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Émile Gaboriau (1832-1873)


French 19th century mystery writer, novelist, and journalist, one of the pioneers of the modern roman policier. Gaboriau's first book of the genre, L'Affaire Lerouge (1865) introduced an amateur detective, who works logically. In the same book appeared also a young policeman named Lecoq, the hero in three of Gaboriau's detective novels. Lecoq was based on a real-life thief turned a police, François Vidocq (1775-1857), whose memoirs, Les Vrais Mémoires de Vidocq, mixed fiction and fact. In his own time Gaboriau gained a huge popularity, but when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Lecoq's international fame declined.

"When I examined the lawn," pursued M. Lecoq, "I found the parallel trails of the feet, but yet the grass was crushed over a rather wide space. How was that? Because it was the body, not of a man, but of a woman, which was dragged across the lawn - of a woman full-dressed, with heavy petticoats; that, in short, of the countess, and not of the count." (from The Mystery of Orcival, 1867)

Émile Gaboriau was born in the small town of Saujon, Charente-Martime, the son of Charles-Gabriel Gaboriau, a minor public official, and Marguerite-Stéphanie Gaboriau (née Magistrel). The family moved in 1833 to Saint-Pierre d'Oleron and four years later to La Rochelle, where Émile's sister, Amélie, was born. Gaboriau studied in Tarasconsur-Rhône at the community secondary school. He met Alphonse Millaud, whose uncle later published in his daily, Le Soleil, Gaboriau's novels in serialized form. After studies at a secondary school in Saumur, he entered the military service in 1851, serving in the Fifth Regiment as a second-class infantryman until the end of 1853. During this period he was sent with his regiment to Africa. Perhaps following his father's wishes, he apprenticed himself to a notary. However, Gaboriau was more interested in writing, and he published a volume of poetry that went unnoticed.

After settling in Paris in 1856, Gaboriau worked as a journalist, writing columns for the short-lived weekly journal La Vérité. He also covered the Italian campaign of Napoleon III. In 1860 Gaboriau became a secretary, assistant, and ghost writer to Paul Féval, a newspaper editor, dramatist, and author of criminal romances for feuilletons, serial leaflets of French daily newspapers. For his stories Gaboriau gathered material in police courts, morgues, and prisons. In the early 1860s Gaboriau published his first books, but it was not until L'Affaire Lerouge when he started to gain success. Over the years, he wrote a dozen or so novels. His works were translated into English, German, and Italian. In Japan Gaboriau enjoyed great popularity in Ruiko Kuriowa's translations. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 Gaboriau was in Paris. He married in 1873 Amélie Rogelet, who had been his companion of eleven years, but the marriage ended abruptly. Gaboriau died of pulmonary apoplexy on 28 September, 1873. His last detective character was Goudar. He saves an innocent man from a sentence of twenty years of hard labor in La Corde au cou (1873). The protagonist of the story is M. Galpin, a magistrate.

Lecoq model, Vidocq began as a criminal during the times of the French Revolution. He spent much time is prison, escaped, turned informed and eventually became Chef de la Sûrete, who boasted: "It always astonished people reporting a theft, for example, that, given some detail which seemed insignificant to them, I could reconstruct the entire crime, or say: 'That man is the criminal.'" Self-confidence was also one of Lecoq personal traits. In his youth Lecoq was forced to take menial jobs to finance his legal studies. There are shady spots in his past, but after joining the Sûrete he becomes its best detective, a master of disguise, and developer of the method of using plaster to make impressions of footprints.

"I know the goings on in your establishment. It isn't always to talk about dress that ladies stop at your place on returning from the Bois. You sell silks and satins no doubt; but you sell Madeira, and excellent cigarettes as well, and there are some who don't walk very straight on leaving your establishment, but smell suspiciously of tobacco and absinthe. Oh, yes, let us go to law, by all means! I shall have an advocate who will know how to explain the parts your customers pay, and who will reveal how, with your assistance, they obtain money from other sources than their husband's cash-box." (from Baron Trigault's Vengeance, 1870)

Gaboriau emphasized more the process of detection, gathering and interpreting of evidence, than the crime or the criminal. Moreover, he portrayed policemen as professionals, who are honest and sympathetic fellows. Many of his villains are aristocrats.

