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||Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941)|
French author and journalist, known as the creator of Arsène Lupin, master of disguises, the French gentleman-thief turned detective. Leblanc was a very prolific writer – he published over 60 novels and short stories. His famous hero appeared first time in the crime story 'L'arrestation d'Arsène Lupin,' which was written for periodical Je sais tout in 1905. Lupin was a forerunner of Simon Templar (the Saint) and other Robin Hoods of modern crime.
"He worked at his profession for a living, but also for his amusement. He gave the impression of a dramatist who thoroughly enjoys his own plays and who stands in the wings laughing heartily at the comic dialogue and diverting situations which he himself has invented" (from Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief, 1907)
Maurice Marie Émile Leblanc was born in Rouen into a wealthy and cultured family. He was the second child of Emile Leblanc, who was of Italian ancestry, and Blance Brohy; she died in 1885. At the age of four the young Maurice was saved from a burning house. When the war of 1870 broke out, Maurice was six. After education at the lycée Corneille in Rouen, in Germany (Berlin) and Italy, he worked for the family firm. Leblanc then studied law in Paris but abandoned business career to become a pulp crime writer and police reporter for French periodicals and newspapers, such as Figaro, Gil Blas, and Echo de Paris. Une femme (1893), Leblanc's first novel, enjoyed only a moderate success. In 1899 Leblanc married Marie-Ernestine Lalanne; they divorced in 1895. With his second wife, Margaret, he spent many summers in Gueures, in the Haute-Normandie region in northern France.
Leblanc's early fiction showed the influence of Gustave Flaubert, who was the brother of the family doctor, and Guy de Maupassant. He had long career as a writer for periodicals, but it was not until the creation of Arsène Lupin, when he gained in his forties international fame, equaled only by that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Lupin, the ultimate gentleman criminal, kept Leblanc busy for the next twenty-five years. Bound to his own creation, Leblanc once said, that "Lupin follows me everywhere. He is not my shadow. I am his shadow."
Lupin's character was born by an accidental assignment from Pierre Laffitte, the publisher of a new journal, Je Sais Tout, which was modelled on the Strand, at that time an avant-garde magazine. Laffitte commissioned Leblanc to write a story with a Holmes or Raffles type hero. Instead, Leblanc created a character which was the opposite of both of them – a carefree rogue adventurer after the model of Ponson de Terrail's Rocambole (1866). Leblanc himself was hailed as "the French Conan Doyle" in advertisements. Leblanc's hero met the great rival, Sherlock Holmes in Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès (1908) and outwitted the English master detective.
Around the time of Lupin's appearance, the French press reported of a new phenomena, "the gentleman burglar". Soon it was taken for granted that there is a new type of criminal who wore a frock-coat, top hat, white gloves, monocle, and cane. However, these were not Lupin everyday garments. First Leblanc called his hero Arsène Lopin, after a Parisian councilor, but when the real Lopin protested, he changed the name. 'L'arrestation d'Arsène Lupin' appeared in English in The Exploits of Arsene Lupin (1909). Alexander Louis Teixeira de Mattos, who translated Leblanc's works into English, was a multilingual talent, who translated also from the Danish, Dutch, German, West Flemish.
Leblanc became in 1912 a member of the French Legion of Honour. Most of the year he lived in Passy, writing in his garden. Summers he spent on the Normandy coast, near the medieval port of Honfleur, favored also by such painters as Courbet and Renoir. Leblanc's sister, the singer and actress Georgette Leblanc, was the companion of the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck, with whom she lived for 23 years. From 1923 she was the companion of Margaret Anderson, they both were disciples of occultist George Gurdjieff. Maurice Leblanc died on November 6, 1941, in Perpignan, in southern France near the Spanish border, where he had fled with his family to escape the German occupation.
