To see the full programme and book of abstracts, please visit the conference website
Forgotten Connections in Popular Culture
I. De Miguel
The Graduate Center – Bernard Baruch College
City University of New York (CUNY)
While Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, and in particular, Murders in the rue Morgue (1841) are considered the starting point for the detective genre (Baudou 159), Honoré de Balzac, has been seen as one of the genre’s initiators too. In 1841 also, Balzac published as a serial and without any fanfare in the newspaper Le Commerce his novel Une Ténébreuse Affaire. The narrative, set over a timespan running from 1803 to 1833, starts by depicting a sinister man cleaning his rifle in front of his terrorized wife and the arrival from Paris of two espions de police. Yet Balzac’s narratives are not structured around a crime leading to an investigation, and are, therefore, dismissed as crime novels by many scholars.
There are however many connections between some of Balzac’s novels, French serialized novels (le roman feuilleton) rooted in melodrama,TV series and crime fiction up to its current development by Virginie Despentes. Serialized narratives, with their episodes and their techniques of delayed solution, progressively influenced detective fiction and gave birth to series based on events linked to a main character, the literary forerunners of TV series.
As “Roman-feuilletons”, such as Balzac’s popular works of serialized fiction published in installments in 19th-century French periodicals started losing interest, the section “fait divers” (or miscellaneous contents, narrating news items, often in sensationalist terms) started attracting readers. This miscellany soon became a synonym for scandals, criminal cases, and court-related stories, which proved to be even more financially rewarding for the press than serialized fiction. It is not surprising, therefore, that the origins of the detective novel in France are usually linked to a specific daily periodical, “Le Petit Journal,” created in 1863 and specialized in “faits divers.” Émile Gaboriau, one of the journal’s chroniclers, is also traditionally considered the father of French detective fiction. His narratives combined two writing modes: sensationalistic journalistic chronicles and feuilletons, the serialized fiction prized at the time.
As highlighted by Jacques Dubois, during this period the romantic feuilletoninfluenced by the melodrama experienced a progressive shift towards the detective novel, keeping some common characteristics like:
• an innocent accused falsely and a mystery to solve
• a romantic and honorable hero, acting at the margins of official justice, that tries to bring back justice and harmony to the community
• the city appearing in the background, as a labyrinth, a metaphor for the complexity of urban society
• fueling suspense, the installments that ended with the phrase “la suite au prochain numéro” (“to be continued”) influence the rhythm of the narrative
We find here many traits inherited from melodramatic plays: the innocent victim, the honorable hero, a narrative fed by a secret (in detective novels the crime will replace the secret from the melodrama), and many digressions that will delay the novel’s solution. Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842) is a perfect example of this. These characteristics incorporated the progressive-regressive movement of two intertwined narratives: the story of the investigation and the story of the secret (later, the crime). Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge (1863) inspired Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), but Sherlock Holmes became much more famous than Gaboriau’s detectives, le père Tabaret and Monsieur Lecoq. In “Avènement et ascension du roman policier”, Jacques Baudou notes that mainly the later translation of Conan Doyle’s first three novels published in France by installments and later as books propagated the first wave of detective novels in France (159).
Yet, as Kálai Sándor observes in “Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire : Le cas de Gaboriau”, Gaboriau started a series of narratives that evolved into five separate novels published between 1863 and 1873 with a recurrent character, Monsieur Lecoq, and contributed to the founding of the genre. Sándor adds that the publicity for the feuilletons made by Moïse Millaud, owner of the Petit Journal, announcing and delaying Monsieur Lecoq’s novels also participated in the creation of the genre by creating the first series. This confirms Matthieu Letourneux’s assertion in Fictions à la chaîne (2017) that as mass culture started rationalizing its production, the 20th-century’s cultural industry fully understood the interest of considering novels according to a logic of cycles or series (291). Sándor mentions other writers of the time, such as Fortuné du Boisgobey (1821-1891), author of Une affaire mystérieuse and of Le Forçat colonel, both published in 1869, and Pierre Zaccone (1818-1895), author of Mémoires d’un commissaire de police (Dentu, 1875) whose detectives appeared in several novels without as much success as Monsieur Lecoq.