Gaboriau knew the work of Edgar Allan Poe, considering himself as a discipline of the American writer. Like Poe's hero the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, Lecoq was a sharp analyst, and he could astonish his companions with his skills. As a detective Lecoq matched Holmes in interpreting the meaning of small details. Lecoq has only to look at the snow-covered ground outside an inn to describe the man who passed by half an hour earlier – he is middle-aged, very tall, wears a shaggy overcoat and is married. This did not prevent Sherlock Holmes from describing his French rival as "a miserable bungler" in A Study in Scarlet (1886) "...he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill," Holmes mocked Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1868). Doyle himself was impressed his French colleague, writing in Memories and Adventures (1924), "Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the neat dovetailing of his plots."

Lecoq's companion in solving crimes, Pére Tabaret, formerly a pawnbroker's clerk, was the central character in L'Affaire Lerouge, in which Lecoq made only a cameo appearance. It was first published in installments in Le Pays in 1865, and then reprinted in Le Soleil in 1866. The story involved family secrets, illegitimate children, aristocrats, and murder. Pére Tabaret is nicknamed "Tirauclair" because of his habit of saying, "Il Faut que cela se tire au clair". However, it is Claire, the falsely accused fiancee, who intuitively understands the evidence more clearly. At the the old detective concludes, that "the evidence of one's senses proves nothing."

Lecoq has then the central role in Le crime d'Orcival (1867), in which the dead body of the charming Countess de Tremorel prompts a murder investigation, and Le dossier no. 113 (1867), a story of a bank robbery and false identities. In Monsieur Lecoq (1868) he still is the hero, but in Les Esclaves du Paris (1868) non-detective characters help the police. Following the model of Balzac's La Comédie humaine, Gaboriau also published novels examining contemporary manners and morals. His other works include historical studies and biographies of famous actresses.

For further reading: Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, and Their Prototypes by Friedrich Depken (1949); The Murder Book by Tage la Cour and Harald Mogensen (1971); The Life and Works of Émile Gaboriau by Nancy L. Curry (1979); And Always a Detective by R.F. Stewart (1980); Émile Gaboriau ou la naissance du roman policier by Roger Bonniot (1985); An Introduction to the Detective Story by LeRoy Panek (1987); 'Gaboriau, Émile' by E.F. Bleiler, in St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery, ed. by Jay P. Pederson (1996); 'Émile Gaboriau' by Walter Albert, in Mystery & Suspense Writers, vol. 1, ed. by Robin W. Winks (1998)

Selected works:

