Leroux

Bohemian Paris

Degenerates are not always criminals. Anarchist and pronounced lunatics; They are often authors and artists—Max Nordan, Degeneration.

I have spent the last several years in a dark and depressing world far below the Paris streets. I have been absorbed in researching the undergrounds of society to bring to life a man who was nota handsome Scotsman in a stunning a white half-mask as portrayed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular movie. Leroux’s Erik was a passionate and unstable gentleman who hid his murderously vengeful ways in the counter-culture of Paris.

Jean Béraud “La Lettre”

The Bohemian movement prevalent in late 19thcentury Paris was a counter-culture effort to reject the values of mainstream society and mock the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie. While the Bohemian moment isn’t something that was ubiquitous in Leroux’s original novel it was a culture that influenced Paris in the Victorian era—whether you were a journalist, lawyer, aristocrat or artist. Those involved were not the upper class or the deviants of the underground, but writers, students, and artists who contented themselves with ignoring the social ladder-climbing around them. The terms “Boheme” and “Bohemian” came to denote a generation who hated the idea of a work ethic. Bohemians were portrayed as vagabonds, misfits, drunks, philosophers, and narcissists—the lifestyle

associated with idleness. Public opinion of the Bohemian movement solidified after du Maurier’s 1894 best-selling novel of Bohemian culture: Tribly. This body of work was used by Gaston Leroux to craft the original story of Erik—the Phantom.

Bohemians lived by their own sets of rules; they were wanderers of the most extreme extent. Social values weren’t their concern. Their lives were carefree events filled with drink, merriment, arts, and sexual freedom. They usually didn’t work and instead poured themselves into living solely for the sake of art and literature. Renouncing private property made them glaringly different from the bourgeoisie, a class that desired to achieve the status of the aristocracy. Members of the Bohemian culture shared this lifestyle with others in communal camps, an area I have had great delight in exploring in my body of works. Who can resist a vagabond who carries all his wealth with him and hangs his hat wherever the road may take him? It’s been fabulous crafting how this sort of life has impacted my characters in the 4thbook in my series.

A snapshot of a daily routine for a Bohemian might be to rise and work on a painting or poem. But the goal was not to be productive, instead to interact and enjoy one’s company. The night was pure entertainment hanging out in salons or seeking the latest sexual encounter.  You could spot a Bohemian, if the long hair and pockets overflowing with all they owned didn’t give it away, by their out-of-date fashions and bright colored clothing.

Bohemians weren’t just men; women joined the movement too. These Grisettesbecame a source of inspiration for many Bohemians. Grisetteswere young women usually of the countryside who headed to Paris to find work—but Bohemia found them. The allure of freedom called to these women. Women of the bohemian mindset didn’t want to be ruled by marriage, and it took a great deal for them to leave behind the stability that such a life might have offered. It was harder to break the ties with their former lives because women were encouraged to be respectable and upstanding individuals. They were carefree and longed for the best of both worlds: the money of the upper class and the thrill of being considered an equal in the eyes of the Bohemian man.

I think it would be a fascinating culture to explore if one was able to time-travel. Though, I think there are plenty of types of Bohemian lifestyles found in the 21stcentury!

Punjab Lasso vs. Hangman’s Noose

It’s pre-order day!

This is the time I get excited for my readers. I love hearing from them before a release and learning about their excitement for their favorite story to be continued. In honor of Pursued By The Phantom’s pre-order. I thought I would do a quick Phantom related post.

Not a nice way to go, but not a Punjab lasso either…

This… is hangman’s noose.

It is not the “Punjab lasso,” at least not in this author’s book.

The lasso is Erik’s signature weapon, and I use it frequently throughout my books. Through the years and the many interpretations of Leroux’s Phantom, the lasso has changed as much as Erik’s hideous deformity (which in many adaptations isn’t a deformity at all). Webber popularized the image of a lariat and a hangman’s noose, which is very different from what  Leroux may have had in mind for his “Punjab lasso.”

In Leroux’s original novel, he emphasizes the amount of time Erik spent in India learning how to use this weapon:

Erik had lived in India and acquired an incredible skill in the art of strangulation. He would make them lock him into a courtyard to which they brought a warrior — usually, a man condemned to death — armed with a long pike and broadsword. Erik had only his lasso; and it was always just when the warrior thought that he was going to fell Erik with a tremendous blow that we heard the lasso whistle through the air. With a turn of the wrist, Erik tightened the noose round his adversary’s neck and, in this fashion, dragged him before the little sultana and her women, who sat looking from a window and applauding.