But before Gaboriau, Balzac had used narrative techniques that we can link to the modern detective novel. In Les Chouans (1829), Marie de Verneuil, an aristocratic ‘femme fatale’ sent by Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police, tries to seduce and have the anti-Republican hero captured. In L’Auberge Rouge (1831), like in many melodramas, and some of Agatha Christie’s novels, the murderer is confronted with the narration of the crime in front of an audience and is exposed by the expression on his face and his reaction. In Maître Cornelius (1832) there is a locked room mystery with a murderer that acts during his sleep. Based on true facts, Une ténébreuse affaire, seems, in terms of detective fiction, as the most modern of Balzac’s narratives. The two policemen, Corentin and Perayde, appear as predecessors of the couple of the detective and his sidekick. Corentin is the natural son of Fouché and is the exceptionally intelligent and dangerous policeman. Peyrade is more of a comic figure. Since Balzac was a great admirer of Fenimore Cooper, Corentin is compared to an Indian explorer with exceptional senses that help him see what the normal eye cannot see. The two spies try to capture the returned sons of a noble family. The noble émigrés are accused of kidnapping Malin, a Republican politician that bought their proprieties and land after the revolution, but at the end of the novel they are pardoned and only their guard is executed. The last chapter takes place thirty years later in a Parisian salon, where a high ranked official explains that Malin, the kidnapped politician had documents concerning a coup against Napoléon and that Fouché was also involved. In fact, Fouché organized the kidnapping of Malin. In this last chapter, the reader realizes that he has been terribly misguided by an unreliable narrator, and that the official narrative does not correspond to reality.
From the roman-feuilletons whose intrigue lasted forever and digressed in many ways, TV series took many features, including the recurring character appearing in the roman policier. In TV serials with chronological episodes there is suspense and a rhythm fueled by the fragmentation of the episodes.” On the other hand, TV series with self-contained episodes (such as Columbo) do not need to be watched chronologically since a character or a set of characters will experience a complete event in each episode (as it happened in Dupin’s, Sherlock Holmes’ or Arsène Lupin’s short stories).
Multimedia and transmedia development of serials is nothing new. In Le roman feuilleton français, Lise Quéfélec notes that the numerous theatrical adaptations of romans-feuilletons contributed to the diffusion of the genre. As André Maurois recalls in Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, from his start as a playwright, Dumas père excelled at writing suspenseful endings for the acts of his plays, a technique that he brilliantly used to keep interested the readers of his roman-feuilletons (173). As in TV series, Dumaswho had extensively studied Walter Scott’s novels, excelled on defining the characters in detail at the beginning of a novel. We can establish here a parallel with classical TV series, such as Columbo, since, as Stephane Benassi explains in Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, in a TV series the main character will be defined in the pilot episode with a very strong personality and will remain unchanged as long as the series will exist. Benassi adds that in Columbo there is a common universe throughout the series, but each episode represents a micro-narrative with a similar structure and rhythm, whereas in a serial, the common universe will form a cohesive macro-narrative that will allow many variations in terms of the evolution of the story, and a recurrent character. Benassi also notes that for the first adaptations of detective novels into TV series, TV channels’ high executives prioritized policies of neutrality and consensus, erasing political or ideological contents. For example, according to Umberto Eco, with a very French touch, both Arsène Lupin and Fantômas were very successful TV series in France but since Arsène Lupin showed a more conventional behavior, the series lasted longer in hopes to keep the support of TV advertisers. We find here a parallel along the evolution of the roman feuilleton, most ideological in its beginnings, and more politically correct later on (Eco in Benassi).
Surprisingly, melodrama as a genre resurfaces, in a different guise, among the profusion of judiciary TV series created in the US in the 1950s. In Television and the Legal System, Barbara Villez explains how the criminal process staged in these series connects with an investigation to uncover a mystery or a culprit, and to establish the truth. As I see it, the figure of the lawyer that gives birth to a recurring character, can easily be coupled to the figure of the aforementioned honorable righter of wrongs of the melodrama, since the TV drama lawyer untangles misunderstandings and defends an innocent victim unjustly accused, winning all the cases. As Villez explains, judiciary TV series grew out of the lack of confidence in justice that took place in the US in the 1950s, when the lawyer, a trusted figure at the time, became part of popular culture. According to Villez, with not only a recurrent character but also a repetitive narrative scheme with an innocent wrongly accused, the weekly series of Perry Mason showed the inner workings of justice and emphasized the figure of the lawyer-hero fighting the prosecutor (and I add, the villain in the melodrama). For Villez, such series had a very high impact and educated the audience not only on justice, but ultimately on democracy, since as they evolved, they started dealing with issues of social justice, and the characters became more complex, less idealized (and we could also say, as it often happens in contemporary crime novels). As Borges claimed in his 1978 conference “The Detective Story,” (El cuento policial) the modern detective story also engendered a specific kind of reader that would no longer read a narrative without a hint of suspicion and incredulity. By exposing hidden truths and questioning the notion of what is perceived as “reality,” works of fiction like the North American legal series mentioned by Villez, but also Balzac’s and many detective novels up to Virginie Despentes contemporary rewriting of the genre, uncover the hiatus between official discourses and the truth. These works of fiction contribute, in fact, to develop critical thinking.
