Gothic Elements in "The Phantom of the Opera" -- Part Three

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The antiquated setting and supernatural elements in Gaston Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera" reflect literary attributes of the Gothic genre.

For an introduction to the topic and a brief summary of the novel's Gothic tone, be sure to check out Part One and Part Two of this topic, respectively.

Moving into the more specific parameters commonly attributed to Gothic fiction, The Phantom of the Opera also takes place in the sort of antiquated space common to the genre. While drastically different from Walpole's medieval castle, Leroux’s underground caverns inhabited by his opera phantom effectively evoke an antiquated sense of what is past, as well as the “primeval fear of being preyed upon [and] the dread of dampness made worse by a cold” (Morgan 69). Moreover, these caverns do hold a secret importance to the plot. They are not simply the place in which Erik has built himself a home, but the place from which he maintains the infrastructure of the Opera House, unbeknownst to its visitors and even its management. Erik’s catacombs are of vital importance, whether the reader is down in their depths or merely residing in the seemingly unaffected, yet actually dependent, Paris Opera above them.

Not only does Erik maintain the building from his lair, but he also has the power to destroy it entirely from his dark home, as he stores enough gunpowder within those catacombs to destroy the building above completely. “‘Barrels! Barrels! So many barrels!’” Raoul exclaims upon seeing Erik’s store of gunpowder (Leroux 246).

The already dark and archaic caverns are made even more antiquated when the reader is allowed to “see inside” the chamber that Erik uses to keep Christine captive, which holds his mother’s heirlooms of fashions several decades past, “petit-bourgeois furniture common in suburban France during the reign of Louis Philippe” (Hogle 7). Erik’s lair is decorated in a dank, dangerous, and antiquated way, adding a sense of dread and unknown to a key setting within the novel.

Another of the typically Gothic parameters that the novel could easily claim is a blurring of the boundaries between the natural and supernatural. The people associated with the Paris Opera are initially highly superstitious, especially in regards to the character of Erik, whom they regard as the building’s ghost. It does not take long for the reader to discover that he is only a man, demented and clever as he might be, and not any supernatural force. Yet, even though the reader learns this, only a few of the characters—such as Raoul and “The Persian,” a man who is nearly as mysterious as Erik himself—seem willing or eager to accept that Erik is anything less than supernatural. Even Christine, who does not view him as the menacing phantom whom everyone else considers him to be, still thinks of him as the “Angel of Music” sent directly from her father. In her earliest explanations to Raoul, Christine insists, “my father is in heaven and I’ve been visited by the Angel of Music…in my dressing room. That’s where he comes to give me a lesson every day” (Leroux 61).

But as the Persian points out, Erik is not a divine being but a demented and musical genius, who is exceptionally brilliant in several fields. He is not the opera ghost, nor is he the Angel of Music; though, his actions and place in the story tend to blur the boundary separating those supernatural conceptions of him from the very factual assessment of his humanness.

The fourth and final part of this discussion will look at Erik's subconscious state, the social functions of the story, and the novel's treatment of women, as the topics pertain to the Gothic genre.

References

  • Gould, Joan. Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman’s Life. New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Gothic and the ‘Otherings’ of Ascendant Culture: the Original Phantom of the Opera.” Spectral Readings: Towards a Gothic Geography. Ed. Glennis Byron and David Punter. New York: Macmillan Press, 1999. 177-201.
  • - - -. "Introduction: Gothic Studies Past, Present, and Future." Gothic Studies 1.1 (1999): 1-9. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO.
  • - - -. The Undergrounds of the Phantom of the Opera. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
  • Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. New York: Bantam, 1990. (Paris: 1910).
  • Morgan, Jack. "Toward an Organic Theory of the Gothic: Conceptualizing Horror." Journal of Popular Culture 32.3 (1998): 59-80. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO.
  • Rintoul, Suzanne. "Gothic Anxieties: Struggling with a Definition." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 17.4 (2005): 701-709. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO.

2 comments

Caitlynn Lowe
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Posted on Oct 25, 2010
Kathleen Murphy
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Posted on Oct 25, 2010