Best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera, The French journalist and author of detective fiction, Gaston Leroux was born 6 May 1868 in Paris. He went to school in Normandy and later studied law in Paris, graduating in 1889. He inherited millions of francs and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy. Subsequently in 1890, he began working as a court reporter and theater critic for L’Écho de Paris. However his most important journalism came when he began working as an international correspondent for the Paris newspaper Le Matin.
In 1905, he was present at, and covered, the Russian Revolution. He was also involved in the investigation and in-depth coverage of the former Paris Opera (presently housing the Paris Ballet). In 1907 He suddenly left Journalism and began writing fiction. he and his writing partner Arthur Bernède formed their own film company, Société des Cinéromans to publish novels simultaneously and turn them into films. He first wrote a mystery novel entitled Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1908; The Mystery of the Yellow Room), starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. He was a very prolific author and went on to write many more novels about the adventures of Joseph Rouletabille, including Le parfum de la dame en noir (The Perfume of the Lady in Black), Rouletabille chez le Tsar, Rouletabille à la guerre (Rouletabille at War), Les étranges noces de Rouletabille (The Strange Wedding of Rouletabille). Rouletabille chez Krupp, Le crime de Rouletabille (1921), Rouletabille chez les Bohémiens, Le petit marchand de romme de terre frites, Un homme dans la nuit, La double vie de Théophraste Longuet.
In 1910 he wrote his most famous work The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1910). It features a character named Christine Daaé who travels with her father, a famous fiddler, throughout Europe and plays folk and religious music. As a child her father told her many stories about the “Angel of Music,” who is the personification of musical inspiration. Christine meets and befriends the young Raoul, Viscount of Chagny. One of Christine and Raoul’s favourite stories is one of Little Lotte, a girl who is visited by the Angel of Music who possesses a heavenly voice. Christine begins singing in the chorus at the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier) and begins hearing a beautiful, unearthly voice which sings to her and speaks to her. She believes this must be the Angel of Music and asks him if he is. The Voice agrees and offers to teach her “a little bit of heaven’s music.”
The Voice, however, belongs to Erik, a physically deformed and mentally disturbed musical genius who was one of the architects who took part in the construction of the opera. Erik falls in love with Christine And has also been extorting money from the Opera’s management for many years, and is referred to as the “Opera Ghost” by the denizens of the Opera. Christine sings at a gala to celebrate the old managers’ retirement. Her old childhood friend Raoul hears her sing and recalls his love for her. He then hears the “Angel of Music” speaking to Christine. The Paris Opera then performs Faust, with the prima donna Carlotta playing the lead, against Erik’s wishes, in response Carlotta loses her voice and the Erik drops the grand chandelier into the audience causing widespred death and carnage.
After the accident, Erik kidnaps Christine, brings her to his home in the catacombs beneath the opera House and reveals his true identity. He plans to keep her there for a few days, hoping she will come to love him. Christine begins to find herself attracted to her abductor, until she unmasks him and, beholds his face, which according to the book, resembles the face of a rotting corpse. Erik goes into a frenzy, stating she probably thinks his face is another mask, and whilst digging her fingers in to show it was really his face he shouts, “I am Don Juan Triumphant!” before crawling away, crying. Fearing that she will leave him, he decides to keep her with him forever, but when Christine requests release after two weeks, he agrees on condition that she wear his ring and be faithful to him. On the roof of the opera house, Christine tells Raoul that Erik abducted her. Raoul promises to take Christine away to a place where Erik can never find her. Raoul tells Christine he shall act on his promise the next day.
The two leave unaware that Erik has been listening and is extremely jealous. In the meantime Erik terrorises anyone who stands in his way or obstructs Christine’s career, including the managers. The following night, Erik kidnaps Christine during a production of Faust and tries to force Christine to marry him. He states that if she refuses, he will use explosives (which he has planted in the cellars) to destroy the entire opera house. Christine refuses, until she realizes that Erik has trapped Raoul (along with The Persian, an old acquaintance of Erik who was helping Raoul). So To save them and the people above, Christine agrees to marry Erik…
He also wrote Le roi mystère, L’homme qui a vu le diable, Le fauteuil hanté, La reine de Sabbat, Balaoo, Le dîner des bustes, La hache d’or, L’ épouse du soleil, Première aventures de chéri-Bibi, La colonne infernale, Confitou, L’ homme qui revient de loin, Le capitaine Hyx – La bataille invisible, Le coeur cambriolé, Le sept de trèfle, La poupée sanglante – La machine à assassiner, Le Noël du petit Vincent-Vincent, Not’olympe, Les ténébreuses: La fin d’un monde & du sang sur la Néva.
Sadly Leroux passed away on 15th April 1927, but his legacy lives on in the form of some wonderful novels and hid contribution to French detective fiction is considered a parallel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the United Kingdom and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States. The Phantom of the Opera has since been adapted into numerous film and stage productions of the same name, including a 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical and Joel Schumacher’s subsequent film adaptation of the musical starring Gerard Butler, Minnie Driver & Jennifer Ellison. The Musical still remains popular to this day and you can still see it in London, New York, Las Vegas and Budapest