Symbolism & Themes

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!

Happy Birthday Gaston Leroux!

To most a gun shot was an ominous sound, but to the family of Gaston Leroux it was reason for celebration.

Gunfire meant a novel was completed and a new legacy born. Every novel he wrote ended with a single shot fired out the bedroom window. It was classic Gaston Leroux: flamboyant, creative, quizzical and a bit…morose.

Gaston Leroux came into the world like any other boy on May 6, 1868. He was born out of wedlock at number 66 on the Rue Faubourg Saint Martin in Paris. His parents married a month later in Rouen and Gaston was eventually joined by his brothers, Joseph and Henri and their youngest sibling, Helene. His father, Dominique Alfred Leroux, was a contractor and his mother was Marie Bidault.

Gaston was schooled in Eu before heading off to study law in Caen. (Ironically meeting a young man there by the name of Philippe–a highly influential French noble whom would later bear the name of a character in one of his most famous novels.) There he graduated with honors at the age of eighteen. Following the death of his mother, Gaston was called upon to aide his father in the rearing of the younger siblings and became head of the Leroux family–much to his chagrin. He studied law to appease his family, but loathed every moment of it. Thankfully fate stepped in the way. When asked to be legal correspondent for the paper Paris, Leroux jumped at the chance. After covering a very high profile case he was approached by the editor of Le Matin and invited to be a regular reporter.

For thirteen years Leroux used cunning, wit, and his highly tuned skills as an observer to secure one fantastic story after another. He traveled at a frenzied pace living off the excitement of chasing a story. Gaston Leroux had a knack for journalistic coups, securing one coveted interview after another. While enjoying the high and exciting life, Leroux met and married Marie LeFranc. But he did not find the same comfort in marriage that he did in journalism. The union did not last long, and the parting was less than ideal. Marie LeFranc refused a divorce.

Undeterred, he continued in his travels meeting the love of his life, Jeanne Cayatte, in 1902. Despite Leroux’s reputation for being a notorious gambler and playboy, Jeanne Cayette was smitten. Gaston found a partner matching him in cunning and wit. It would not be until 1917 that he and Jeanne married, thanks in part to Marie’s death.

Leroux turned away from journalism in 1907, perhaps bored with it or just ticked off at the constant demands placed on him. Having returned to France after dodging lava during the eruption of Vesuvius, his much needed vacation was cut short with orders from his editor. Annoyed, Leroux greeted the bearer of these orders with some of his most famous words in reference to his current employer: “Shit. Go tell Bunau-Varilla, shit!”

Thus ended his journalism career and began his life writing popular fiction.

Thirty-three novels, screenplays and short-stories galore, not to mention countless rounds of ammunition, Leroux devoted his life to writing. When funds for his family ran short (due to a rather fine taste for the fast life and drink) he was known to shrug off the debt.

“I will just write another novel!” he would declare.

And so he would.
While The Phantom of the Opera is probably one of his most famous works, it is more popular with western culture. In France, it was the adventures of detective Joseph Rouletibille that were the most important of his writings. These works launched Leroux as a master of crime fiction. The Mystery of the Yellow Room has been acclaimed as the standard all locked room mysteries try to achieve. The Rouletibille novels were steeped in logic and twists and turns. It was not until the very end that the criminal was reveled and it always stunned the reader to discover it was the one person they least expected–classic Gaston Leroux.

None of these detective novels held his more famous signature–the love of the macabre. That would season his later works in particular, The Phantom of the Opera, notorious for its murderously vengeful and hideously deformed anti-hero, Erik. But Erik was not the only criminally insane and repulsive character Leroux cooked up. Balaoo was an oddly formed cross between man and ape, while Cheri Bibi was master criminal, not terribly attractive, but with a large heart nonetheless. And finally, one would be remiss not to mention Benedict Masson, a bookbinder in love with a beautiful woman. This woman, because of Masson’s visage cannot or will not, return his love. In the course of this novel Masson does suddenly find himself a handsome man, but at the price of lacking the ability to make love and give love. Oh, the irony!

Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera is a masterful piece of fiction, fitting in with the genre of gothic horror while at the same time to today’s reader, historical romance. It has all the elements of a monster novel with the tragic and bittersweet under tones of unrequited love. Leroux pulled together his love of symbolism and used all his tricks of misleading the reader to create this timeless tale.

