The Ghost of the Counterfeit
By now, we should not be surprised that Gaston Leroux’s conflicted social vision and its disguised exposure of cultural “abjections” appear most fully in a novel deeply rooted in the “Gothic” tradition. Over the last two decades, the study of the Gothic as a mixed and unsettling mode in fiction, theater, film, and other media has increasingly revealed how the archaic spaces and haunting monsters that loom before us in performances we call Gothic provide methods of “othering” that have definite ideological and social, as well as psychological, functions. In the Gothic from the later eighteenth century on, as David Punter has shown, “the middle class” often does what we have just seen Leroux do in Le Fantôme: it “displaces the hidden violence of present social structures, conjures them up again as past, and falls promptly under their spell” with feelings of both fear and attraction towards the phantasms of what is displaced (Punter, 418). The Gothic, well before Leroux adopts it, enables a growing bourgeois hegemony to be both haunted by and distanced from the “hidden barbarities” that have helped make it possible (Punter, 419)—and hence the repressed uncertainties it feels about its own legitimacy (as in Abraham’s “phantom”)—by projecting such anomalies into the horrors of apparently old and alien specters, buildings, and crypts.
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