  • L'ancien Figaro, 1861
  • Les Cotillons célèbres, 1861 (2 vols.)
  • Le treizième Hussards, 1861
    - The 13th Hussars (New York, 1880)
  • Mariages d'aventure, 1862 (Monsieur J.-D. de Saint-Roch, ambassadeur matrimonial; Promesses de mariage)
    - Promise of Marriage (New York, J.W. Lovell Co., n.d.) / A Chance Marriage (New York: Printed for the translator, 1878) / Marriage at a Venture (New York: G. Munro, 1879) / Marriages of Adventure, etc. (G. H. Robinson & J. Birch: London, 1921)
  • Les Gens de Bureau, 1862
    - The Men of the Bureau (New York: G. Munro, 1880)
  • Les Comédiennes adorées, 1863
  • L'Affaire Lerouge, 1865
    - Widow Lerouge (Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1873) / The Lerouge Case (London: Federation Press, 1925) - Film: The Family Stain (1915), dir. by Will S. Davis, starring Dixie Compton, Frank Evans and Carl Gerard
  • Le crime d'Orcival, 1867
    - The Mystery of Orcival (New York: Holt & Williams, 1871) / Crime at Orcival (translated and abridged by M. Villiers, Harvill Press: London, 1952) - Film: (1914), prod. Société Française des Films Éclair, dir. by Gérard Bourgeois, starring Henry Roussel, Henri Gouget and Jules Mondos
  • Le dossier no. 113, 1867
    - File No. 113 (New York: J. W. Lovell Company, 1883) / Dossier No. 113 (New York: G. Munro’s Sons, 1875; tr. Nina Cooper, Waitsfield, Vt.: Distinction Press, 2010) / Warrant No. 113; or, the Mystery of the Steel Safe (tr. H. L. Williams, The Crown Publishing Co.: London, 1884) / The Blackmailers. Dossier no. 113 (tr. Ernest Tristan, 1907) / File 113 (translated and abridged by Marjorie Villiers, Harvill: London, 1953) - Films: File 113 (1915), starring Hector Sarno (as Lecoq), Louise Vale, Ivan Christy and Franklin Ritchie; Thou Shalt Not Steal (1917), dir by William Nigh,starring Virginia Pearson, Claire Whitney and Eric Mayne; File 113 (1933), dir. by Chester M. Franklin, starring Mary Nolan, Clara Kimball Young, George E. Stone, June Clyde, Lew Cody (Lecoq); two silent versions: 1915;
  • Les Esclaves de Paris, 1868 (Le Chantage; Le Secret de la Maison de Champdoce)
    - Slaves of Paris (New York: G. Munro, 1879) / Caught in the Net (New York: Street & Smith, 1891 / The Champdoce Mystery (New York: Street & Snith, 1891)
  • Monsieur Lecoq, 1868-1869 (2 vols., L'Enquête; L'Honneur du nom)
    - Monsieur Lecoq (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880) / The Detective’s Dilemma (translated by Sir. G. Campbell, Ward, Lock & Co.: London, 1888; New York: Street & Smith, 1891) / The Detective’s Triumph (New York: Street & Smith, 1891) / The Honor of the Name. Sequel to "Monsieur Lecoq" (New York, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1900) / Monsieur Lecoq (edited with an introd. by E. F. Bleiler, New York: Dover Publications, 1975) - Films: (1914), dir. by Maurice Tourneur, starring Harry Baur, Maurice de Féraudy and Charles Krauss; (1915), starring William Morris (as Monsieur Lecoq), Alphonse Ethier and Florence La Badie
  • La vie indernale, 1870 (2 vols., Pascal et Marguerite; Lia d'Argeles)
    - The Count's Secret (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1881) / The Count's Millions (New York, J. W. Lovell Company, 1888) / The Vengeance of Baron Trigault (tr. 1913) / Baron Trigault's Vengeance (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1913)
  • La Route de Berlin, 1870
  • La Clique dorée, 1871
    - The Clique of Gold (Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1874) / The Gilded Clique (New York: J. W. Lovell Company, 1884) - Film: The Evil Women Do (1916), dir. by Rupert Julian, starring Elsie Jane Wilson, Francelia Billington and Rupert Julian
  • Le journal d'un garde national mobilisé, 1971
  • La Dégringolade, 1872
    - The Downward Path (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1883) / Catastrophe (tr. 1885)
  • La Corde au cou 1873
    - Rope Around His Neck / Within an Inch of His Life (Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1874) / In Peril of His Life (New York: J. Lovell Company, 1883) / In Deadly Peril (tr. Sir G. Campbell, etc, Ward, Lock & Co.: London, 1888) - Hirttonuora hänen kaulassa 1-4 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Kansa, 1908-09) - Film: TV mini-series Der Strick um den Hals (1975), dir. Wilhelm Semmelroth, starring Erika Pluhar, Dieter Borsche and Ralf Schermuly
  • L'Argent des autres, 1874
    - Other People's Money (Boston: J.R. Osgood and Company, 1875; G. Routledge & Sons: London, 1888)
  • Le Petit Vieux des Batignolles, 1876
    - The Little Old Man of Batignolles: A Chapter from a Detective's Memoirs (New York: G. Munro, 1880) / Max's Marriage, or, The Viscount's Choice (New York: G. Munro, 1880) / A Beautiful Scourge (New York: F. Tousey, 1883) / A Thousand Francs Reward (New York: G. Munro, 1887) - Film: Le petit vieux des Batignolles (2009), in Au siècle de Maupassant: Contes et nouvelles du XIXème siècle, dir. Claude Chabrol, starring Pierre Arditi, Manuel Le Lièvre and Bernard Blancan
  • Une Disparition, 1876
  • Maudite maison, 1876
  • Casta vixit, 1876
  • Le capitaine Countanceau, 1878
    - Captain Contanceau (New York, 1880) / The Intrigues of a Prisoner: and Captain Coutanceau (London: Vizetelly, 1887) / Captain Contanceau, or, The Volunteers of 1792 (New York: G. Munro, 1889)
  • Les amours d'eune empoisonmeuse, 1881
    - The Intrigues of a Poisoner (1885) / The Marquise de Brinvilliers (Boston: Aldine Book Publishing Company, 1886) / Marie de Brinvilliers (tr. 1888) / An Adventuress of France G. H. Robinson & J. Birch: London, 1921) - Myrkynsekoittaja (Turku: Auralehden Osakeyhtiö, 1892)

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