Trilby, Christine, and the Phantom of Phonography
The musical heroines of George du Maurier’s 1894 Trilby and Gaston Leroux’s 1911 Phantom of the Opera do not make sound recordings, yet the promise of phonography’s cultural value haunts both novels. Each features a woman who has been compelled by a nefarious masculine force to sing, a shadowy being who appears to endow her with mystical powers that contemporary readers understood even less than the phonograph. Trilby and Christine Daaé are not mere ventriloquist’s dummies; they themselves possess uncanny bodies that make their astonishing music possible. Both books point forward to an era where phonography can preserve the voice, while using terminology reminiscent of critical discourse on the castrati. Far from enabling these women to sing, then, the monsters in these stories are surrogates for the phonograph and exist as a guarantee that the operatic voice cannot be destroyed.
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