gaston Leroux that was originally published in 1909 as a serialization in a magazine called Le Gaulois. The novel was based on real historical events at the Paris Opera that happened during the 1800’s and urban legends from the area.
The story centers around a young singer named Christine, her childhood friend and current lover the Vicomte de Chagny and a man referred to as “The Phantom” that haunts the Paris opera house. Shortly after Christine makes her debut at the opera, the managers of the house begin receiving strange letters from someone calling himself the ‘ghost of the opera house’ who threatens to curse them if they do not put her as the lead in their run of “Faust.”
It is revealed throughout the book that Christine has been hearing a strange voice speaking and singing to her in her dressing room. One night she is kidnapped and brought by a strange, mask wearing man to his underground lair by a lake. Raoul must find and rescue her. The strange man gives her an ultimatum of either marriage to him or death.
The book has been adapted many times, including a 1925 film and a very successful musical by the playwright, Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1986. It went on to make Broadway history and billions of dollars in ticket sales.
In the prolog, Gaston Leroux, the author of the book, introduces the story and his reason for writing it. He has heard a story about a ghost at an opera house in Paris, France from a person that he refers to as “The Persian,” and is intent on proving it’s existence. The legend of the ghost says that it is responsible for many different crimes over the years, including the disappearance of the Vicomte de Chagny, the death of the Vicomte’s brother, Count Philippe and the kidnapping of a beautiful young singer named Christine Daae.
Workmen at the opera house once found a corpse while working in the building and Leroux thinks that the body was that of the ghost but the workmen assumed that it was a poor person who was killed during the time of the Commune. The prolog ends with Leroux thanking the people who helped him discover information about the opera ghost.
The story proper begins with a party at the opera house some time in the past. A dancer named La Sorelli is in her dressing room when a group of younger ballet dancers rush in, terrified and babbling. They tell her that they have seen the ghost. The group discuss the rumors of the ghost. A stagehand named Joseph Buquet has given the best description of anyone who has previously seen it.
“He’s incredibly thin;his black coat hangs loosely on his bony body. His eyes stare straight ahead without moving and they’re so deep-set that you can hardly see them. All you really see is two dark holes, like the ones in a skull. His skin is tight as a drum. It’s not white, but an ugly yellow. His nose is so small, you can’t see it when you look at him from the side, and that absence of a nose is something horrible to see. The only hair he has is three or four long, dark locks that hang down over his forehead and behind his ears.”
A ballerina named Meg Giry says that the ghost has a private box at the opera, of which her mother is in charge. One of the dancer’s mothers comes in and tells them that Joseph Buquet was found hanging from a rope under the stage. However, when someone was sent to retrieve him, he was no longer hanging, and the rope was missing. Leroux says that the missing rope was blamed on the dancers but that the ghost was the one who was actually responsible.
Meanwhile, at the party that is still going on, Christine Daae is making her debut. La Sorelli and Meg bump into Comte de Chagny and Vicomte de Chagny on the stairs who urge them not to tell anyone about the dead stagehand as it will cause a ruckus. They group talk about Christine and Meg reveals that the singer had no talent whatsoever only a month earlier. Leroux says that he intends, in part to chronicle the destiny of Christine Daae. Christine was a true talent, with the voice of an angel. She was filling in that night for the head opera singer Carlotta who had become mysteriously and suddenly ill.
The people were astounded by Christine’s talent and considered themselves privileged to have heard her perform, but they were stunned that she managed to stay hidden for so long with her talent and that she did not seem to have had a teacher. The Comte and Vicomte go to Christine’s dressing room to congratulate her on her performance, and the Vicomte asks to speak with her alone. The Vicomte, Raoul, wishes to tell her that he knew her as a child and they used to be playmates.
However, Christine does not seem to remember him and when the two men try to speak to her she ushers them away saying that she is tired of performing. Raoul waits outside her dressing room alone and considers going back in later on. But while he is waiting, he hears her speaking with a mysterious man. The man asks Christine to love him and she tells him that she sings only for him. Raoul is heartbroken, assuming that Christine has already pledged her heart to another. He waits for her to exit her dressing room but when she does she is alone. When he investigates the room the man who had been there is gone.