He died of uriemic poisoning on April 27, 1927 and was laid to rest in Nice. When he died he took the secrets of his Phantom tale to the grave. Written in his classic journalistic style, Leroux opens the book by saying: “The Opera Ghost really existed.” Shortly before his death he was quoted as saying during a speech in Nice: “However fantastical my imagination it as always been anchored in something real. Perhaps that is why so much indulgence has been shown to my work, a work which has no pretences except to distract the reader without overstepping the boundaries of propriety.”

Does that mean Erik was real? Does that indicate that all Leroux’s fiction was based on fact? The reader is challenged to be the judge. What it does mean is that what you read is not always what you should believe.

And that is classic Gaston Leroux.


originallyposted at Unusual Hstorcals by the author.

Sex and Sexuality in Phantom of the Opera

Subliminal sex in Phantom of the Opera permeated all genres: Leroux, Susan Kay’s novel and Webber’s stage and film. Kay’s novel seems to be the reason so many view  Erik and Christine’s relationship as sexual. Webber only tipped the iceberg in this aspect, Kay sunk the ship.

Throughout Kay’s novel, she birthed a blatant sexual element into Erik and made him attainable by removing three critical details of Leroux: Erik’s criminal insanity, his scent of death, and his appearance of a  walking corpse. Eliminating these elements made Erik easy to picture and relate to. She took Leroux’s indication of Erik as a powerful seducer and brought it to life. There’s no doubt in Leroux’s novel that Erik had an odd ability to seduce, and there’s are sexual overtones. This was Leroux’s trademark irony shining through. His monsters were alluring.

Erik’s power of sexual seduction is apparent in Kay’s novel from the start. As an infant, Erik is able to pull a deep sexual response from his mother with the source of his cry. In response to his cry, his mother says it “brought tears to my eyes softly seducing my body that my breast ached with primitive and overwhelming urge to hold him close.”  Mothers worldwide can argue that’s a normal response, but I doubt will argue a seductive quality that alludes to a need for sex. Combine Erik’s powerful voice with Kay’s description of his non-corpse like body as “muscular, almost inhumanly strong” and you get your popular image of a built and sexually seductive Erik with tones that match Webber in that Erik’s deformity was facial only.

Presto…your sexy Phantom.

In Leroux’s novel, the Voice is paramount in indicating Erik as a sexual being in its abnormal range and power. Leroux gives him a highly masculine voice, that drips with sexuality and makes those who hear it swoon under its power. While at the same time he confuses the sexuality of the primary character when he indicates that Erik can actually alter the sex of his voice at will.  The Siren in Leroux’s novel was Erik, however in the original French text all the nouns in the section where the Persian is describing Erik as the Siren are referred to in the feminine, and with a highly womanly charm. Am I saying Erik was a woman or had feminine qualities? No.  Leroux blurred the sublimation of sex in his novel so one never gets a clear cut idea of how Erik identified with masculinity and femininity.

It’s a Freud thing.

Webber leans more toward Kay, or I should say vice versa as Kay based her novel not solely off of Leroux. The mannerisms in the 2004 movie and stage show, depict the Phantom seeped in sexuality. One just needs to study the hand motions during Webber’s Music of the Night, read his lyrics, or look at his imagery of the Phantom. They are all sexual indicators and somewhat Freudian as well.

Subliminal sex and the Phantom of the Opera go hand in hand, but what of its act? No one can argue that such an event was hinted at in Webber’s stage show and movie, however, I again turn toward Kay as the catalyst for the idea that a relationship of such was between Erik and Christine. She took Webber’s indicator, picked up on his plot hole and ran with it.

So let’s look at the role of actual sex in Kay’s novel, not the subtle subliminal elements. In both Kay’s novel and the original, it is Christine that is the driving force behind such notions, the instigator if you will. In Kay’s novel, she crosses the border between fantasy and gratification while spending her fortnight with Erik in his house. As she is listening to Erik she writes of Christine that his voice  was “answering pulses all over my body.”  Upon hearing his Don Juan, it arouses Christine in such a way that she explores her body until she finds a place on her she “never knew existed” and she reaches a climax that fills her body “with extraordinary sensation.” This is clearly Christine crossing the line between fantasizing about Erik, to sexually gratifying herself with the thought of him and the sound of his music.  Christine crosses barriers even further when she frets over telling Raoul of this experience remarking that “the knowledge I have begun to crave is not yours to give.” This is clearly an indication that her desire for more sexual contact is not with that of Raoul, knowing such would be forbidden. In terms of Christine in the Kay genre, she did have desires for Erik in a sexual way.

