In This Labyrinth: The Phantom of the Opera In Erik's Times and Ours

Phanship meets Queer-Crip intersectionality nerding!

Show/Bibliographic notes for Episode 11 on Femininity in POTO.

The “good girl/bad girl” binary (also variously called the “Madonna/whore” binary and/or the “Angel/whore” binary):

A good, if perhaps somewhat uncritical, overview from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna–whore_complex

A somewhat more critical overview of this idea from TVtropes.org, including examples from contemporary popular culture https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MadonnaWhoreComplex?fbclid=IwAR0AsbcX9ZoGx2hF523q3SwbiG_MCBorO_RECmT-A3sV01UwgxKYSsn_85Q

A really excellent example of the “angel/whore” binary in Raoul’s thinking with regard to Christine can be found in Leroux (Damatos) chapters 8 and 9.

Christine as typifying the “good girl”:

Leroux (Damatos translation) especially chapters 5, 11 and 12, though also 2, 7, 10, 22-26.

All these chapters emphasize Christine’s almost child-like innocence and naivety, her piety - both religious and to the memory of her father, her prettiness, her “purity”, and her docility except when her honour or “purity” is questioned or threatened.

ALW Act I scenes 2 and especially 10, Act II scenes 3 and 5.

Notice how, in the above-referenced scenes from ALW, Christine’s vocal line is set firmly in a soprano register, but is also very plain. Indeed, except for the cadenza at the end of Think Of Me (Act I scene 1) and the vocalizations that cap off the title song (Act I scene 4), her part is devoid of embellishment or ornamentation.

Carlotta as the “Bad Girl/woman”:

Leroux (Damatos translation) chapters 7 especially, and 13.

ALW Act I scenes 1, especially 8 and 9, Act II scenes 3 and 4.

Notice how, in these scenes from ALW, Carlotta’s part is often not only very high in range, but elaborate, especially in the “Notes/Prima Donna” scene (Act I scene 8). Her vocal lines are extremely showy, being full of ornamentation and embellishment. This can be read as representing her ego and ambition in contrast to Christine’s innocence and modesty.

Description of Carlotta as “…the celebrated but heartless and soulless diva…” (Leroux/Damatos chapter 7)

Quotes perhaps alluding to Leroux Carlotta’s sexuality, and to a connection between sexuality and her ambition:

“(Christine) had played a good Siebel to Carlotta’s rather too splendidly material Marguerite.” (Leroux/Damatos chapter 2)

“Thenceforth, certain of herself, certain of her friends in the house, certain of her voice and her success, fearing nothing, Carlotta flung herself into her part without restraint of modesty. She was no longer Marguerite, she was Carmen.” (Leroux/Damatos chapter 7).

Some background on the above-referenced opera Carmen by George Bizet. In the said opera, the “gipsy” Carmen (the bad girl) seduces the soldier Don Jose away from his (good girl) fiancee Micaela, and is ultimately murdered by him in a jealous rage after she becomes bored with him and repeatedly rebuffs his efforts to get back together with her. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmen

By contrast, the opera Faust by Charles Gounod, referenced, and indeed quoted explicitly, in chapters 2, 7 and 13 of Leroux/Damatos. It tells the story of a “good girl”, Marguerite, who is seduced by Faust, but who is ultimately saved by her repentance and return to piety. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust_(opera)

Kay, Susan (1990,2005). Phantom: The Story of His Life. Llumina Press.

Erik’s mother, Luciana and the Khanum as variations on the “bad” women in Susan Kay’s Phantom:

Madeleine, Erik’s mother - pages 3-76

Luciana - pages 115-165

Notice how neither of the women described in these sections of the book are actively malicious. They’re just spoiled little princesses who are used to getting their way because of their beauty, and to never having to deal with anything unpleasant or challenging. Being pampered and indulged has made them shallow and selfish. Nevertheless, they are the “bad girl light” as it were - spoiled and selfish but not truly wicked, and capable of “reform” if they can learn the “virtues” of charity and unselfishness.

The Khanum - pages 166-260

Notice how this woman, by contrast, is portrayed as truly depraved - not merely spoiled and selfish, though she is that, too, but actively malicious. She is the classic femme fatale, in some ways, - the dark, exotic woman who enjoys using her beauty, power and allure to manipulate men. She is, of course, an expanded version of Leroux’s “little Sultana” (chapters 21-25 and Epilogue).

Note: this portrayal of the “bad woman”, especially the femme fatale, as the exotic woman from the East is very problematic even as it is extremely common in Western literature and popular culture. And yes, that will be addressed in a future episode!!

Christine as the “good girl” in Kay: pages 336-428, 429-455.

Notice how, unlike Madeleine and Luciana, Christine isn’t so much spoiled (though you do sense a bit of that) as simply sheltered - kept a child long after she should have been allowed to start growing into an emotionally mature adult. Like Madeleine and Luciana, though, as part of that sheltering, she has never had to confront anything unpleasant, challenging or emotionally complex prior to the death of her father. Or rather, she has been prevented - held back - from doing so.

(Note, I’m working from the Kindle ebook version of Kay’s novel because that’s what I have ready access to)

Notice how none of these models of femininity produce emotionally mature adults capable of loving and handling some one like Erik with all his trauma and needs - not the “bad” women obviously, because they’re too shallow/ruthless/self-centred. But not the “good” women either, because they have been held back from developing emotional maturity in order to produce the naive, innocent, docile, child-like personality required of the “good girl”. So they lack the tools necessary to cope with emotional and sexual complexity. Thus, both sides of the “good girl/bad girl” binary do harm and, in fact, contribute to Erik’s marginalization. However, as mentioned, I think this critique of the “good girl/bad girl” binary is implicit, though likely unintentionally so, in all three versions of POTO - Leroux, ALW and Kay.

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