Back at the party, Sorelli is about to give a speech when a young dancer thinks that a man in a mask nearby is the ghost and shrieks out. The managers of the opera house, M. Moncharmin and M. Firmin assume that the man in the mask is a practical joke being played on them by the old managers of the house.
Moncharmin and Firmin do not believe in the opera ghost. But the next day they receive a letter from the opera ghost himself, thanking them for the lovely evening. The ghost demands that Christine is allowed to perform the role of Marguerite in Faust, a role that had previously been denied to her. He also demands that his box, box five, be left empty at all time for his use.
Firmin assumes that the letter is from the old managers of the house and tells Moncharmin that they are still pulling jokes. Meg Giry’s mother, Mme. Gary is the keeper of box five. The managers speak to her about the letter, and she insists that the ghost is the sole user of the box. They assume that she is a madwoman and decide to investigate the box on their own.
Christine is soon asked to sing at numerous high society parties, but she begins turning them down, unexpectedly. Leroux reveals that Christine seemed to be afraid of her new talent and unsure about her destiny. She writes in a letter that she doesn’t recognize herself anymore when she sings. She shuts herself away from society and Raoul continues to try to meet with her in vain.
Until, one day, Christine writes to him saying that she hasn’t forgotten him and that she is going to the cemetery to visit her father’s grave in the morning and would like for him to come with her. The reader is also told more of Christine’s back story. Her father was a violinist who taught her about music. After her mother died, they used to take jobs playing music around town. One day while they were playing at the fair, a rich man heard them and asked them to come with him to Goteburg, Sweden. He paid for Christina to be educated and trained and her rise in the musical world was rapid.
The man, Professor Valerius, and his wife brought Christine and her father to France with them. One day, when Raoul was a boy, he was on an outing with his governess when he heard Christine singing in the town and felt compelled to find her. He followed her along as she walked by the sea and when the wind picked up her scarf and carried it away, Raoul dove into the ocean after it to bring it back to her.
After this Christine and Raoul became playmates. Christine’s father would often tell them stories about good little children who were visited by the ethereal Angel of Music and given special talents. Christine’s father told them that the Angel of Music was the keeper of true musical talent and when she visited people they were given the gift of beautiful musical talent. He told Christine that after he died, he would make sure to send the Angel down to visit her.
Christine’s father began to get sick and died, and Christine found it hard to sing or develop her talent any longer. She and Raoul began to grow apart, and he was saddened to see how much of her talent that she had lost. However, when he saw her again at the party, it was as if she was the old Christine, the one who had sung so beautifully when they were children.
Raoul takes up Christine’s invitation to go to the cemetery to see her father’s grave. When Raoul sees Christine, he admits to her that he loves her but she laughs at him. She says that she does remember him and when he came to her dressing room the night of the party she had already noticed him in the crowd. He accuses her of being in love with someone else and tells her what he heard from the mysterious man in her dressing room. Christine is shocked to hear that he was listening in and storms away.
Later, Christine returns to make up with him. The two hear a violin performance from someone that they cannot see and Christine says that she thinks that it is her father or the Angel of Music. Raoul tries to find the musician and approaches a half-shrouded figure. He manages to grab the shroud and sees a death’s head mask of the kind that the man at the opera was wearing and that people have said the opera ghost wears. Raoul is so shocked that he faints and wakes up the next morning in the church next to the cemetery.
Meanwhile, the managers investigate box five and both think they see a strange figure. However, they assume they are hallucinating, as they both described seeing a different figure and find nothing strange about the actual box. The opera ghost sends another letter to the managers threatening to curse them if they do not capitulate to his demands. However, the managers decide to do the opposite of what he is insisting on so that they can draw him out.
Carlotta is given the role of Marguerite but while she is singing her voice suddenly gives out and she begins croaking like a toad. Moncharmin and Firmin sit in box five to watch the show and begin to feel that someone else is in the box with them. As the show struggles forward, suddenly the grand chandelier in the room falls and kills a woman. After this catastrophic performance, Christine disappears for two weeks. At this point, Raoul is the first to spot her again riding in a carriage in the park with a man that he cannot see.
