MY CHARACTER THIS WEEK: The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera, or simply Erik, is the hero, or rather anti-hero of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. Not many things are known about the Phantom, but bits and pieces of his personal history are revealed over the course of the novel.
He is many things. He is a sensitive soul, a composer, a magician, a ventriloquist, even an architect; in short, a genius. He is an object of pity and horror because of the face he hides behind a mask. At one point, Leroux manages to describe him in a nutshell.
Poor, unhappy Erik! Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Ah, yes, we must need pity the Opera ghost...
He is hopelessly in love with Christine Daaé, who is out of his reach. She is his only chance for love and his love for her is desperate. To her, the Phantom says,
You will be the happiest of women. And we will sing, all by ourselves, till we swoon away with delight. You are crying! You are afraid of me! And yet I am not really wicked. Love me and you shall see! All I wanted was to be loved for myself.
He is a dark man and he loves Christine deeply and darkly. In short, he is obsessed with her.
You must know that I am made of death, from head to foot, and it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!
At the same time, he is a menacing figure, a true enigma, a blackmailer and a dangerous man who has killed before. His home is hidden in the catacombs of the Opera Garnier, and it is his artistic domain, as well as his prison. He finds a unique way to come into contact with Christine Daaé, but trouble arises for the Phantom when Christine’s childhood sweetheart, the dashing young viscount Raoul de Chagny, comes back into her life.
The Phantom has many names. His true name is Erik and his last name is never revealed; he does not have a last name. To the inhabitants of the opera house, he is known as the Phantom, The Phantom of the Opera, The Opera Ghost and on one occasion, he walks among them as the Red Death. To Christine Daaé, he is the Angel of Music, until she discovers his true identity and things become very complicated. His relationship with Christine is, in fact, very complicated. To her, he is a teacher, a father figure, strange friend, origin of her fears and the voice who inspired her voice. She cannot help but be affected by him, although it is not very clear if she loves him or rejects him completely. She says to him,
Tonight I gave you my soul, and I am dead.Her words prove how their relationship is far from easy and it is based on dark, even unhealthy emotions. It is filled with a strange kind of dependence.
Essentially, Erik is a musician. Christine is his muse, and he is her muse. His voice is ethereal and has the ability to hypnotize. During the course of the novel, he is working on his greatest piece of music, Don Juan Triumphant, a requiem. Erik describes it like this:
I will play you Mozart, if you like, which will only make you weep; but my Don Juan, Christine, burns.And,
When a woman has seen me, as you have, she belongs to me. She loves me forever! I am a kind of Don Juan, you know!...Look at me! I am Don Juan Triumphant!
Why do I love this character so much? Why would anyone love a man who manipulates people, knows dark, hurtful obsession, and even kills? Because of his other side that is bigger than the darker part of him. His essence is music and although his soul is tainted, it’s beautiful. I love him precisely because of this, as Leroux put it so beautifully:
He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.
To me, that makes him one of the most tragic beautiful characters that have been created. He is definitely my favourite literary character.