Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brief Notes on Gaboriau

Andre Gide called Emile Gaboriauthe father of all current detective fiction.

"The Works of Gaboriau":
We are stirred to these feelings every little while. Just now our exasperation is due to the fact that we have been reading a new edition of the best-known works of Emile Gaboriau. It is not so much that this translation is particularly bad, but because, from our appreciation of the high standing of the publishing house whose imprint it bears, we sat down to read it with the hope that it would prove passably good, and we found it—well—just like most translations.
Without going into details, and to give an example from a glance along the titles of the books, why is L'Affaire Lerouge called The Widow Lerouge, instead of The Lerouge Case? The distinction may be deemed hypercritical, but the fact remains that the book is the story of the Lerouge Case and not of the Widow Lerouge. — "Chronicle and Comment," THE BOOKMAN (October 1900)
"Gaboriau As a Craftsman":
Gaboriau is one of those writers who, while appealing strongly to thousands upon thousands of readers, are by the critics absolutely ignored as literary forces. He is, as a rule, passed by as a mere spinner of detective stories, a light and rather frivolous entertainer.
Now, in his case, this seems to be particularly unjust. He made no pretension to literary style or effect. His love passages, as love passages pure and simple, are of the most conventional and threadbare. It is quite true that he was only making stories; but he wrote of a certain side of life as he knew it, and for his background he drew upon the store of experience acquired by years of watching the ebb and flow of Paris.
It is said that the plots of his books were taken almost bodily from the secret archives of the Rue Jerusalem, and one may readily believe it.
There is a little touch of the Comedie Humaine to be found in his works. He knew his Balzac and his Moliere, and he made use of this knowledge. That dark under side of the criminal life of Paris with which Gaboriau deals furnished Balzac with some of his most powerful themes. — THE BOOKMAN, op. cit.
"Lecocq and Sherlock Holmes":
Justly or unjustly, Emile Gaboriau is regarded, first of all, as the creator of one powerful character. And yet we do not think that he himself ever wished to give such pre-eminence to Monsieur Lecocq, or that he even realised the dramatic qualities of the great detective.
Had he aimed to show Lecocq infallible, omniscient, would there have been a Pere Tabaret? The real Lecocq is a factor in only three books—The Mystery of Orcival, Monsieur Lecocq and File No. 113. In Other People's Money and The Lerouge Case he is a mere subordinate.
Sherlock Holmes fleered at him as a bungler, a mere practical investigator, whose only merit was his patience and his capacity for hard work. True, he was not a builder of fancy hypotheses; he did not show so well in the lime-light. But we defy any reader to take up Lecocq's arguments and evidence and be unconvinced.
And his evolving a complete theory from the chance words, "It is the Prussians who are coming," let drop by the pretended May, in the first chapter of Monsieur Lecocq, shows an imagination of a very high order. THE BOOKMAN, op. cit.
"The Making of the Detective Story" [Note: SPOILERS in the original]:
There are certain conventionalities, we take it, that the writer of detective stories can, under no circumstances, afford to ignore.
We remember reading some years ago a short tale that was a horrible example of the result of disdaining the very first law to be observed in the construction of the story of detection, which is that the real culprit, though unsuspected, must be before the reader almost from the beginning. In this story the author, after eliminating everybody within reach, fastens the crime upon a person of whom the reader has never before heard.
Of course, this arbitrary rule has certain inconveniences. For instance, in The Lerouge Case, ridiculous as it appeared on the surface, it was inevitable that [SPOILER deleted] was the assassin, simply because there was no other character of sufficient importance who was not at first an object of suspicion.
In File No. 113—one of the finest and most suggestive of all titles, summing up as it does all the mystery of the Parisian secret service—it was certain that [SPOILER deleted] was innocent, just because everything seemed to point so conclusively to his guilt. — THE BOOKMAN, op. cit.
From Wikipedia [Note: SPOILERS in the original]:
Gaboriau influenced later detective fiction writers, notably Conan Doyle, who acknowledged his debt to Gaboriau. Conan Doyle wrote, "Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the neat dovetailing of his plots, and Poe’s masterful detective, M. Dupin, had from boyhood been one of my heroes. But could I bring an addition of my own?" Conan Doyle also uses Gaboriau’s two-part structure for two of the four longer Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes’s skill in the art of disguise is equal to that of Lecoq. Liebow observes that there is a startling similarity between Holmes and Lecoq’s speech, conduct, and meditations. However, Holmes denigrates Lecoq in A Study in Scarlet, dismissing him as a "miserable bungler." Gaboriau was also an influence on John Russell Coryell, who read his works. His detective, Nick Carter, follows in Lecoq and Tabaret’s footsteps.
Resources:
- A MYSTERY*FILE article by Edward D. Hoch is HERE.
- Works by Gaboriau are HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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