Writing Wednesday: Class Divides in 1880s France

Earlier this week I did some editing on a scene in my Phantom retelling that gets at a thematic point (and plot obstacle) that I think has been largely ignored in other versions of the Phantom’s story: namely, the class divide between Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, and Christine Daae, opera singer.

Mainly, Raoul could never marry Christine, and everyone involved would know that.  She could be his mistress, sure, but it would be a scandal to marry her.  In the original novel, Raoul is sad at one point early on because he knows he can’t marry her–and that obstacle is never referenced again.  (Spoiler: they get married eventually.)  Webber ignores the issue entirely.

In my ongoing effort to distinguish my retelling, and to provide a (reasonably) historically accurate version, I wanted to take that issue on directly.  The excerpt below comes just after Meg asks Raoul what his feelings are about marrying Christine.  It’s not the only place the class issue comes up (it becomes a major part of Meg’s plot in the third book too), but I like how this bit captures it.

*******

Raoul looked at the ceiling, the programs, the far end of the corridor.  “You must understand—my options are very limited—it’s all nonsense about the aristocracy having more freedom, we’re really very constrained in many ways—”

“I understand perfectly, Monsieur,” I said in my politest tones, because why waste any more time on this nonsense?

“Oh good,” he said, shoulders visibly relaxing, which just went to show that he had no idea what I meant.

I understood that he genuinely cared about Christine, that he thought well of her and, maybe, wanted to do the right thing by her.  I also understood that none of that weighed as heavily as the pressure of Philippe, or of societal opinion.  Nothing was surprising in that.  Everyone knew that men like Raoul didn’t marry girls like Christine.  Or like me.  Though with a sudden, uncomfortable feeling, I realized I wasn’t sure that Christine knew it.  But did I dare try to point it out to her?

I felt a surprising pang of disappointment too.  I didn’t even like Raoul, it wasn’t exactly that.  But it didn’t seem fair, that even Christine, beautiful, talented, magnetic Christine, wasn’t good enough for a silly vicomte.

2 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Class Divides in 1880s France

  1. Seems like you’ve done a lot of research to figure out how to address this issue informatively. Good job to get it out there and not just ignore it. Surely some of your readers would wonder about it if it wasn’t addressed.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s