This Day In Literary History
On May 6th, 1868, the legendary French writer Gaston Leroux was born. He was born in Paris, but grew up on the Normandy coast, where his grandparents owned and operated a ship building business.
As a boy, Leroux loved sailing, swimming, and fishing, but he longed to be a writer. He began by writing poetry for his own amusement and reading voraciously, studying the works of legendary writers such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
After completing his secondary education, Leroux went to Paris to study law. He became an outstanding student and seemed destined for a successful career as a lawyer, but writing was still his passion.
He was 21 and still at university when he inherited a large sum of money from his father. By the time he turned 23, he had squandered most of it away on wine, gourmet food, women, and gambling.
Gaston Leroux did earn his law degree and began his practice, but he considered the legal profession a dead end job. He began a writing career to supplement his income. First, he became a drama critic for L'Echo de Paris, which had previously published his poems.
He soon switched to reporting and covered criminal trials. His legal expertise was a valuable asset, and the quality of his work earned him positions at more prominent newspapers. He became an investigative reporter.
His exploits, such as disguising himself to sneak into jails to interview prisoners made him famous - one of the earliest celebrity journalists. His name on a magazine article guaranteed sales.
He was given an international beat, and he traveled throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, either anonymously or in disguise, reporting on wars around the world and other important events. He played a part in exposing the scandal surrounding the prosecution of Captain Alfred Dreyfuss.
Eventually, Leroux switched from journalism to writing fiction. His first novel, The Seeking of the Morning Treasures, was published in 1903, first as a serialization in Le Matin. Leroux's fictionalized tale of the life and legacy of the legendary bandit Cartouche became a huge sensation.
The critical acclaim continued. In 1907, Leroux published The Mystery of the Yellow Room, the first in a series of detective novels featuring reporter / sleuth Joseph Rouletabille. The success of the novel allowed the author to quit journalism and write full time.
Gaston Leroux didn't write detective fiction exclusively. Fascinated with the dark side of life, he explored his interest in the macabre by writing horror and dark fantasy. His most famous horror novel, an all-time classic works of literature, established him as one of the greatest novelists of his generation.
The Phantom of the Opera (1911) was inspired by Leroux's visit to the Paris Opera House and tour of its cellars. The Gothic horror novel told the story of Christine Daae, a young, aspiring opera singer whose mysterious music teacher, Erik, she hears but never sees.
Christine believes that Erik is the "Angel of Music" from the folktales told to her by her father, a famous violinist. Erik is really the Phantom of the Opera, the "ghost" who supposedly haunts the Paris Opera House.
The dancers are terrified, and a stagehand ends up murdered. Erik terrorizes everyone who stands in the way of his protege Christine becoming a star. Later, Christine is called upon to replace the lead singer and gives an impressive performance.
One of the concertgoers who hears her sing turns out to be her childhood sweetheart Raoul, who falls in love with her all over again. This outrages her music teacher, Erik. Born physically deformed but musically gifted, he lives in the cellar of the Paris Opera House.
Erik, who hides his disfigured face behind a mask, is also in love with Christine. He captures her and Raoul and locks them in the cellar. Mad with jealous rage, Erik gives Christine an ultimatum: either marry him or he'll blow up the Opera House with explosives, killing everyone - including her, himself, and Raoul...
The Phantom of the Opera would be adapted numerous times as a feature film. The first version, released in 1925, featured legendary silent film star Lon Chaney as Erik. The 1943 and 1962 film versions featured Claude Rains and Herbert Lom as Erik.
These film adaptations, which were also memorable, made a major change to the story - instead of being born deformed, Erik is disfigured as the result of acid being thrown into his face. A gruesome horror film adaptation, made in 1989, starred horror legend Robert Englund as Erik.
In 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted The Phantom of the Opera as an acclaimed and hugely successful Broadway musical. It would become one of the longest running musicals in history, surpassing Cats as the longest running Broadway show of all time.
Gaston Leroux wrote over two dozen novels, short stories, and a play. He died in 1925 of surgical complications following a urinary tract infection. He was 58 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"Erik is not truly dead. He lives on within the souls of those who choose to listen to the music of the night." - Gaston Leroux
Today's video features a complete reading of Gaston Leroux's classic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Enjoy!