A third french classic I stumbled upon in my advanced world literature class was Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. This novel contains one of the strongest beginning lines I’ve encountered in a book: “The ghost of the Paris Opera existed.” That line just has a way of pulling you in as a reader; it gets your attention. I rate this book as a four out of five novel like the previous two. It’s got a suspenseful plot as well as a nice romance to tie its main characters together.
Christine is a beautiful young singer who performs in the famous Paris opera house. Her fame grows with every performance. Raoul, a dashing young man, falls in love with her, desiring her to be his partner. But the romantic tone of the novel is counterbalanced by a darker mystery; some one has been performing tricks on people in the opera house. Rumors are flying around that it is all due to the mysterious “opera ghost.” With almost every performance on stage, another strange incidence occurs. Yet no one knows where the ghost lurks or even if he exists.
But Christine soon finds out exactly who this ghost really is. She meets a stranger who lives under the opera house in a deep dungeon-like cavern. The stranger wears a white mask that covers half of his face and a long black cape. His musical skills are exceptional; he plays the organ in his cave with ease. Before Christine met him, he had whispered words to her regarding her music. That was how she came to know him in the first place. After seeing what lies behind the mask though, Christine wants to banish him from her memory. The phantom, who reveals himself as Eric, refuses to let her go so easily, for he, like Raoul, is in love with her. As a result of Eric’s longing for the singer, he kidnaps her, prompting Raoul and a Persian friend of his to discover the phantom’s whereabouts and save Christine. But they will soon make an explosive decision regarding the future of the Opera house, for Eric, long shunned away from society due to his deformity (Quasimodo anyone?), wants vengeance on those who rejected him throughout his life.
This novel, in some ways, is a nice little mystery. No one, not even the reader, knows where the opera ghost lies hidden, for Leroux wants to reveal that later. For a while, I mistakenly thought this book to be a nineteenth century piece. It was first published around 1911. One can see connections to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In each case, there is a main character who is distanced from society because of how he looks. This theme plays out in a lot of classic literature in the 1800’s and on, especially from the Romantic authors. Novelists were often concerned about how individuals who seemed to get the short end of the stick in life, as it were (such as prisoners, the poor etc.), related to their society’s ideals and standards. Because it is a dark romance, you may even compare it to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as well. Both books contain love triangles involving interesting characters. Overall, this book is an easier read then Dumas or Hugo and definitely not as long as their works, so check this one out too.