Because Lupin had been arrested in the introductory story, the second told about his time in prison, and in the third he escaped. The first nine adventures were collected in Arsène Lupin, gentleman-cambrioleur (1907), which included a parody of Holmes, 'Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late'. Due to threatening letters from Conan Doyle's lawyers, Leblanc called Lupin's adversary Herlock Sholmes in the following tales published in Je Sais Tout. Most of Holmes' adventures had been published in France between 1902 and 1907. Conan Doyle was also aware of Lupin's existence, although there is no reference to him in Doyle's stories.
Lupin is a master of disguise, whose criminal activities have more or less "unselfish" grounds. Although he operates mostly outside the law, he is brave and chivalrious. If he steals a painting, it is so that it may be genuinely appreciated. Lupin amuses himself making fools of the police. His opponent is the inspector Ganimard from the Sûrete. Later during his underworld career Lupin worked more in consort with the police, and in Les Dents du tigre (1921) he helped the Police Prefect Desmalions to capture a murderer. Leblanc himself served as a consultant on the staff of the Paris Prefect of Police, and this shift reflected in his plots. Among the best novels are 813 (1910), in which Lupin, accused of murder, heads the police investigation to clear himself by finding the true killer of a diamond king. In L'Aiguille creuse (1910) a bright lycée student manages to solve the riddle of Lupin and sees his treasure chamber. Lupin falls in love with a beautiful girl, promising to give up his life of crime, but she is shot by Holmes. La Comtesse de Cagliostro (1924) told about Lupin at the age of twenty, when his name was Raoul d'Andrèsy. He loves wine, beautiful women, and diamonds, but after meeting the intriguing Countess Cagliostro his life is changed.
Arsène Lupin's adventures have been basis for several movies and television series and he has featured in theatre productions. André Brulé, who played Lupin on the stage beginning from Arsène Lupin (1908), continued in the role until his death in 1953. Leblanc co-wrote this dramatization with Francis de Croisset, a popular playwright. The play opened at le Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris with great success. In Japan the gentleman burglar has inspired a series about Lupin's grandson, Lupin III. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre admired Arsène Lupin, defining him in Les Mots as "Cyrano of the Underworld" due to his Herculean strength, his shrewd courage, and his typically French intelligence. T.S. Eliot remarked of Lupin, "I used to read him, but I have now graduated Inspector Maigret." (see Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief, introduction by Michael Sims, 2007)
For further reading: World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 2, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andew C. Kimmens (1996); Maurice Leblanc, Arsène Lupin malgré lui by Jacques Derouard (1989); Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985); Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story by H. Haycraft (1941) - "He was a quiet, friendly man with a large moustache who liked to play chess and to write in his glass-enclosed study, designed to catch every ray of natural light." (from World Authors, 1900-1950, vol. 2, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmes, 1996) - Films: The Gentleman Burglar (1908) by Edwin S. Porter (remade in 1911 under the title Fate); Arsène Lupin contra Sherlock Holmes (1910-1911), starring Paul Otto; Arsène Lupin Ende (1911); Arsène Lupin (1916), starring Gerald Ames; Arsène Lupin (1917), starring Earle Williams; The Teeth of the Tiger (1919); 813 (1920); Arsène Lupin's Utolso Kalandja (1921) by Paul Fejos; Arsène Lupin (1932), dir. by Jack Conway, starring John Barrymore; Arsène Lupin détective (1937), dir. by Henri Diamant-Berger, starring Jules Berry; Arsène Lupin Returns (1938), dir. by George Fitzmaurice, starring Melvyn Douglas; Enter Arsène Lupin (1944), dir. by Ford Beebe, starring Charles Korvin; Les aventures d'Arsène Lupin (1956), dir. by Jacques Becker, starring Robert Lamoureux; Signé: Arsène Lupin (1959), dir. by Yves Robert, starring Robert Lamoureux; Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin (1962), dir. by Edouard Molinaro, starring Jean-Claude Brialy; Arsène Lupin (1970-71), French-Swedish television series; Rupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro (1979), dir. by Hayao Miyazaki; Arsène Lupin (2004), dir. by Jean-Paul Salomé
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