The story of Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia is fascinating. In the country of France during the ancien régime, a time long before the freedom of press, a group of philosophers, scientists and other kinds of bohemians congregated in the literary cafes of Paris. Their goal: to write a dictionary that would make all the world’s knowledge accessible for everyone. And as if it wasn’t tricky enough to undermine the clergy’s monopoly on knowledge, Diderot and company aimed to describe all the arts and crafts in their work, and they were not planning to spend lots of words on the biographies of noblemen. To say this was a revolutionary and dangerous goal would be an understatement.
Originally, it was only planned to translate the English Cyclopaedia by Ephraim Chambers into French. Diderot was involved as one of the translators, but after two editors successively had stepped out of the project, Diderot took over the role as the main editor in 1747. His colleague and friend Jean le Rond d’Alembert, a mathematician, was hired to be the second editor. Since Chambers’s Cyclopaedia was published in 1728, the information in it had to be checked and, in certain cases, updated. For this reason, and also because Diderot made the description of the crafts the main theme of the dictionary, it soon grew to be a completely new project instead of a mere translation of an existing work.
Writing an encyclopedia is a massive task even today, so just imagine what it must have been like in the 18th century. The manuscripts of all 72.998 articles and every image in the 11 volumes of illustrations had to be written and drawn by hand. And although over 1,000 people were involved in writing, printing and binding, it took 26 years before the Encyclopédie was finished. But the workload was not the only hurdle the encyclopedists had to deal with. The governmental censorship was another problem which could not be underestimated. In the 18th century, every publication had to be licensed by the royal censor office. Having a license, however, did not mean that you were free to write anything you wanted. All books were proofread by the censors, and if they violated the king’s taste, the license could be withdrawn, the book could be banned and the author could be hanged.
The young boy peeked through the heavy drapes and saw his uncle, as he has seen him uncountable times. The woman lay on the bed. She was naked, but his uncle had not taken off his habit. They kissed, they laughed, and did the same thing as always. The young Marquis, although he was not yet 10, felt it was false. He knew he could never believe in the righteousness of any abbot he would ever encounter.
Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, shortly Marquis de Sade, was born a son of a noble family and spent the first years of his life in Hôtel de Condé, which was the main Paris seat of the princes of Condé. From age five to fourteen, he lived with his uncle, who was an abbot. The dark dungeons of the abbey in Ébrueil probably inspired him for the rooms in the books Justine and Juliette. At very young age, De Sade learned that men of the cloth are certainly not necessarily free of sin, or, more detailed, of sexual escapades. His uncle had a mistress living in the abbey, and it is likely he also had a sexual relationship with his mistress’s daughter. This greatly affected the young Marquis in his opinion of the church. He hated and condemned its hypocrisy, and would express this in many of his writings.
He started a military education after four years of boarding school and then fought in the Seven Year’s War. When he was dismissed from his military duties, he spent lots of money on gaming and many hours in so-called petite maisons, which were private brothels kept by noblemen in the 18th century. His reputation was that of a wild, young boy without any moral. His father hoped that a marriage would tame the Marquis, and thus a marriage with Renée-Pélagie de Montrueil was arranged.
A couple of months after his marriage in 1763, the marquis was first imprisoned for several sexual escapades. He was being released again after two weeks, but he did not change his habits in the least. The young Marquis was in his early twenties and didn't even think of settling. Instead, he celebrated life and his self-declared freedom. He owned several apartments, in which he enjoyed the company of other women, and he often left home to enjoy girls in other parts of the country. In fact, he would spend more nights outside the house than with his wife.
The Phantom of The Opera is a book written by French journalist and opera critic Gaston Leroux, which was published in 1910. The stage adaption by Andrew Lloyd Webber made the story become immensely popular. The show has been running on London's West End for almost 30 and on Broadway for 27 subsequent years, which makes it the longest running show on Broadway and the second-longest on West End.
Interestingly, for some reason, many people tend to believe that ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is a true story. How come that this work of art is subject to so many rumors, and why are people so keen to find proof for the reality of this piece of fiction?
One reason for this would be the setting. The Opéra Garnier is a real, operating theatre in the heart of Paris, and belongs to the city's main attractions. Over 800,000 visitors and spectators come to the Opéra every year. Little of them know, however, that there really is water underneath the building. When Charles Garnier, the architect of the opera house, was digging the foundation for the building, he was surprised by an underground stream. Pumping nor blocking the water did help: the water kept on coming. Garnier had two choices: either he would build his Opera someplace else, or he would continue building in spite of the water. He chose the latter. It isn’t the beautiful lake as depicted in the book, the stage version and the movies. It is not lighted by candles, and one cannot ride a gondola. Instead, the water is being held in a rather unromantic, enormous cistern, in which the Parisian fire department practices diving exercises from time to time. Though it is no ghost, there is a living creature down there: a white catfish that is fed by the opera staff. So far we have found, as it seems, a ‘Pet of the Opera’.
Besides the water, at least one of the events in the novel is real, too. In 1896, the great chandelier indeed fell from the roof into the audience and this accident indeed killed a certain Madame Chomette, a concierge – just like in Leroux’ novel. Since Leroux was a journalist, he must have been aware of this accident, and wove the event into his story. One has to admit that the sudden fall of a chandelier during a performance is spooky and can easily lead to rumors.