This is based on an idea that I've had for some time. Christine's son Gustave is looking back on his early life, before the events of Love Never Dies. I'm using the timeline of LND, which is set in 1907. In other words, the events of POTO took place in 1896 and Gustave was born in 1897, when Christine was 20. If the story is fairly popular, I might continue it on as a LND sequel.. Please read and review – all opinions are welcome!
New York, 1967
Memory is such a strange thing, and in particular, memories of our childhood. Why do we remember certain things and not others? Was it always sunny when we were children, for example? It is the same with me, as it is with others. Sometimes I think I have only remembered the happy parts, the parts that suit me. Nonetheless, I have decided to record what I remember of my life, perhaps for my grandchildren, or perhaps just to get my rambling thoughts in order. After all, I'm an old man now and I need to get these recollections and thoughts down on paper, before my memory fades too much.
Such a strange life, in many ways.. In my mind, I have had two lives; the first ten years marked out from the rest, as different from my second life as day is from night. And some would say that that is a very apt analogy. But for a long time now I have felt that I am at the tail end of a very strange story that began before I was born. I am the only one left now, the only character in that tale that remains on this earth. And that is why I now want to give my side of the story.
In some ways, it's a vain endeavour. I am looking back now, from a very different place and time to the world of 1907. A world that seems so innocent now. In the years between, we have had two terrible world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, now that awful business in Vietnam… Sometimes I wonder if mankind ever learns. For someone in his seventieth year, like myself, the whole world seems different and scary now. Space travel, talk of putting a man on the moon... things even I could not have dreamt of as a child. However, I am not naïve either. There was poverty and deprivation and a whole raft of problems in 1907, just as there is now. But I can only give you my own experience. If it all sounds nostalgic and sepia coated, well, perhaps that is how I have chosen to remember it. I can only tell you how it was from my perspective. Above all, I know that I cannot write about my early years as the cynical old man that I have become, but as the innocent little boy I once was…
In many ways, my life began very auspiciously. To start with, it did not begin in America, but in France. I was born on the vast de Chagny estate, just north of Paris, home of the famous and wealthy de Chagny family for countless generations. My home was the grand, imposing chateau; my playground was the long, sloping lawn, the gardens and sometimes even the dark, mysterious forest that bordered the estate. The farm and the kitchen garden gave us most of the food we needed. It was almost a world in itself, with servants to cater to our every need and tenant farmers who paid rent and worked the land. And at the head of it all – my father, or at least the man who I thought was my father, Raoul de Chagny. He was young, but after the death of his father he had become the owner of the estate and he was highly respected in the district.
"You should be proud of being a de Chagny"he would tell me often as we stood at the dining room window after breakfast, "One day all this will be yours. You will be the next Vicomte de Chagny and run this estate, just as this family has been doing since the fourteenth century. We have kept this estate through good times and bad, and it will be up to you to make sure it continues to flourish"
And I would follow his gaze, taking in the winding driveway, the lawn, the orchard and everything within sight, and yes, it was my home, but.. for as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to follow in his footsteps. I could never explain why, but I never had that same pride in the family name as he had, nor did I want to own or run the estate.
And yet, I knew it was my destiny. I would go away to a boarding school when I was old enough, perhaps serve in the Navy for a while, as Raoul had done, and then I would begin helping my.. stepfather to run the estate, before taking it over completely after a few years. No other career or future was ever presented to me, so I never thought that I could do anything else. But inside, the thought of it made me feel empty.
I had everything I wanted – the best clothes, plenty of toys, lots of food to eat. And yet, something was missing. It did not help that Raoul and I had nothing in common. He shared none of my interests and never asked me about what I was doing. I liked mechanical toys that moved, but he would never take the time to explain to me how they worked, nor would he even offer to find out for me. More hurtful though, was that music was my first love, and he could not, or would not share it with me. He would never sit with me while I played the piano and even if he did listen briefly, from across the room, he always seemed uncomfortable. Most of our conversations, apart from those little lectures about the de Chagny history, involved questions about how my lessons were going, and they felt more like interviews. I have only vague memories of Raoul being affectionate with me, or playing with me. By the time I was five years old, he was already drinking, and that was the beginning of the end.
In fact I often found him looking at me strangely, as if he did not quite know who I was. Sometimes it was when I had just finished playing the piano or while I was playing outside or simply passing him on the stairs. Had he guessed, even back then? I wonder..
No, the one person who made my childhood tolerable was not my father substitute, but my mother. My mother… Christine, Vicomtesse de Chagny, or as the Opera patrons knew her, Christine Daae, the overnight singing sensation at the Opera Garnier. To her admirers, she was an opera singer, to her friends she was the wife of a famous vicomte, but to me she was my whole world. From my earliest memory, she was there, the one constant presence in my life, with her smile and her angelic voice and her stories. Comforter, playmate, nursemaid, confidante, she was all of these things and more. Singing with me at the piano, accompanying me with that beautiful voice.. all the songs we performed together! I have heard a few of those songs again over the years, via radio or gramophone, but they have never sounded the same to me.
Even now, the memories are flooding back… I see her now, down the corridor of years, as young and as beautiful as ever. She will always be frozen in time for me, for I have rarely wondered what she would look like at this age or that age. To think I am now forty years older than my mother was when she died! Somehow it feels terribly wrong that I should still be here. Why is it that some people die young and others, no more deserving than they, live on for decades? Over the years I have discussed this with others who lost a parent at a young age, and they too speak of the guilt they have felt when they realise they have outlived them.
How I loved her, in those early years! And I love her still, but sixty years have passed since she was taken from me and, inevitably, those years have dulled the heart-wrenching grief I first felt after her death. It is more of a fond remembrance now, like a fire burning brightly in the distance. I no longer feel guilty for not thinking of her constantly, "while the worlds' tide is bearing me along", to quote Emily Bronte.
I wonder if we would have remained close, if she had lived? After all, most boys gravitate towards their fathers as they get older. But even if we had never gone to Coney Island and those.. events had not happened, I cannot imagine being close to Raoul. Respectful yes, but not close. No, I think my mother and I would always have had a good relationship, even if we did not spend as much time together.
When I think about it, perhaps I would not have been trapped into taking Raouls' place after all. Even then, the days of the grand chateaus and the noble families were numbered. And think of all the changes there have been since then! I have seen the chateau only once in those intervening years. If I was ever to return to France again, I am sure I would not recognise the place. It is more than likely that my old home is long gone now. And I doubt I will return to my native land at this stage, even though travel is far easier now. Best to remember it as it once was.
In the end, my mother was taken in her prime at the age of just thirty, and spared the experience of growing old, unlike her son, unfortunately. I have seen other men worry about their mothers as they get older and become frail or blind or forgetful, and I have listened as they try to decide whether to put them in a nursing home. I was spared all that with my mother, but still…
I suppose it is easier now anyway, all these years later. After all, it's fairly unlikely she would still be alive today. But all those years in-between, all those years we have lost! All the key events of my life that she could have shared. Yes, I know I should not still be thinking of such things. Regret is such a futile emotion. And yet.. and yet…