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It’s the little things that people do that make me glad I ever left my house. This is a shout out to that lady who spotted me a dollar when she heard I was short, the multiple people who wrote encouraging messages on the fitting room walls just in case someone was having a bad day, the other lady who let me cut in line because I only had one item, and the cashier who made cheesy puns to try to make me smile. Thank you! Considerate strangers are some of my favorite people.
Anonymous asked: Hello clever and talented person. :) I've heard that the original novel uses feminine pronouns for the Voice even though it is a man's voice because in French that is a feminine noun. Is this so? What pronouns are you using in your translation?
Hi Anon! Great question! Yes, in the original novel, until Christine comes to the full realization that Erik is a man, and not the disembodied voice of the Angel of Music, she often refers to Erik using feminine nouns (and pronouns), such as “la Voix” (the Voice) and then later “la forme d’homme” (the figure of the man).
There is no great way to translate these feminine nouns and pronouns into English. I have been translating “she” as “it,” and I am including footnotes to indicate when the feminine is used. French is a gendered language, and so using a feminine pronoun to refer to the voice of someone who is male wouldn’t sound strange to the reader. People who speak gendered languages experience gendered nouns and pronouns differently than English speakers do. In English, however, referring to Erik’s voice as “she” instead of “it” would sound strange and would immediately flag the reader’s attention.
That said, although using feminine pronouns to refer to Erik’s voice would not seem odd to a French audience, they would probably pick up on just how many times feminine nouns are used to describe Erik (in addition to “la Voix” and “la forme d’homme,” he is also “la sirène” later in the novel, when he sings in his falsetto to entice people crossing the lake to lean over the water so that he can strangle them).
Jerrold Hogle, who is far too immersed in Freudian theory for his own good, has written a rather
infamous analysis of The Phantom of the Opera, called The Undergrounds of the Phantom of the Opera. This turgid work seeks to assign a *modern* Freudian understanding to Leroux’s work of late Gothic fiction. When analyzing a literary work, one needs to see it first and foremost from the cultural context in which it was written before engaging in a modern analysis of it; otherwise one risks tainting the work with one’s own interpretation, and missing the author’s original meaning. Since Leroux was not a Freudian, using Freudian theory to analyze his work is (at best) an interesting exercise, but it has no bearing on the original novel, because Leroux was not intending his story to have such deep Freudian implications. Not to mention the fact that Hogle’s early 21st century Freudian theory has only a tangential relationship to the still nascent early 20th century Freudianism that Leroux may or may not have encountered.
Hogle has stated that he believes the feminine nouns used to refer to Erik are an “intense confusion of genders” within a Freudian context, and are indicative of Erik as a metaphorically castrated man.
However, I think that this playing of opposites has more to do with the older European idea of the “Inverted World” (“mondo alla rovescia”) of the Carnival celebration. The masks and costumes that were worn during the celebration of Carnivale/Mardi Gras allowed the world to be turned upside down, as pauper masqueraded as prince, man masqueraded as woman, the old masqueraded as young, and the ugly masqueraded as beautiful. This period of masked anonymity made identities fluid, and allowed for the temporary reversal of established positions, as well as the merging of normally opposing identities.
In this way, prior to Christine’s full realization of Erik’s identity as a man, Erik is at once an “ange” (masculine) and a “voix” (feminine). Similarly, during the first descent to the lair, Christine is both female and male, since she is still dressed in her male attire from playing Siébel earlier that evening.
This is parallel to Raoul, who Leroux tells us has a girl’s complexion, and has had a feminine upbringing, raised as he was by his aunt and sisters. Also, the fact that it is Christine who in the end saves Raoul, and not the other way around as we might expect, is another example of this role reversal.
Moreover, during the masked ball, Christine wears black and Raoul wears white, and Erik comes wearing his naked face instead of a mask — further examples of this type of subversion. In similar fashion, César the horse, whom Erik has stolen to transport Christine to the lake, is not black, as we might assume a “villain’s” horse to be, but is instead white, turning Erik’s presumed characterization on its head, and making us question what his role is within the story.
When Erik sings to Christine that first evening in his house by the lake (which is again an inversion, since one would expect a house to be above ground and not below), he does not sing from male repertoire, but instead sings Desdemona’s love song from Rossini’s Otello, an aria meant to be performed by a woman. When Christine unmasks Erik, expecting to find a man of living beauty, she instead finds a man made head to toe of death. Erik represents the flip-side, the mirror opposite of what should be, of what one would expect. Even at the end of the novel, he does the opposite of what the reader, seeing through the eyes of the Daroga, expects him to do: instead of forcing Christine to stay with him as his wife, he is so moved by her kindness and compassion that he lets her go, even though it will mean his own death.
This inverted imagery ultimately stems from Christian demonology, where the devil’s realm was seen as an inversion of God’s realm, and thus the rituals of the devil’s sabbath were seen as mirror images of Christian rituals.
Thus I believe that Leroux’s use of feminine nouns and pronouns in regards to Erik was not so much to suggest that he was a “castrated man” in the Freudian sense of the word; rather, it was an indication that Erik was the master of opposites, the king of illusions, a Beast who lives in his upside down world, and can only be set right by the strength and surety of a compassionate Beauty.