Authors: Maurice Leblanc
Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes
IF MAURICE LEBLANC (1864–1941)
had done nothing except create Arsène Lupin—the rogue who has been wildly popular in France for more than a century—his place in the pantheon of French literature would still have been assured.
Born in Rouen, he was educated in France; Berlin, Germany; and Manchester, England, and studied law before becoming a hack writer and police reporter for French periodicals. His sister Georgette—a famous actress and singer—was the mistress of Maurice Maeterlinck, the noted dramatist, and it is possible that this relationship influenced Leblanc’s work; some critics claim that his plays are his most polished literary productions.
In 1906 Leblanc’s previously undistinguished career skyrocketed when he was asked to write a short story for a new journal and produced the first Lupin adventure. His subsequent success and worldwide fame culminated in his induction into the French Legion of Honor.
Reading his fiction today, one is generally impressed with the fast pace and diversified action, although it borders on burlesque, and the incredible situations and coincidences may be a little difficult to accept.
Unlike Fantômas, the other great criminal in French literature, Arsène Lupin is not violent or evil; his unlawful acts center on theft and clever cons rather than murder or anarchy.
A brilliant rogue, he pursues his career with carefree élan, mocking the law for the sheer joy of it rather than for purely personal gain. Young, handsome, brave, and quick-witted, he has a joie de vivre uniquely and recognizably French. His sense of humor and conceit make life difficult for the police, who attribute most of the major crimes in France to him and his gang of ruffians and urchins.
Like most French criminals and detectives, Lupin is a master of disguise. His skill is attested to by the fact that he once became Lenormand, chief of the Sûreté, and, for four years, conducted official investigations into his own activities. He employs numerous aliases, including Jim Barnett, Prince Renine, le Duc de Charmerace, Don Luis Perenna, and Ralph de Limezy; his myriad names, combined with his brilliant costumes, make it nearly impossible for the police to identify him (the reader of his exploits sometimes encounters a similar difficulty).
After a long criminal career of uninterrupted successes, Lupin begins to shift position and aids the police in their work—usually for his own purposes and without their knowledge. Toward the end of his career, he becomes a full-fledged detective, and although he is as successful in his endeavors as ever before, his heart does not seem to be in it.
The first book about him is
Arsène Lupin, gentleman-cambrioleur
(1907; US title:
The Exploits of Arsène Lupin
, 1907; reissued as
The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar
, 1910; British title:
The Seven of Hearts
, 1908). One of the stories, “Holmlock Shears Arrives Too Late,” is a parody of Sherlock Holmes. The second book in the series, and the worst, is
Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes
(1908; British title:
The Fair-haired Lady
, 1909; reissued as
Arsène Lupin versus Holmlock Shears
, 1909; reissued again as
The Arrest of Arsène Lupin
, 1911; US title:
The Blonde Lady
, 1910; reissued as
Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes
, 1910). Other short story collections about Lupin are
The Confessions of Arsène Lupin
The Eight Strokes of the Clock
Jim Barnett Intervenes
(1928; US title:
Arsène Lupin Intervenes
). Among the best of the novels are
(1910), in which Lupin, accused of murder, heads the police investigation to clear himself by finding the true killer, and
The Hollow Needle
(1910), in which Lupin is shot by a beautiful girl and falls in love with her, vowing to give up his life of crime. Among the other Lupin novels are
The Crystal Stopper
The Teeth of the Tiger
The Golden Triangle
The Memoirs of Arsène Lupin
(1925; British title:
The Candlesticks with Seven Branches
There are many early screen versions of Arsène Lupin’s basic conflicts with the Paris police, both in the United States, starting in 1917, and in Europe.
The Teeth of the Tiger
(Paramount, with David Powell) of 1919 is an old-dark-horse murder melodrama with sliding panels, secret passageways, and serial-like thrills. Wedgewood Nowell portrays Lupin in
(Robertson-Cole, 1920), in which Lupin impersonates a police officer to clear himself of a murder charge. There are several later European Lupins, notably French, in films even until the 1950s. The most important American Lupin films are given below.
MGM, 1932. John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Karen Morley, John Miljan. Directed by Jack Conway. Based on the play by Leblanc and Francis de Croisset. When the silk-hatted Lupin announces that he will steal a famous painting from the Louvre under the nose of the police, and does so, the chief of detectives uses a pretty lady crook to lure him into a trap.
Arsène Lupin Returns.
MGM, 1938. Melvyn Douglas, Warren William, Virginia Bruce, Monty Woolley, E. E. Clive. Directed by George Fitzmaurice. The signature of Arsène Lupin, long thought dead, is scrawled across a safe from which a necklace has been stolen; the real Lupin, innocent and now living as a country gentleman, is as perplexed as the police are.
Enter Arsène Lupin.