A fan of TV series, the French writer Virginie Despentes has achieved great success following the controversies of the famous adaptation of her first novel, Baise-moi, published in 1994 as the first volume in a paperback series (Poche Revolver) devoted to Crime Fiction by publisher Florent Massot. Her more recent trilogy Vernon Subutex (2016-2018) has been celebrated as a modern roman-feuilleton. Although Vernon Subutex has not been published as a crime series, the novel is presented by the editor as a ‘fake crime novel’ with short chapters that take the form of each character’s flow of consciousness and an intricate web of characters, of both marginal and conventional status. The narrative takes place around two suicides or eventual crimes, and La Hyène the detective from Apocalypse bébé (2010) also appears in the novel. Despentes treats the chapters of the first volume as if they were episodes, slowing down the rhythm of the main narrative to introduce Vernon’s acquaintances, and narrate his wanderings through the voices of these secondary characters. Like in most recent American series, the set of characters displays an uncommon level of diversity for high-brow French literature, including a Tunisian non-religious professor and his devout daughter, rock musicians, a rich trader, a black singer, pornstars, and transgender characters. This group of characters described with details in the first chapters allows Despentes to consider issues from different angles and to resist dominant mainstream heteronormative representations (like Villez suggested for the series, Villez 26). In the second and third volume, the group starts acting as a collective hero, as it happens in many TV series (Villez first sees this happen in Hill Street Blues). Vernon Subutex had a record store in Paris and lost it with the arrival of virtual music platforms. Whereas, the first volume gives the setting for the Parisian identities and mentalities that once surrounded Vernon, and how they have changed, the second one does not uncover the truth about the two eventual crimes but it highlights that for many of the characters an irremediable sense of loss came along with the new economic model, and what it destroyed since the 1980’s. Despentes’s narrative seems to assert that “human beings” stopped being at the center of how society considers things, that money took over the system, displacing the most vulnerable, not giving them a place in society, and destroying all sense of community. The perception of this latter collective crime seems to be what brings all this disparate group of characters together. According to François Jost, the legitimate interest and the success of many American series revolves around several criteria. I would emphasize three of them. One is the fact that the main hero becomes a familiar character with qualities but also flaws (Jost refers to Norton Frye’s ‘low mimetic mode” with heroes and environments similar to the audience’s, and I would note that this also happened in detective novels). The second one is the use of common transnational tropes such as conspiracy or secrecy, the rejection of the elites, and exposing manipulations of public opinion. And the third is the appearance of the collective hero. We can see these three criteria through the voices conveyed by Vernon Subutex’s group of characters and the social analysis Despentes includes in the novel. Despentes seems to think, as did Balzac for the post-revolutionary period, that our contemporary world is increasingly unreadable. Through his wanderings, the character of Vernon socializes with crowds from both the lowest strata and the richest milieus of French society (like another famous French detective, Arsène Lupin). Despentes reminds French society that there was a time when the working class felt as a collective, not as a series of individuals in competition, and provides an uncommonly rich and comprehensive picture of social, economic, and political realities. Despentes also claims her attachment to popular culture by using noir fiction, along with her admitted influences of punk culture, and TV series. Like Balzac does in Une Ténébreuse Affaire, Despentes alludes to the conflict opposing how facts were officially narrated and what actually happened as neoliberalism took over the economy in the 80’s and the 90’s. Despentes exposes and resists institutional violence by decoding the past, providing a better understanding of the present and of the functioning of power.