In the original, it’s not so clear-cut, but Christine was again the one with the sexual power. Erik was timid around her in his hesitancy to touch her and in his willingness to lie down like a dog at her feet. While a seducer, he was not a sexual predator. Christine held more sexual power over him in the novel then he did over her, apparent in the final “Pieta” scene when she clutches his face to her breast and kisses him on the forehead. Some may argue that Erik was violent with her so why not be sexually violent? He was a man deprived of a primal need and had tendencies to become violent to get his point across. He does, after all, drag Christine by the hair when she removes his mask and forces her to touch his face in a manner she didn’t wish to do.  Erik wouldn’t be a sexual predator based on the fact that his methods for violence were very detached and hands off.  This matches his madness. Erik refers to himself in the third person, detaching one part of his persona from another.  His torture chamber and the Punjab lasso are both weapons that don’t require intimate contact with its victim. (Contrary to popular understanding the Punjab is not a hangman’s noose or a lariat. It can be thrown lasso-style, but is usually a max of three feet in length and requires two hands to actually kill.)  Rape and sexual violence require intimate contact with the victim. A contact I don’t believe Erik had the power to understand given the state of his madness.

The movie leads more to the viewer imagination in terms of sexual contact, but the indicators are obvious. You have an overly sexy leading man and a virginal appearing leading woman in a situation that indicates a sexual moment could have occurred. This is in reference to the scene after Music of the Night and Christine’s notorious missing stockings… I believe this was just an editorial mistake, but still, it opened the debate. Naturally with how sex and sexuality are viewed in this day and age, many assume that Raoul and Christine had sexual contact during the period of time that lapsed before the Masquerade scene.  It could have happened given the time period… not every young woman was devote in her religion and held to the belief of being virginal. Raoul, via Leroux’s descriptions in the novel, was painted as virginal; however, nobles of that time period wouldn’t be so. It would be very unusual for Raoul to have been a virgin at that time.

Was Erik virginal? I will argue that statement should be, was Erik sexually versed? I believe he was. This goes beyond Leroux to the realm of realistic character development in addition to some plot holes Leroux put into his novel.

Erik was 50 years old at least. In reality, which all authors need to draw from whether they want to or not, a 50-year-old male does at some point in his life become sexually versed. Maybe not through the actual act of sex, but through puberty. It happens and it can’t be prevented. Erik would have gone through and we already know Leroux created him in part as a sexual being. I believe Erik knew how to gratify himself. This is how you delve into the mind of a character and make them realistic. Erik would have had physical longings for the gratification that comes from sex, however, I doubt he would have engaged in the actual act (with Christine).

Creating a realistic character also means invoking realistic responses.  Erik was a corpse-like, stank, was hideously deformed and…mad.  These elements in such a time period would have made him unattainable. No woman would want to touch him unless…. (I will explain that later). I can go into my rants about social classes and Christine, but basically, Christine was looking for a social realm Erik didn’t exist in. And, while she desired him on one level, she was horrified and repulsed by him.

So was he a virgin? I say yes, but not clueless on how to woo or gratify a woman (or man) for that matter. I turn you toward this past travels and the cultures he was involved in. He was versed in many traditions. He had more than just casual contact with women, but ultimately being able to gratify himself sexually with a woman was out of the question due to his curse. (Kay was the one who created him to be a recluse, using servants to attend to him while he lived in the opera house. Leroux clearly states he took to his own needs.)

Erik could very well have taken the company of a lady prior to Christine in these two plot holes: The first, his famous footstool in box five. Traditionally only women requested footstools for opera performances. This request can be viewed numerous ways. Erik could be merely playing with Madame Giry’s mind here and building the illusion of his ghost-like status,(remember he liked to manipulate the mind). Or, seeing as he was insane and had elements of two personalities, he could have requested the stool as his own means to believe he wasn’t so alone. (think imaginary friend). Or…seeing as he had a life before Christine who is to say there was never a woman in box five? One will never know. I can safely believe it was not Christine due to timelines in the story and social classes again.

