The Phantom of the Opera: The Lost Chapter by Gaston Leroux, Caitlin G. Freeman (translator)

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, novels were first published in serialized formats in newspapers or magazines.  It wasn’t uncommon for whole chapters to be rewritten, added, or otherwise removed before the story was finally collected as a complete finished novel.  Think of it as a means for an author to allow readers to beta read their early drafts, generating interest and a wider audience.  It was a practice common to the great authors of the age such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Caitlin G. Freeman is a professor in the theatre department at Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, PA, and longtime “phan” who is translating the entirety of the original 1909 newspaper version of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.  Her work started with this single lost chapter, rarely seen outside of select circles who collect and study these rare pre-first editions.  Digital copies of the complete original have been made available to the public through The Bibliothèque nationale de France, http://gallica.bnf.fr/.

Freeman opted to publish this chapter as a standalone publication so as to generate interest and awareness in her forthcoming larger translation of the full serialized edition, to acquaint readers with the translation process, and to simply share it with fellow “phans.”  The French original is also published here so that anyone else may take up their own translation or read it for themselves if they can read French.  Because the work is a century old at this point, there are idioms and colloquialisms in play that modern French does not employ, so a bibliography of the books used to aid translation of those peculiarities is also included.  She encourages anyone finding mistakes to contact her for her correction.

This chapter is called “The Magic Envelope.”  Originally it was Chapter 11, appearing between “At the Masquerade Ball” and “You Must Forget the Name of ‘the Man’s Voice’.”  While the chapter was lost, the essence of it was summarized at the beginning of Chapter 9, “The Mysterious Carriage,” and Chapter 17, “Mme Giry’s Astonishing Revelations.”  Basically the thrust of the chapter expands upon the Phantom’s modus operandi in his extortion of the theatre managers and how he outwits them when they try to double-cross him with fake money.  Removal of the chapter keeps the focus upon Christine and Raoul, who feature in the chapters before and after this one in the original narrative.  While making for a tighter narrative at a particularly heightened point in the drama, the removal of this chapter has resulted in questions that have persisted for over a century now.  Thus finally being able to read the chapter for ourselves, the English speaking “phans” can finally get a better understanding for how the Phantom operates and for Mme Giry’s role.  To be honest, Mme Giry is really the least of the mystery these days, but it’s fun to see it here anyway.

As the Phantom is my personal favorite of the classic monsters, it goes without saying what a treat it is to have this chapter, tease though it is, and to know that the entirety of the original version is on its way.  My hat’s off to Ms. Freeman for this.  I admire the dedication.

My only real gripe is the price tag.  I understand the work involved and the nature of independent publication, but… c’mon.  $4 for a single chapter electronically or $9 in print?  That’s just steep by any metric.  I’ve purchased Medieval reproductions of illuminated manuscripts with their translations for less, so there’s no sense trying to argue about age and process.  And as a dedicated follower to Leroux’s great villain, I gladly paid it anyway to satisfy my curiosity, but that’s more a reflection on me.  Suffice it to say, I passed on the print version, though it’s a foregone conclusion a paper copy of the completed text will sit alongside it’s companion volume in my library once it’s made available.  I hope when that time comes, it’s cost effective to buy.  If it’s not, I’m sure I won’t be the only one rethinking that purchase.

4 stars

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