As we can see, from their very early forms, detective novels have contributed to promote critical thinking and political awareness, furthering Villez’s claim that popular culture plays an important role in shaping the public’s perceptions of law, justice, and ultimately democracy.
would like to dedicate this research to Dr. Julia Przybos, Professor of French at
the Graduate Center, New York and author of Entreprise
mélodramatique, Paris: Corti, 1987.
Baudou, Jacques. « Avènement et ascension du roman policier », Temps Noir 18, Paris : Joseph K., 2015 : 159-173.
Benassi, Stéphane, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001.
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Detective Story,” 1978 in Eisenzweig,Uri.Autopsies du roman policier, Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1983.
Dubois, Jacques. « Naissance du récit policier ». Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 60, 1985, 47-55.
Eco, Umberto. Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics, in Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994.
Eco, Umberto. De superman au surhomme, Paris : Grasset, 1993.
Jost, François, De quoi les séries américaines sont-elles le symptôme ? Paris : CNRS, 2011, Print.
Letourneux, Matthieu. Fictions à la chaine : Littératures sérielles et culture médiatique, Paris: Seuil, 2017.
Maurois, André. Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, Paris: Hachette, 1966.
Frye, Norton (in Jost), Anatomie de la critique, Paris : Gallimard, 1969.
From Dallas to True Detective– podcast franceculture
Pellini, Pierluigi. Un Caso tenebroso, Palermo: Sellerio, 1996, 21.
Quéffélec, Lise. Le roman feuilleton français,1989. Print.
Kálai, Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
Villez, Barbara. Television and the Legal System, London: Routledge, 2009.
Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance
du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 As noted by Maurice Serval, « Autour d’un roman de Balzac : Une ténébreuse affaire », in Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France No. 4 (1922), pp. 452-483, « Elle ne trouva pour l’accueillir, que le rez-de chaussée d’un journal politique, « Le Commerce », et aucun critique n’en parla ».
 See Pellini in Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 Kálai Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
 Mentioned by Umberto Eco in “Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics”, Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994, 22-23.
 See Stéphane Benassi, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001, p. 104 and p. 107-108.
 Barbara Villez (Université Paris 8), « Que nous apprennent les séries sur le système judiciaire ? » conférence du 20 février 2015 au Forum des Images (Paris) https://www.forumdesimages.fr/app_beta.php/les-programmes/toutes-les-rencontres/cours-de-cinema-que-nous-apprennent-les-series-sur-le-systeme-judiciaire-par-barbara-villez
7th Annual Conference of the International Crime Fiction Association, in association with Bath Spa University
Captivating Criminality 7: Crime Fiction: Memory, History and Revaluation
2-4th July 2020
Newton Park campus, Bath Spa University, Bath UK.
Call for Papers
The Captivating Criminality Network is delighted to announce its seventh conference, which will be held in Bath, UK. Building upon and developing ideas and themes from the previous six successful conferences, Memory, History and Revaluation, will examine the ways in which Crime Fiction as a genre necessarily incorporates elements of the past – the past in general and its own past, both in terms of its own generic developments and also in respect of true crime and historical events. The CfP will thus offer opportunities for delegates to engage in discussions that are relevant to both past and present crime writing.
As Tzvetan Todorov argued in “The Typology of Detective Fiction,” crime fiction in many of its various sub-forms has a special relationship with the past. In classic forms of detective fiction, the central event around which the narrative is organized – the murder – occurs in pre-narrated time, and the actual narrative of the investigation is little more than a form of narrative archaeology, an excavation of a mysterious past event than is only accessible through reconstruction in the present. But this relationship between crime fiction and the past goes beyond narrative structure. The central characters of crime writing – its investigative figures – and frequently represented as haunted by their memories, living out their lives in the shadow of past traumas. More broadly, crime writing is frequently described as exhibiting a nostalgic orientation towards the past, and this longing for the restoration of an imagined prelapsarian Golden Age is part of the reason it has been association with social and political conservatism. On the other hand, there is a strong tradition of radical crime fiction that looks to the past not for comfort and stability, but in order to challenge historical myths and collective memories of unity, order, and security. Val McDermid argues that ‘…crime is a good vehicle for looking at society in general because the nature of the crime novel means that you draw on a wide group of social possibilities.’ Thus, crime fiction has been used to challenge, subvert and interrogate the legal and cultural status quo. Crime fiction’s relationship with the past is thus inherently complex, and represents a fascinating, and underexplored, focus for critical work.