A few weeks later, when the opera hosts a masquerade, Christine attends with the man who is dressed as the Red Death, in a mask. Raoul assumes that this man is the real identity of the much talked about opera ghost. He discovers that this is a man named Erik who has been tutoring Christine. Raoul notices that Christine is wearing a gold ring on her finger during the coming weeks, but she refuses to answer any questions about it or talk about what happened when she was missing for two weeks.
Raoul tells Christine that he is leaving for the North Pole in a month and he wants her to come with him. She tells him that she still loves him but refuses to leave with him. She agrees to have a secret engagement for the next month, but Raoul knows that she will probably go and live with Erik after he leaves.
One day, Christine and Raoul go to the roof of the opera house for some privacy. Christine tells him about her relationship with Erik and how it started. It started when she began hearing a beautiful singing voice through the wall of her dressing room. The voice began giving her lessons, but she could never pinpoint where it was coming from in the opera house. Christine assumed that the voice was coming from the Angel of Music.
One day, Christine told the Angel about Raoul, and the voice went away. When it returned, it told her that if she gave her heart to a human man, the voice would have to return to heaven and leave her. At this point, Christine hadn’t yet seen Raoul again, so she agreed not to. But when she saw him the night of the party, she had to pretend not to know him so the Angel would not overhear.
But the Angel knew better and accused Christine of loving Raoul. On the night of the catastrophic performance of Faust, Christine rushed to her dressing room in fear after the chandelier fell. She heard the Angel then, who told her to come to him and she heard her father’s violin music. Christine began walking and a hand suddenly reached out of the darkness and grabbed her. A man who was wearing a big black cloak and a mask held her and she became so scared that she fainted. When she woke up she didn’t know where she was, but the man was there putting a cold compress on her head. She realized that she was in the large storage cellars under the opera house.
The man put her on a horse and eventually they arrived at an underground lake with a boat floating on it. The man put her on the boat and began rowing. He rowed until the boat bumped into something and then he picked her up and put her down in a beautiful drawing room. He told her not to be afraid, and she realized that his voice the voice of the Angel. Furious, Christine tried to pull the man’s mask off, but he gently pushed her back and told her that she was in no danger as long as she didn’t try to remove his mask.
The man revealed that he was not an Angel, but Erik. Christine stops the story and tells Raoul that Erik loves her and that he will be in great pain if she leaves with Raoul. She thinks that he might even stoop to murder to get her to stay. But she begs Raoul to help her get away from the Phantom for good. Neither of them notice that Erik is nearby watching the conversation. Soon, the gold ring that Erik gave to Christine goes missing. Raoul thinks that he sees a pair of blazing eyes watching him from outside his bedroom window and shoots at them.
During the next performance of Faust, Christine disappears again. Moncharmin and Firmin lock themselves in their office after Christine’s disappearance and refuse to speak to anyone. Other members of the opera staff begin trying to figure out where Christine has disappeared to but they are met with obstacles at every turn. Raoul, however, knows that she has once again been taken by the Phantom. The plans that he and Christine made to escape together arrive quickly and he realizes that he must do whatever he can to find her.
Leroux goes into the perspective of other characters for several chapters, during which the reader learns that Mme. Giry has been giving the Phantom and allowance that was left to him by the former managers and the police investigate the Vicomte, Raoul’s brother in possible connection with Christine’s disappearance because he left town very suddenly. But they find nothing.
Raoul, with the help of the Persian, follows any trace of Erik’s lair that he can find. Finally, while exploring the cellars, the men hear Christine and the Phantom talking through a wall. Erik tells Christine that she loves him and that she has to choose between holding a wedding mass or a requiem mass. When Erik leaves the room, Raoul is able to speak to Christine through the wall. Raoul and the Persian become trapped in the cellar and Christine tries to steal Erik’s key, which would let them out. The room they are in is called ‘The Torture Chamber’ because it used to serve as one.
In trying to steal the key, Christine accidentally lets it slip that Raoul and the Persian are in the Torture Chamber and Erik turns the room on and it is discovered that it gets hot enough to cook someone alive. Raoul quickly begins to go insane from the heat while Erik listens and laughs. The Persian says that he knows that there is a door in the chamber and he finds it, setting them free into a room with lots of barrels. Parched, they assume the barrels are wine and open one but discover that they are instead full of gun powder.