I love this cover. Just sayin’…

 

Leroux’s terminology  describes’s this lasso as fil du Pendjab, which means “Punjab thread” or depending on your translation, “cord” or “wire.”  In my novels, I describe it as a thin length of silk. It is in all likelihood that Leroux was referring to the Thuggee tribes in  India that killed by the manner of strangulation as described in the quote above. These “Stranglers” were feared and sensationalized in French culture during the time of Leroux’s writings.

The idea of, “Keep your hand at the level of your eyes,” would do little good against a hangman’s noose, which serves to snap the neck with the aid of gravity. I would imagine doing so may break your wrist as well. I don’t know. I’ve never been hanged….

However, the hand at the level of the eyes defense works wonders against the Punjab lasso:

 My pistols could serve no purpose, for Erik was not likely to show himself; but Erik could always strangle us. I had no time to explain all this to the viscount; besides, there was nothing to be gained by complicating the position. I simply told M. de Chagny to keep his hand at the level of his eyes, with the arm bent, as though waiting for the command to fire. With his victim in this attitude, it is impossible even for the most expert strangler to throw the lasso with advantage. It catches you not only round the neck, but also round the arm or hand. This enables you easily to unloose the lasso, which then becomes harmless.

So, there you have it. A bit of gruesome insight into the way our beloved Erik preferred to kill.

Ah… Happy Valentine’s Day? Speaking of Valentine’s Day, if you are new to my series, pick up a copy of Desired by the Phantom at a special price for a limited time only!

Flirting with Death: The role of the mother and father in Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera

Image by Greg Hildebrant in his illustrated edition of Phantom of the Opera. Find this book, find it now!

I have a confession to make that should be obvious to those who have read my Phantom series or follow me on Facebook. I am a firm believer that the idea of a relationship between Erik and Christine would not have been healthy. This stems from the original novel and the unhealthy love between Erik and Christine born from the idea of the mother/son and father/daughter relationship that Leroux crafted into this pairing.

First off let me say that the age difference between Erik and Christine doesn’t bother me in the original novel; however, it does in the stage show and especially in Webber’s movie. In both adaptations, Erik and Christine were portrayed as too young, although the stage show was slightly was closer to the novel in that. Leroux’s age difference of an assumed 50-year-old man and an assumed 16-year-old girl was natural in the mid to late 19th century. Many men, especially those of the aristocracy, did not marry until well into their 40’s and often with women many years their junior. So while historically that isn’t an issue, the moral implication it bears on a modern-day reader is. The reader sees Erik as a man old enough to be Christine’s father who is pursuing her with a need for object and maternal love.

Erik clearly had issues with his mother whether spoken or unspoken. His home beneath the opera house was not the image most in the Phandom think of thanks to Webber’s movie interpretation of it: a cluttered, cavernous, lakeside cave. In the original novel, it was a house with all the natural amenities a house has. Erik’s primary possessions were his mother’s furniture stored in a room that was nothing short of a shrine to what was left of his relationship with her. This is the very room he gave to Christine and the same room that was filled with Freudian indicators of masculinity and sexuality.

Michangelo was genius.

He tells the Persian he was moved to tears (or as some believe redemption) when Christine held him in the final “Pieta” scene. For those of you not familiar with the “Pieta” by Michelangelo, it is a famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary (here the virginal Christine) holding her dying son, Jesus Christ (here the already “dead” Erik). In the novel the position as Christine leans down to cradle Erik after allowing him to kiss her forehead, therefore mingling their tears (maternal fluids according to Freud) is very similar to the pose of this famous portrait of mother and son.

Christine associating Erik as a father figure is far more believable. The idea of a young girl hero-worshiping an older man is a theme familiar with many ideas of a father/daughter relationship. From the beginning, Christine was in love with the idea that her beloved father, with whom she was extraordinarily close, promised her the “Angel of Music” upon his untimely death. Erik becomes for Christine the living vision of her dead father. While not an actual angel, Erik was a musician with an angelic voice in addition to being a walking embodiment of death. For Christine, this translated into a reincarnation of all her father was returning in another form for her to love and worship.

Some may think it a stretch to believe that anyone would love a walking corpse or even yearn for a physical and sexual connection with it, especially if it reminds us of our fathers. In art history, “Death” plays a major role as both a father figure and a sexual seducer of young women. Many paintings and sculptures depict Death either teaching or luring maidens with enticing gifts, music, or just good ‘ole seductive looks. Death was the ultimate and attainable, albeit unwanted, element to life. Even today you hear of people “flirting with death.” Why? Is it so alluring because they want to actually die, or because the idea it conjures up of being able to conquer and overpower death?

Christine being seduced by the reincarnation of her father and being lured into a quasi-incestuous relationship was, in a way, “flirting with death” and the power and control it portrayed.