Papers presented at Captivating Criminality 7 will thus examine changing notions of criminality, punishment, deviance and policing, drawing on the multiple threads that have fed into the genre since its inception. Speakers are invited to embrace interdisciplinarity, exploring the crossing of forms and themes, and to investigate and challenge claims that Crime Fiction is a fixed genre. Abstracts dealing with crime fiction past and present, true crime narratives, television and film studies, and other forms of new media such as blogs, computer games, websites and podcasts are welcome, as are papers adopting a range of theoretical, sociological and historical approaches.
Topics may include but are not restricted to:
· True Crime
· Gender and the Past
· Crime Fiction in the age of #me too
· Crime Fiction from traumatised nations
· Crime Fiction and Landscape
· Revisionist Crime Fiction
· Crime Fiction and contemporary debates
· Crime Reports and the Press
· Real and Imagined Deviance
· Adaptation and Interpretation
· Crime Fiction and Form
· Generic Crossings
· Crime and Gothic
· The Detective, Then and Now
· The Anti-Hero
· Geographies of Crime
· Real and Symbolic Boundaries
· Ethnicity and Cultural Diversity
· The Ideology of Law and Order: Tradition and Innovation
· Gender and Crime
· Women and Crime: Victims and Perpetrators
· Crime and Queer Theory
· Film Adaptations
· TV series
· The Media and Detection
· Sociology of Crime
· The Psychological
· Early Forms of Crime Writing
· Victorian Crime Fiction
· The Golden Age
· Hardboiled Fiction
· Contemporary Crime Fiction
· Postcolonial Crime and Detection
Please send 200 word proposals to Professor Fiona Peters, Dr Ruth Heholt and Dr Eric Sandberg, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15th February 2020.
The abstract should include your name, email address, and affiliation, as well as the title of your paper. Please feel free to submit abstracts presenting work in progress as well as completed projects. Postgraduate students are welcome. Papers will be a maximum of 20 minutes in length. Proposals for suggested panels are also welcome.
Andrea Camilleri has died today, in Rome, aged 93. True internationalist and international crime fiction icon, world-famous for his charismatic detective, Sicilian Commissario Salvo Montalbano, but also known for his outspoken political consciousness, Camilleri is one of the most influential authors of crime fiction in Europe. Acknowledging inspirations such as Simenon, Sciascia and, of course, Montalbán, and with his own novels widely translated and adapted across the continent and beyond, he has come to represent the quintessential European Author. Here are a few obituaries from different European countries paying homage to his international legacy, selected from the great many published this morning all over the world.
The Centre Aixois d’Etudes Romanes (Aix-Marseille University) calls for papers for its 2nd conference on Caribbean Crime Fiction in Spanish, French and English. The conference will take place on May 28 & 29, 2020, in Aix-en-Provence.
All submissions must be received by 30 September 2019.
Learn more, including how to submit your paper here , or contact the organisers :
Nelly Rajaonarivelo : email@example.com
Dante Barrientos Tecún : firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the full call (and some impressive art), click here
Belfast-born author Henrietta McKervey will be reading at the Delicate Infractions Conference this week end. Her third novel, Violet Hill, was published by Hachette Ireland in 2018.
Here is a taster:
December 1918: Post-War London is grieving, the city a wound whose dressing was taken off too soon. Violet Hill, the only female private detective in the city, is hired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s business manager to uncover spiritual trickery he believes is deceiving his employer.
January 2018: Susanna is a super-recogniser, one of an elite Met Police team of officers with extraordinary powers for facial recognition. When a freak injury causes her unusual ability to suddenly disappear, a dangerous criminal whom she no longer recognises decides to close in.
More information on the conference can be found here
The programme is available here :
Today in Bucharest is the opening of the Mysteries of Bucharest Festival (Misterele Bucureștiului, June 7 to 9, 2019). This Festival, which is part of the 2019 Romania – France season (Sezonului România – Franța 2019), is organised for the first time this year. It is a partnership between the National Museum of Romanian Literature, the Quais du Polar Festival (Lyons), the French Institute of Romania and the Theater of Romanian Playwrights. Its title pays homage to Ioan M. Bujoreanu’s pioneering (and sole) novel Mistere din Bucureşti, published in two volumes (1862 and 1864), which is generally considered as the first crime fiction novel written in Romanian. Bujoreanu himself was paying homage to the seminal Mysteries of Paris, by Eugène Sue (Les Mystères de Paris), which had appeared as a 90 installments serial in Le Journal des Débats, between June 1842 and October 1843.
