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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Émile Gaboriau (1832–1873)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
TO speak of the detective novel is to speak of Gaboriau. He cannot be called the father of it; but the French novelist made his field so peculiarly his own, developed its type of human nature so painstakingly, created so distinctive a reputation associated with it, that it is doubtful whether any one can be said to have outrivaled him.  1
  Born at Saujon, in the Department of the Charente-Inférieure, Gaboriau drifted from school into the cavalry service; then into three or four less picturesque methods of keeping body and soul together; and finally, by a kind of literary accident, he became the private secretary of the Parisian novelist Paul Féval. His first successful story ran as a continued one in a journal called Le Pays. It was ‘The Lerouge Affair,’ but it did not even under newspaper circumstances find any considerable favor until it caught the eye of the astute Millaud, the founder of the Petit Journal. Millaud recognized in the fiction a new note in detective-novel making. He transferred it to another journal, Le Soleil. There it made an instant and tremendous success.  2
  From that moment Gaboriau’s career was determined and fortunate. In rapid succession followed ‘The Crime of Orcival’ (1867); ‘File No. 113’ (1867); the elaborate ‘Slaves of Paris’ (1869); ‘M. Lecoq’ (1869),—in which title appears the name of the moving spirit of almost all the other stories; ‘The Infernal Life’ (1870); and four or five others. All these stories have been translated into almost every modern language that has a reading public. They brought Gaboriau a large income during his lifetime, and they are still valuable literary properties. Their author died in Paris, his health broken in consequence of incessant overwork, in September 1873.  3
  Gaboriau elevated the detective story to something like a superior plane in popular fiction. It is a question whether he did not say in a large measure the strongest word in it, and to all intents and purposes the last word. His books all have a certain resemblance, in that we start into a complex drama with a riddle of crime. The unfolding always brings us sooner or later to a dramatic family secret, of which the original crime has only been an outside detail. The secret is the mainspring of the book, and about the middle of it the reader finds himself chiefly absorbed by it. Indeed, Gaboriau’s novels have often been spoken of as “told backward.” Most of the novels too gain their movement from one source—the wonderful shrewdness and audacity of a certain M. Lecoq of the Paris detective service. M. Lecoq was really an exaggeration of the well-known and wonderfully able Paris detective, M. Vidocq; and there are dozens of episodes in the course of Vidocq’s brilliant professional career which Gaboriau did not dress up so very much in introducing them into his stories. There is an individuality to each novel, in spite of the family likeness. Occasionally, like Dickens, the author attacked abuses with effect; as in ‘The Infernal Life’ and ‘The Slaves of Paris’ and other books where he has set forth the merciless system of private blackmailing in Paris with little exaggeration.  4
  As to literary manner, Gaboriau was not a writer of the first order, even as a French popular novelist. But he knew how to write; and there is a correctness of diction and a nervous vivacity that is much to his credit, considering the rapidity with which he produced his work, and the fact that he had no sufficient early training for his profession. He is seldom slipshod, and he is never really negligent. He has been criticized for making his dénouements too simple, if one regards them as a whole process; but his details are full of variety, and the reader of Gaboriau never is troubled to keep his attention on the author’s pages, even in the case of those stories that are not of the first class among his works. Perhaps the best of all the novels is one of the shorter ones, ‘File No. 113.’  5
 
 
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