Universal, 1944. Charles Korvin, Ella Raines, J. Carrol Naish, Gale Sondergaard, Miles Mander. Directed by Ford Beebe. International thief Lupin, on a train from Istanbul to Paris, steals an emerald from a young heiress but returns it when he begins to suspect that the girl’s aunt and uncle plan to murder her.
LOTTERY TICKET NO. 514.
ON THE EIGHTH DAY OF
last December, Mon. Gerbois, professor of mathematics at the College of Versailles, while rummaging in an old curiosity-shop, unearthed a small mahogany writing-desk which pleased him very much on account of the multiplicity of its drawers.
“Just the thing for Suzanne’s birthday present,” thought he. And as he always tried to furnish some simple pleasures for his daughter, consistent with his modest income, he enquired the price, and, after some keen bargaining, purchased it for sixty-five francs. As he was giving his address to the shopkeeper, a young man, dressed with elegance and taste, who had been exploring the stock of antiques, caught sight of the writing-desk, and immediately enquired its price.
“It is sold,” replied the shopkeeper.
“Ah! To this gentleman, I presume?”
Monsieur Gerbois bowed, and left the store, quite proud to be the possessor of an article which had attracted the attention of a gentleman of quality. But he had not taken a dozen steps in the street, when he was overtaken by the young man who, hat in hand and in a tone of perfect courtesy, thus addressed him:
“I beg your pardon, monsieur; I am going to ask you a question that you may deem impertinent. It is this: Did you have any special object in view when you bought that writing-desk?”
“No, I came across it by chance and it struck my fancy.”
“But you do not care for it particularly?”
“Oh! I shall keep it—that is all.”
“Because it is an antique, perhaps?”
“No; because it is convenient,” declared Mon. Gerbois.
“In that case, you would consent to exchange it for another desk that would be quite as convenient and in better condition?”
“Oh! This one is in good condition, and I see no object in making an exchange.”
Mon. Gerbois is a man of irritable disposition and hasty temper. So he replied, testily:
“I beg of you, monsieur, do not insist.”
But the young man firmly held his ground.
“I don’t know how much you paid for it, monsieur, but I offer you double.”
“Three times the amount.”
“Oh! That will do,” exclaimed the professor, impatiently; “I don’t wish to sell it.”
The young man stared at him for a moment in a manner that Mon. Gerbois would not readily forget, then turned and walked rapidly away.
An hour later, the desk was delivered at the professor’s house on the Viroflay road. He called his daughter, and said:
“Here is something for you, Suzanne, provided you like it.”
Suzanne was a pretty girl, with a gay and affectionate nature. She threw her arms around her father’s neck and kissed him rapturously. To her, the desk had all the semblance of a royal gift. That evening, assisted by Hortense, the servant, she placed the desk in her room; then she dusted it, cleaned the drawers and pigeon-holes, and carefully arranged within it her papers, writing material, correspondence, a collection of post-cards, and some souvenirs of her cousin Philippe that she kept in secret.
Next morning, at half past seven, Mon. Gerbois went to the college. At ten o’clock, in pursuance of her usual custom, Suzanne went to meet him, and it was a great pleasure for him to see her slender figure and childish smile waiting for him at the college gate. They returned home together.
“And your writing desk—how is it this morning!”
“Marvellous! Hortense and I have polished the brass mountings until they look like gold.”
“So you are pleased with it?”
“Pleased with it! Why, I don’t see how I managed to get on without it for such a long time.”
As they were walking up the pathway to the house, Mon. Gerbois said:
“Shall we go and take a look at it before breakfast?”
“Oh! Yes, that’s a splendid idea!”
She ascended the stairs ahead of her father, but, on arriving at the door of her room, she uttered a cry of surprise and dismay.
“What’s the matter?” stammered Mon. Gerbois.
“The writing-desk is gone!”
When the police were called in, they were astonished at the admirable simplicity of the means employed by the thief. During Suzanne’s absence, the servant had gone to market, and while the house was thus left unguarded, a drayman, wearing a badge—some of the neighbors saw it—stopped his cart in front of the house and rang twice. Not knowing that Hortense was absent, the neighbors were not suspicious; consequently, the man carried on his work in peace and tranquility.
Apart from the desk, not a thing in the house had been disturbed. Even Suzanne’s purse, which she had left upon the writing-desk, was found upon an adjacent table with its contents untouched. It was obvious that the thief had come with a set purpose, which rendered the crime even more mysterious; because, why did he assume so great a risk for such a trifling object?
The only clue the professor could furnish was the strange incident of the preceding evening. He declared:
“The young man was greatly provoked at my refusal, and I had an idea that he threatened me as he went away.”
But the clue was a vague one. The shopkeeper could not throw any light on the affair. He did not know either of the gentlemen. As to the desk itself, he had purchased it for forty francs at an executor’s sale at Chevreuse, and believed he had resold it at its fair value. The police investigation disclosed nothing more.