Eugène Sue’s success abroad offered a blueprint for the circulation of crime novels (lato sensu) in Europe from the middle of the 19th century. Sue’s Model circulated in fact twice. It was indeed disseminated both through numerous translations of his novel, Les Mystères de Paris, which proliferated throughout Europe, and through the imitation and adaptation of the narrative frame of Urban Mysteries to other European Capital Cities. Los Misteríos de Madrid (Juan Martínez Villergas,1844), The Mysteries of London (G. W. H. Reynolds, 1844-1848), Les Mystères de Bruxelles (Édouard Suau de Varennes, 1844-1846), Die Geheimnisse von Berlin (N.N., 1844) followed in quick succession, setting a European trend (I Misteri di Roma Contemporanea (B. Del Vecchio, 1851-53); Os Mistérios de Lisboa (Camilo Castelo Branco, 1854), which would also disseminate elsewhere. The phenomenon exported to America too, of course, with notably The Mysteries and Miseries of New York (Ned Buntline, 1848)
The Mysteries of Bucharest festival highlights the interconnection between European Popular Cultures. It shows how Crime Fiction speak to Europeans of different languages, cultures, religions and origins. It thus contributes to a better knowledge of cultural Europeanisation and to a renewal of cultural narratives of Europe, beyond national borders, as promoted by the Horizon 2020 Call ” Understanding Europe – Promoting the European public and cultural space” (H2020-SC6-CULT-COOP-2016-2017). It will also give an opportunity to showcase research carried out in the H 2020 funded DETECt project – Detecting Transcultural Identity in European Popular Crime Narratives – which links Today’s crime fiction culture with European cultural heritage.
The full programme of the festival is here
 For more details and examples (in French) see : Les Mystères urbains, directed by Filippos Katsanos, Marie-Ève Thérenty & Helle Waahlberg: http://www.medias19.org/index.php?id=630 and Matthieu Letourneux, “Les ” mystères urbains ”, expression d’une modernité énigmatique.” Alla ricerca delle radici popolari della cultura europea, Looking for the Roots of European Popular Culture, Dec 2009, Bologne, Italie. ffhal-00645212 https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00645212/document
Today see’s the long-awaited publication of Henry Blanc’s 1973 comic strips adaptation of Berceuse pour Bérurier, the 1960 San-Antonio novel. Originally published in the French daily newspaper France Soir, whose circulation was, back then, well over one million copies a day (1 300 000, in 1963) Henry Blanc’s strips appear now, some 46 years later, for the first time as a volume, in a limited edition, restricted to 160 copies (numbered by hand from 1 to 160), thanks to a non-business entity “Les Amis de San-Antonio”. This collector’s item has been carefully and admirably curated by Thierry Gautier, Didier Poiret and Jean-François Pribile, founding and long-serving members of said entity, dedicated to furthering the knowledge of San-Antonio’s work.
The comparison of figures and places suggests a widening gap between a publishing industry of which San-Antonio was once, around the middle of the past century a stalwart, a dependable source of massive income, but which has now moved on, and the world of erudite and nostalgic readers, with their necessary and irreplaceable contribution. Once a big business, and by all accounts a hard-nosed one at that, San-Antonio has now become mostly a labor of love. While San-Antonio’s literature, which found in mass-market circulation its raison d’être, always depended on its readers for its very existence, it now seems that San-Antonio’s survival from oblivion, and the question of his legacy hinges more than ever on the dedication of readers taking over their free time (or devoting their retirement) to locate and browse through increasingly fragile archives to bridge gaps in knowledge, piecing together traces left in media long discarded and retracing a history based on material artifacts now almost forgotten, or whose last remains, like in this case, are archived in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Indeed, Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s edition, with its detailed, erudite and rewarding introduction and the wealth of original documents it reproduces in its appendices, goes much beyond a tribute to the adaption of San-Antonio as comics, or to Blanc’s skills as an illustrator, or Robert Mallard ‘s (author of the texts under the strips) as a storyteller. It captures a moment of French cultural history, re-inscribing San-Antonio within a history of the successive forms and media it borrowed to reach its millions of readers over an entire era. As such, this edition continues to illustrate the productivity of the “cultural turn” advocated a decade ago (Jeannerod, San-Antonio et son double, PUF, 2010 ; Rullier, Gautier, Jeannerod & Lagorgette, San-Antonio et la culture française, PUS, 2010). Shifting away from the sole preserves of linguisitics and literary studies, cultural studies approaches help apprehending the multi-faceted and transmedia dimension of San-Antonio production, and articulating them with existing social conditions, representations, ideologies and industrial structures.
