We’re celebrating World Theatre Day with an excerpt from Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera. A mysterious Phantom haunts the depths of the Paris Opera House where he has fallen passionately in love with the beautiful singer Christine Daaé. Under his guidance her singing rises to new heights and she is triumphantly acclaimed. But Christine is also loved by Raoul de Chagny, and by returning his love she makes the fiend she knows as the Angel of Music mad with jealousy. When the Phantom is finally unmasked, will Christine see beyond his hideous disfigurement?
Then they were outside, on the roof. Christine moved easily, with practised steps, as light as a swallow. They looked through the empty spaces between the three low domes and the triangular pediment. She breathed deeply as she gazed out over Paris which nestled in a valley grimly steeped in toil. She looked trustingly at Raoul, told him to come closer, and arm in arm they strolled along lead-paved streets and down iron avenues. They paraded their twin reflections in the great tanks of standing water where youngsters from the beginners’ class, a score of little boys, splash about and learn to swim in the summer months.
The shadow behind them, still dogging their steps, had emerged too, flattening itself against roofs, growing longer each time it flapped its black wings where iron roads met, skirting the cisterns, silently circling the domes. The hapless couple never suspected it was there when they sat down, feeling safe at last under the high protection of Apollo who raised his mighty bronze lyre to a sky filled with crimson fire.
They were enveloped in a blazing spring evening. Clouds which had just donned the sunset’s gift of gold and scarlet glided slowly overhead and trailed their diaphanous robes over the two young people. Christine said:
‘Soon, we’ll go much further and faster than clouds, to the end of the world, and then you can leave me, Raoul. But when the time comes for you to take me away and I refuse to go, swear, Raoul, that you will make me!’
Clinging anxiously to him, she uttered the words with an insistence that was directed against herself and they struck Raoul forcefully. ‘Why? Afraid you might change your mind, Christine?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, shaking her head in an odd way. ‘He’s a devil!’
She shivered, groaned and nestled in his arms.
‘What I’m afraid of now is going back to live with him — under the earth!’
‘Why do you feel you have to go back?’
‘If I don’t go back to him, terrible things might happen!… But I can’t do it!… I really can’t!… I know we’re supposed to feel sorry for people unfortunate enough to have to live under ground… But he’s too horrible! Yet it will soon be time; I’ve just one day left, and if I don’t go to him he’ll come looking for me with his Voice. He’ll drag me down to his sanctuary, deep underground, and he’ll go down on his knees to me, with that skull instead of a head, and say he loves me and he’ll cry! Dear God, his tears, Raoul! His tears running from two black sockets! I couldn’t bear to see him cry again!’
She wrung her hands in anguish while Raoul, finding her despair contagious, held her close:
‘No! You shan’t hear him say he loves you! You shan’t see him shed those tears! Let’s go away!… Let’s run away, Christine, tonight!’
And he started to drag her away then and there.
But she stopped him.
‘No,’ she said, shaking her head sadly, ‘it would be too cruel… Let him hear me sing once more tomorrow night, just one last time… and then we’ll go. Come for me in my dressing room tomorrow night, on the stroke of twelve. He’ll be waiting for me in the dining room by his lake… We shall be free and you shall take me away from here… even if I refuse to go, you must swear, Raoul… because I have a feeling that this time if I go back to him I may never return…’
She added: ‘You cannot possibly understand!…’
And she gave a sigh. He had the impression that somewhere at their backs her sigh had been answered by another.
‘Did you hear that?’ she asked and her teeth began to chatter.
‘No,’ said Raoul to reassure her, ‘I heard nothing.’
‘It’s awful’, she said, ‘to be always afraid like this!… even here, where we are absolutely safe… This is our place, my place, high in the sky, in the open, where all is light. Here the sun still burns bright and the night birds cannot bear to look at the sun. I have never seen him in the day time… it must be awful for him,’ she stammered to Raoul with a wild look in her eyes. ‘Oh, the fi rst time I saw him!… I thought he would die!’
‘Why?’ asked Raoul, genuinely frightened by the direction her strange and alarming confession was taking, ‘why did you think he would die?’
‘BECAUSE I HAD SEEN HIM!!!’
Christine’s plight, the fate of Erik, and the redemptive power of love stand at the heart of this remarkable novel — The Phantom of The Opera. The twists and turns of Gaston Leroux’s thrilling story have captivated readers since its very first appearance in 1910 — combining mystery, crime, adventure, detection, and tortured love. This sparkling new translation — by the prize-winning editor and translator David Coward — is as full-blooded and sensational as the original. Coward’s introduction tells the fascinating story of the novel’s genesis, considers Leroux’s life and career, describes the serialized fiction genre of which he was the last great exponent, and makes a case for the book as a work of considerable literary craft. Coward’s thorough notes further illuminate the narrative and an appendix on the construction of the Paris Opera helps set the novel in its architectural context.
Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only humanities articles, including, literature, philosophy, religion, and classics, on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
View more about this book on the