Three Feuilletonistes: Paul Féval, Émile Gaboriau, and Fortuné du Boisgobey

The question of the identity of the first detective story, of who really wrote it, and the date of its publication again appeared on the Internet with an essay by Paul Collins in a New York Times Book Review on January 7, 2011,[1] in which he revealed the identity of the author of The Notting Hill Mystery (1862/1863), sometimes said to be the first detective story. The discussion generated by his essay added to the list of writers who might have created the first real detective story. However, the modern detective story, the mainstay of movies, television series, and popular literature, did not arrive in English or in French as a fully developed novel. …major elements of the detective story permeated the works of three feuilletonistes, culminating in the ‘roman judiciaire,’ a novel about the judicial system, the modern detective story. These three writers are Paul Féval, Émile Gaboriau, and Fortuné du Boisgobey. It evolved over a period of more than forty years, with many writers in both French and English contributing to its development. But there was no complete, discernible, distinct genre until mid-nineteenth century. Earlier novelists concentrated on interesting criminals, or a criminal turned policeman such as Mr. Favart in Lord Bulwar Lytton’s Night and Morning (1841), featuring also the ubiquitous Mr. Gawtrey, who says, “I don’t live exactly within the pale of the law. But I’m not a villain!… I’m a charlatan.” While Wilkie Collins is well-known as a forerunner of the fully developed detective story, J. I. M. Stewart is right when he notes in his Introduction to the Penguin Classics 1987 edition to The Moonstone (1868) that Collins’ work is “essentially a ‘primitive’ contribution to the detective genre…. Yet The Moonstone stands alone in its kind; from none of his other books does the modern reader gain a sense of attending upon the birth of the detective story. Even The Woman in White, even though it deals with the unmasking of a crime, is essentially a thriller, and all his later books hold much more mystery than detection. If he realized the full extent of his originality, and of the genre it might have opened up, he made no consistent attempt at its exploitation.”

Poster announcing the publication
of Les Mystères de Paris (1843),
a novel by Eugène Sue (1804-1857).
FROM Octave Uzanne, Le Livre,
Paris, A. Quantin, 1884.

Eugène Sue (Marie-Joseph Sue) and Filibert Audebrand helped develop the genre by adding two features: the hero opposed to unfair law and tension between two characters within the framework of the novel. Eugène Sue’s Prince Rodolphe de Gerolstein in Les Mystères de Paris (1843) lives and works with criminals, speaking their argot and sharing their life, living outside the law to right the wrongs done to him. In Les Trois nuits de Sir Richard Cockerill (1844), Philibert Audebrand created tension by two opposing characters, the magistrate Gisborne and the criminal Barett. Edgar Allan Poe, with his mystery series, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Mary Roget (1842), and The Purloined Letter (1844), added the talented amateur sleuth. In the 1850s and 1860s significant novelists began to create realistic detective characters. (William Russell, Detective Thomas Waters; Charles Rabou, Agent Graillet; Charles Dickens, Inspector Bucket; Paul Féval, Scotland Yard Superintendent Gregory Temple.).

The Industrial Revolution, the move to major cities of a class formerly tied to the land, brought forth wider education and literacy, as well as a new reading public. Novels were no longer read primarily by the Romantics or the bored privileged class, the kind of reader Jane Austen satirized in Northanger Abbey. New and competing newspapers appealed to the man in the street, creating a new type of writer, the feuilletoniste, who contributed serialized stories to newspapers on a regular deadline basis. Their stories, “leaves,” were inserted into newspapers, offering exciting adventures that kept readers buying the same newspapers week after week. There were many feuilletonistes like Alexandre Dumas and Georges Sand, who did not concentrate primarily on the law or the outlanders, and they contributed only marginally to the creation of the detective story. However, major elements of the detective story permeated the works of three feuilletonistes, culminating in the “roman judiciaire,” a novel about the judicial system, the modern detective story. These three writers are Paul Féval, Émile Gaboriau, and Fortuné du Boisgobey.

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REFERENCES

  1. Collins, Paul. “The Case of the First Mystery Novelist.” The New York Times. 7 Jan. 2011.

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