San-Antonio might nowadays appear as a relic from a past increasingly inscrutable and difficult to comprehend. Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s tireless work in finding, selecting, reproducing and contextualising the strips (Berceuse pour Bérurier, the story published today, is merely one of twenty novels which served as a basis for the strips, published continuously between September 10, 1963 and March 12, 1975, amounting to a respectable total of 3536) sheds light into a moment of press and popular publishing industry which, at that stage was hard for anyone living in France to ignore, but which has slipped off almost everybody’s radar since.
From the narrower point of view of San-Antonio’s commercial success, it is easy to point out the coincidence between the start of the France Soir publication in 1963 and the recognition of the “San-Antonio phenomenon” in the following years. His 1964 book L’Histoire de France vue par San-Antonio was a best seller with 350 000 copies sold that year and became his first to sell over a million copies; in 1965 Robert Escarpit dedicated his seminar in the University of Bordeaux to the first Conference on San-Antonio. The continuous numbering of the 3536 strips re-frames the adventures of San-Antonio and gives a new dimension to their serial nature, merging the series of novels in an uninterrupted duration, emphasizing a sense of timelessness. It is now possible, based on Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s precise research of concordances between the novels and the strips ( pp. 13-14) to establish the following correspondence between the novels (implicitly) adapted and the strips published in France Soir under a solely generic title (as “Les Enquêtes du commissaire San-Antonio” and then (from 1970, after strip 2210) “Les Enquêtes de San Antonio” ). Only the last three novels in the list below were adapted under their title:
France Soir 1963/1964 Du sirop pour les guêpes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964 Du brut pour les brutes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964/1965 Entre la vie et la morgue, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1964/1965 De « A » jusqu’à « Z », Fleuve Noir, 1961
France Soir 1965/1966 Bérurier au sérail, Fleuve Noir, 1964
France Soir 1966 Des gueules d’enterrement, Fleuve Noir, 1957
France Soir 1966/1967 San-Antonio Polka, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1967 Messieurs les Hommes, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1967/1968 On t’enverra du monde, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1968 Du mouron à se faire, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1968/1969 Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1969/1970 Le loup habillé en grand-mère, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1970 Descendez-le à la prochaine, Fleuve Noir, 1953
France Soir 1970/ 1971 Fais gaffe à tes os, Fleuve Noir, 1956
France Soir 1971/ 1972 Viva Bertaga, Fleuve Noir, 1968
France Soir 1972/ 1973 En long, en large et en travers, Fleuve Noir, 1958
France Soir 1973 Emballage cadeau, Fleuve Noir, 1972
France Soir 1973 Berceuse pour Bérurier, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1973/1974 Ça ne s’invente pas, Fleuve Noir, 1973
France Soir 1974/1975 Sérénade pour une souris défunte, Fleuve Noir, 1954
Henry Blanc, San-Antonio, Berceuse pour Bérurier, Édition établie et présentée
par Thierry Gautier, Jean-François Pribile et Didier Poiret, Gardanne, Les Amis de San-Antonio, 2019
Interview with Ellen Dunne
[Dominique Jeannerod] What made you decide to set your first novel (Wie Du mir, 2011) in Belfast ?
[Ellen Dunne] I became interested in the Northern Irish Conflict aged 17, when I watched the movie “In the Name of the Father” by Jim Sheridan, in early 1994. The story of the Guildford Four upset me so much, I wanted to understand the real background. So I endlessly read articles and books and watched TV documentaries. I always have been writing, and after a while, a story formed in my head, and intuitively I chose Belfast as location.
How would you introduce your protagonist, Patsy Logan? Why does she work in Munich ?