Meanwhile, Christine is torn if she should marry Erik and leave with him or die. The Persian assumes that Erik has rigged the opera house to explode. Raoul and the Persian make it to Christine who tells them that she has been told to show her decision by turning statues, one statue for marriage, one for death. She turns the statue for marriage, and the room begins filling with water. They struggle to stay above the water as they hear Erik’s voice calling out to them.
In the last chapter, Leroux reveals that the Vicomte was found dead on the shore of the underground lake. But, Raoul, Christine and the Persian managed to escape the water. Erik had a change of heart and let them escape. He lifted his mask to kiss Christine on the forehead and she kissed him back and Erik reveals that he has never received a kiss before. He makes her promise to visit him on his death bed and to return the gold ring that he gave her. He also tells The Persian to report that he has died as he feels that he will die soon. Soon, Erik does die and Christine returns to bury him next to the underground lake.
In the epilog, Leroux claims that the story is true and that Erik did exist. He says that Christine and Raoul eloped and moved to Scandinavia and reminds the reader that a skeleton was found under the opera house that belonged to the opera ghost.
Raoul de Chagny – the hero of the story. Raoul is a rich young man from a very influential family in France. He falls in love with Christine at a young age when he hears her singing and follows her onto a beach. He and Christine remain friends for a while but eventually grow apart. They are reunited after her debut at the party at the opera house at the beginning of the book.
Raoul is brave, kind and true to his own heart. He knows that he loves Christine from a young age and intends to do whatever he can to express this love to her. When Christine is kidnapped by the Phantom, Raoul goes to rescue her immediately, risking pain and death in the process. In the end, he and Christine marry and move away to Scandinavia.
Christine Daae – the heroine of the story. Christina is a talented, beautiful young opera singer. From the time that she is a young child, she believes that true talent is bestowed by the mystical Angel of Music, who may visit you at any time of your life. It is no wonder, then that when Christine hears the voice of the Phantom through the wall of her dressing room, she assumes that it is the voice of the Angel.
Christine is torn between her fear and pity for the Phantom/Erik throughout the book, and she admits that she does not fear him although she thinks that she probably should. Christine is also a very kind person, who wishes to help Erik in some way although he has treated her poorly. However, Christine never feels that she loves Erik as she does Raoul.
Erik/The Phantom – the antagonist of the story. Erik is the classic example of a redeemed villain. Throughout the book, he haunts the opera house as the “Phantom” and the “Ghost” to abide by his love for Christine. His antics rapidly ramp up until he eventually kidnaps her and brings her to the underground mansion in which he lives. Erik is selfish and greedy. He threatens to kill Christine when she does not reciprocate his love and to blow up the entire opera house.
But in the end, he relents and lets her and her friends go with the promise that she will visit him again on his death bed. It seems that his love for Christine overcomes even his villainy. Erik dies underneath the opera house where he lived and is buried there by Christine.
Gaston Leroux Biography
Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was born on May 6th, 1868 in Paris, France. The son of a wealthy shop owner, Leroux went to boarding school in Normandy and later studied law in Paris, earning a degree in 1889. During this time, Leroux came into an inheritance of millions of francs, an astronomical sum for the time and embarked on a journey of drinking and gambling that ended with most of his inheritance gone.
He began working as a theater critic and reporter in the early 1900’s, reporting on the Russian Revolution of 1905, among other things. Leroux enjoyed writing so much that he began writing plays and novels of his own. He began writing a series called “The Adventures of Rouletabille,” a detective series which was first published in 1907 with which he saw moderate success.
In 1909, he published what became his most famous work, “The Phantom of the Opera” via a series in a magazine called La Gaulois and the story was later made into a book, with an English translation appearing for the first time in 1911.
In 1919, he and his friend Arthur Bernede, created their film company, Societe des Cineromans to publish novels that they could then turn into films.
Leroux passed away in 1927 in Nice, France as the result of a urinary infection. His contribution to French detective and mystery stories is still revered in the country today.