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.