Patsy Logan is Irish-German, lives in Munich but has an Irish father with whom she spent many summers in Dublin. Her stories are set in Munich and also in Dublin. Why? I have been living in Dublin for 13 years and lived in Munich for a year, and to me, the two cities have almost nothing in common, apart their size. Munich is a very affluent, balanced, well-groomed and orderly city, with often grumpy inhabitants. To me, Dublin is much rougher, with a lot more social differences (and thus problems) and a somewhat chaotic setup. A contrast that mirrors Patsys inner conflict and intrigued me.
How would you describe the genre of Crime Fiction to which your novels belong? And do you see an evolution between the first and the most recent ones?
I always was more interested in characters and their motifs than in plot twists. I guess it is fair to say that my stories are mixtures between crime and contemporary literature.
Who are the top ten main International Crime Fiction writers in your personal Pantheon?
I read mainly British/Irish as well as German speaking crime writers, so here goes, without a particular ranking: English speaking: Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Kate Atkinson, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, Eoin McNamee German speaking: Simone Buchholz, Friedrich Ani, Oliver Bottini, Jan Costin Wagner
How did you discover Irish Crime Fiction?
Initially, through my interest in the Northern Irish conflict.
Who are the Irish Crime authors who might have influenced you?
I hope I developed my own voice by now, but I guess it’s hard to not be influenced by writers you enjoy. For example, I adore Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series and also Tana French’s novels, but also like Stuart Neville’s thrillers. Also enjoyed Eoin McNamees Resurrection Man and The Ultras a lot. As I do read a lot of non-crime fiction, it is a short (but growing) list, sorry.
Had you heard of them before settling in Dublin?
Eoin McNamee, yes – all the rest I only found out about while living here.
Have you contacts with other writers of Irish Crime Fiction?
Much less than I would want to; mainly due to the fact that I write in German.
What is Irish Crime Fiction all about, according to you? And Northern Irish Noir, as you arguably write both?
I haven’t read enough of Irish Crime fiction to comprehensively comment on this. Coming from abroad, to me there is this two-faced quality to Ireland, with so many friendly and easy-going people, which makes its social problems and organised crime underbelly all the more jarring – and a good source for stories. There a lots of stories about the crisis and its fallout still. And for Northern Ireland especially the conflict, which writers only in recent years start to really explore. I am excited to see that it gets more attention internationally, too.
Could you tell us a bit about Eire Verlag? Is there a market for Irish Crime Fiction abroad?
Eire Verlag is a very small German press; the publisher has a personal interest in Ireland and we got in touch over private connections.
In general, there is definitely a market for Irish Crime fiction in the German speaking market. Many writers are translated into German, there is a big interest in Ireland as a country.
Do you go to Crime Festivals and meet many authors?
I do attend literary and crime writing festivals regularly. It is a great way to get in touch with authors and network. It is important to network among writers, it’s a lonely job.
Did you write Cigarette Break – A Short Belfast Story directly in English?
There was a German version first, so the English version was between a rewrite and a translation. I did it all myself, with an Irish proofreader to check.
What made you decide to set this story in Belfast (again)? And did you feel the need for a prequel to your first novel?
As it is not a real prequel but a short story that gives background to my first novel, Belfast had to be the logical location. I wrote the story as part of a World Book Day promotion.
To what extent was the timeline important? Will there be other Belfast or Troubles novels?
There is nothing planned yet, but who knows? I have never stopped being interested in the topic, and the recent tragic events around Lyra McKee’s murder show that the Troubles still effect the whole island.
How much reading/documentation does it take you to write novels set during the Troubles?
I’d say a lot, it is a complex set-up. It’s hard to tell for me though, as I first got interested in the topic and the story developed naturally out of it. So I guess I did much more “research” than necessary.
Who are you readers? Where do you meet them? Do you interact with them online? Do they comment on your stories?
My readers are usually people that read a lot and are ready for “something different”; often not the typical crime readers. I meet them often online in book groups or at book fairs, or they write to me after reading the book and tell me how they liked it. Mostly these interactions are great, I enjoy them.
What are the languages in which your books are translated?
I have one of them translated in English, “The Lost Son”
What are the four Crime Fiction novels you recommend to your friends?
Available in English:
The Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty
The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
The Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz
Light in a dark house by Jan Costin Wagner
Is there any question you would have liked me to ask? Sorry for not mentioning it…. Please do now…
This was a very comprehensive interview, it was fun. Thank you!
Thank you, and looking forward to your next book! To be followed