But the most curious plot hole indicating Erik and relationships with women comes from his outburst when Christine unmasks him “Oh you women are inquisitive things.” If he had no contact with women how would he know? Plus his comment of  “When a woman has seen me as you have she belongs to me.” Could this mean that he controlled women in the past? Was this just a reference to Don Juan? Did he have close enough contact with them to be so intimate as to reveal, with his will or against it, the most delicate part of himself: his face?

Subliminal sex belongs in the novel and in its progeny. It’s hard to write Gothic and historical romance without it. To what level, and with whom is the question. My reasoning for not believing in a healthy sexual relationship between Erik and Christine stems from the quasi-mother/father relationship they each yearned for in the other.

I believe Erik was a sexual being and sexual relationships were, are, and should be a part of any tale that is continued with him so long as it is handled in a believable way. I may have contradicted myself by saying that, when before I said women wouldn’t touch him. Christine, for me, did not have the backbone in any genre to look beyond what she needed or wanted from the relationship to give to Erik what he needed and desired. That is not to say another woman would do the same.

Creating Erik that is a sexual being is not easy, especially a Leroux based Erik. All these elements belong in Phantom and are a part of its Gothic roots.

Symbolism of Colors in The Phantom of the Opera

Our black-masked Phantom is a rather dark character, physically and mentally. Various colors are used in different ways throughout The Phantom of the Opera. What’s the symbolism behind them? The primary colors in various versions are black, white, pink, red and yellow.

People associate color with two things, natural and psychological reactions.

Naturally we associate black with night and darkness. Psychologically black is the evil color, the color of villains in old westerns, the color of Death and bad omens. Black expresses the unknown and the underworld where daylight does not reach… just like in Leroux and Erik’s lair. Black can represent bad luck or misfortune. Across the various versions, black is prevalent in Phantom. Leroux lets the reader know how steeped in death Erik is and at one point writes that people shouted at Erik: “There goes the Grim Reaper.” We see Erik in his black mask and funeral clothing depicting him as a shadowy figure and the anti-hero. Black, in conjunction with Erik, is a color to instill suspicion, fear and mistrust.

White is naturally seen as light. Psychologically it evokes purity, cleanliness and a soul passing to heaven. White becomes our hero-unscathed and perfect. In Webber’s 2004 movie version of Phantom, Raoul dashes off in a white shirt upon a white horse to save Christine– a blatant cliché if I ever saw one. In Leroux, Raoul wears the white domino, showing the reader not his heroism, but his innocence and sexual naivety. Erik and Christine are the ones wearing the manipulative and menacing black.

Red draws our mind toward many things, love, passion, blood, infatuation. Red symbolizes strong emotions such as excitement, strength, danger, and aggression. I love the use of infatuation here in terms of Leroux as Erik was driven by this emotion-not love. We lean toward passion as it relates to death in the original novel. Think of Erik as the Red Death and the red brocade fabric surrounding his coffin and the stave of the Dies Irae. These things connected to death make us discontent and passionate. In Webber we see it mostly in terms love. Think of all those red roses Erik leaves…

Yellow we naturally associate with heat, sun, etc. Psychologically, like with green, we lean toward gold and wealth. It can symbolize optimism and idealism verses dishonesty, cowardice, deceit, illness, and hazard. In Phantom, yellow can be seen as the ‘other’ color; the color that represents the outside world of Erik and one that makes him an outcast among nobles. His yellow skin is associated with oriental themes prevalent during Leroux’s time making Erik and outcast among a ‘normal’ population.

Pink… Webber shoved that down our throats! (The flowers in the dressing room, all of Christine’s pink dresses, etc) Pink is automatically associated with girls, though it was used for boys for centuries. Pink is the color of innocence, good health and good life. Think of the term ‘tickled pink’ and the hue brought to faces when we laugh or blush. It is symbolic of sexual innocence, something Webber wanted to drive forth in the theme of Christine v. Erik, as well as ‘pure love’.