Few Crime series, if any, have developed such mystique as the French Série Noire, launched 72 years ago by former surrealist Marcel Duhamel for the éditions Gallimard. While ostensibly dedicated to introducing american hardboiled writers, and to a significant extent their imitators from elsewhere, the series also published an increasing amount of French authors. A simple data viz shows the respective quantitative contribution of the twenty most prolific French writers in the Série Noire.
Saturday November 5th, 2016
Room, C-104, American University of Paris, Combes building,
6, rue du Colonel Combes. 75007 Paris
Imprimerie du Livre, Colombes, December 1951, Cover Art by Jef de Wulf. ( From Didier Poiret’s collections)
Troughout the late 1940s and early 1950s many French publishers saw a business opportunity in trying to replicate the success of Gallimard’s iconic Série Noire, launched in 1945 by former Surrealist Marcel Duhamel. The short-lived Collection noire franco-américaine, published by the Editions du Globe (and from 1952 by Editions du Trotteur) between 1950 and 1953, is one such venture. It is also one of the more striking as it invested in quality rather than merely aiming at supplying readers with a cheap ersatz.
The Collection Noire, like the Série Noire reflected the success of American noir films in post-war France, as well as French curiosity for American Hard-boiled novels. While the Série Noire was largely responsible for instilling a taste for American noir in France, the editions du Globe, with their Collection Noire, sought to capitalise on this emerging market. Unlike the Série Noire, who had by then already published American authors such as Chandler, Hammett, McCoy, Finnegan, Tracy, Cain (both Paul and James) and Latimer, the Collection Noire had no American talent to back up its “franco-américaine” credentials. Without exception, all authors were French. The pseudonyms they adopted were often meant to sound American, and their novels were supposed to recall, in both style and theme, not to mention through their violent and bleak outlook, the authors popularised by the Série Noire. The Collection Noire franco-americaine was not content to simply recall the Série Noire in name and for the colour scheme (namely the trademark black and yellow combination of the Série Noire). From 1951, it called upon some of the best illustrators in the trade (René Brantonne, Jef de Wulf, Mik, Salva, among others) and in doing so departed from the beautiful austerity of the imageless Série Noire covers.
While the Série Noire, at least until 1953, would show the utmost reluctance for publishing French authors, the Collection Noire featured established French writers, many of who had already published in the crime genre, and even won awards. One such author is André Helena, a true pioneer of the French noir genre and one its the best. Deemed unsuitable for publication in the Série Noire, his novel Les filles me perdront was published in 1953, the 20th volume in the Collection Noire series. Another is Joseph-Louis Sanciaume, born in 1903 and already the author of dozens of detective novels, who was awarded the 1947 Action Novel award for Sinistre turbin ! (Collection noire, Volume 2, 1952, Illustrated by Brantonne) .
Another, Claude Ferny (aka Pierre Marchand, b. 1906), had only published a handful of crime novels (in the Series La Cagoule), before joining the ranks of the Collection Noire, with whom he went on to publish several novels, more than any other author. He would subsequently go on to write some thirty crime novels elsewhere.
Tellingly, the Collection Noire published the first Frenchman to be published in the Série Noire, Serge-Marie Arcouët (b. 1916), using in both cases the same pseudo-Aamerican pseudonym, Terry Stewart. His novel C’est dans la poche was published in the Collection Noire in 1952, with an illustration by Salva.
The Collection Noire franco-américaine’s Cover Art can be admired at :
Oedipe roi, adapted by Didier Lamaison, Série noire, 2355, Gallimard, 2004
The Classical Tragedy is the matrix of the noir novel. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is the mother (!) of all tragedies. Gallimard’s Série Noire is the most iconic of the series devoted to the noir genre. It thus seemed almost unavoidable that the Série Noire would publish a novelisation of Œdipe roi as a roman noir. Not only is it the story of an investigation centred on a crime, and on an enigma, but the tragic plot of the devastating fall of a flawed hero, at the hands of both a malevolent fate and his blind ambition, has profound echoes in the noir genre. From his arrival in a city plagued by fear and division (like in Hammett’s “Poisonville”) to his social elevation, followed by the discovery that he is himself the culprit, to the intertwined dimensions of the collective (public unrest, civic duties, public office) and the private (anxieties, name, secret, genealogy, sex) such echoes abound. In all these situations (and to say nothing in particular about the role of transgression, violence, horror and mutilation) tragedy is revealed as a classic form of noir, just as noir appears as a modern expression of tragedy.
What might, however, sound slightly more surprising is that this novelisation, “adapted from the myth” has become, 25 centuries after the original creation, one of the best-sellers in the Série Noire. It has had various re-editions. One of them was published together with a new traduction of the original tragedy. Continue reading
The iconic Série Noire, created in Paris in the summer of 1945, by surrealist Marcel Duhamel in order to publish American hardboiled authors, celebrates this year its 70th Birthday. This is an occasion to look at the influence it had abroad, and beyond America, where it helped defining the noir genre. Continue reading
(Total number of titles with exclamation marks, by series)
The following pie charts represent the varied use of three types of punctuation signs in the titles of all the novels published in the three longest series of Crime Fiction in France : Le Masque (Librairie des Champs-Elysées), La Série Noire (Gallimard), and Spécial-Police (Fleuve Noir). While the amount of books published in all three series is roughly comparable (all three series have published more than 2000 books each), there are manifest discrepancies in their use of punctuation marks. Continue reading
The question this post tries to answer visually is twofold, and runs as follows. Is it possible, first, to visualise the denotations and connotations carried in the titles of crime Fiction series ? What are the words most frequently used ? And what are the emotions, atmospheres and tropes suggested already by the titles, on the threshold of the books ? What are the most common elements forming part of the contractual promise contained in a title ? Which ones seem to be recurring the most often? And second, do such patterns vary from series to series, reinforcing their distinctive identities? Can one, after listing the literal meanings of the words most frequently used in their titles, and the emotions associated with them, determine the series’ s profiles ? In practice, is it for example possible to compare the three longest French Crime Fictions series (totaling almost 7000 books between them), based only on the words most used in their titles ? Can one try to “profile” Crime series, on the basis of the terms through which the authors, and the series’ s editors choose to market the books ? And which are the words which are more apt at representing each of the three series? The three following pie charts reflect the frequencies of six heavily connoted and intuitively chosen words for each of the three series. Continue reading
Jonathan Latimer, Red Gardenias, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939
The Doubleday Crime Club was one of the most famous Crime Series. It started in 1928 and thus was an exact contemporary to European Series Le Masque (Librairie des Champs Elysées) and Giallo Mondadori . Like both Le Masque, in France and Giallo, in Italy, it went on to publish well over 2000 titles, over more than six decades. It found immediate success, thanks to the popularity of Edgar Wallace’s books, which it introduced in America and of which it sold 5 millions in its first year. The Series rank among the most beautifully designed editions of Crime Fiction hardbacks.