Detecting and (Re)Solving Conflicts in French Crime Fiction:



Jean Anderson, Angela Kimyongür and Alistair Rolls

Victoria University of Wellington

University of Hull

University of Newcastle



It is estimated that some twenty per cent of all books sold in France are crime novels (Gorrara, 2009, p. 4). Add to this fact the current ubiquity of the crime genre in popular culture—bande dessinée, the graphic novel that has such a strong tradition in France and Belgium, as well as film and television—and it becomes clear that crime narratives possess a powerful cultural voice, one that has the potential to go beyond their value as entertainment. Above all, they offer the perfect framework within which to explore conflict of all kinds. While the form, in its French embodiment, has evolved considerably from its American-inspired beginnings when Gallimard’s Série Noire was established by Marcel Duhamel in the aftermath of the Second World War, its central topoi of investigator versus criminal, of good versus evil, of past crime versus present justice, are inherently conflictual.

There is little doubt that French Crime Fiction receives critical attention of a quality commensurate with its global literary standing; it is not here that conflict is to be found. And yet, as Claire Gorrara points out, there is a disparity between Anglo-Saxon scholarship’s focus on anglophone crime fiction and that which is brought to bear on “European crime fiction in languages other than English” (2009, p. 1). Gorrara speaks further of an “ambivalent reception of European authors [that] has generated controversy and a sense that an unacknowledged form of literary protectionism is in place” (2009, p. 2). This seems right: such silos proliferate beyond the publishing industry and the mediatised world of literary criticism, extending to the departmental structures of our universities. Logically enough, in order for French crime fiction to be apprehended as such requires practitioners, readers and scholars to accept and/or craft the genre’s selection criteria. At first glance, it does not appear overly problematic to seek to make the French of French crime fiction coincide with that country called France. This is precisely how Gorrara understands the term, and as a result she finds herself compelled to add the following nuance, in all likelihood so as to define a logical space for Georges Simenon’s major role in the development of French crime fiction (and, reflexively, French Crime Fiction, in which the Belgian author has his own chapter, by the late Christopher Shorley, but also figures in both Gorrara’s introduction and David Platten’s opening chapter): “The main focus [of her volume] is on European francophone writing traditions with a preference for showcasing debates that have animated metropolitan French culture” (Gorrara, 2009, p. 11). While Gorrara goes on to discuss the development of the genre in an extra-European francophone context, she does not dwell on those instances of writing that have animated metropolitan French culture, and which are arguably and, we wish to suggest, conflictually, ‘French’ in terms of setting, broader context and influence, but which do not pass the test of being francophone. Paradoxically perhaps, by seeking to steer a course away from the French-versus-francophone debates that have been such a focus of French (and Francophone) Studies in recent decades, and which have, inter alia, caused us to consider which term might better be considered the over-arching one or whether either or both can be inclusive of the fields of study in which we academics, who are the interested parties, conduct our research, Gorrara creates a space for other discussion. Of interest in this special issue of The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction, for example, is the question of whether the term ‘French’ might be considered applicable to crime fiction set in France or to crime fiction ‘originally written’ in a language other than French and then (influentially, conflictually and even, perhaps, ‘originally’) translated into French. Certainly, both Gorrara and Platten devote significant passages of their respective contributions to French Crime Fiction to the pioneering work of Edgar Allan Poe, for example.

Gorrara sees France’s contribution, that is, the contribution of French writers, to the development of what we recognise today as crime fiction reflected in the influences and choice of settings of Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in which she discerns a “cross-fertilisation of cultural influences” (2009, p. 5). Platten, for his part, notes that this story “is widely accepted as the first detective fiction” (2009, p. 20), while taking care to acknowledge that Poe’s stories were not necessarily the first to give pride of place to detection in their plots. Stephen Knight goes further than Platten in his desire to debunk what he considers the myth of Poe as the “originator of crime fiction” (2015, p. 33), devoting two chapters of his Secrets of Crime Fiction Classics to authors who precede Poe: William Godwin and Charles Brockden Brown. Additionally, Knight (2015, pp. 55-64) includes a study of Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq in the “Beginnings” section of a study of crime fiction that, while deliberately inclusive of non-anglophone traditions (there are also chapters on Simenon, Umberto Eco, Mánuel Vazquez Montalbán and Stieg Larsson), remains predominantly focused on Anglo-American writing. While Knight’s careful scholarship provides an important reminder that Poe may not have pioneered crime fiction, we should like to argue here that the juxtaposition of Poe’s work with that of European francophone authors in critical works like French Crime Fiction is more important than is generally understood by readers or even consciously intended by authors; indeed, one of the conflicts that is of interest to us here is Poe’s position as a pioneer of French crime fiction.

For scholars like John T. Irwin, Poe can be credited with the invention of a sub-genre of crime fiction typically referred to as “analytic detective fiction”, which distinguishes itself from the predominant adventure-oriented mode of the early crime novel by having analysis as its principal focus (1999, p. 27). Indeed, for Irwin the genre is highly reflexive and, as such, appears in fact to be more strictly concerned with the analysis of analysis. The same genre is referred to as the metaphysical detective story by Patricia Merivale and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, for whom a number of its practitioners were from the outset “proto-postmodernist[s]” in their approach (1999, p. 4). Merivale’s particular interest extends to a range of authors, including leading French author of the nouveau roman, Alain Robbe-Grillet, alongside Borges, Nabokov and others. The origins of the genre, from Merivale’s perspective, are predicated on the absence of an omniscient (God-like or authorial) arbiter of meaning at the centre of the text (she cites Chesterton’s famous dread of atheism’s centreless maze); the stories that result from this bring together, under creative tension, closure and non-closure: as she puts it, “[t]he secular allegory becomes negatively hermeneutic: the lack of solutions stands for the lack of answers to any question of essence, knowledge, or meaning” (Merivale, 1999, p. 103). This nexus of closure and non-closure leads Merivale, inevitably, towards a discussion of the postmodernist detective story, in which the idea of closure is ultimately rejected out of hand; but along the way, interesting cases of border-crossing come up, notably in the slippage between the identity of the detective and that of the murderer. “A model liminal case”, Merivale notes (1999, p. 103), “is Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, where detective Moran shadows Molloy until his own identity breaks down, until, indeed, the detective becomes essentially indistinguishable from the man he was sent in search of.” This liminality extends to the taxonomical issue of Beckett’s writing, which Merivale posits at the point where high modernism becomes “indistinguishable” from postmodernism (1999, p. 103). Of course, to bring us back to our French conflicts, there is another case of liminality here, for Beckett, who wrote his works in French as well as English, sits famously at the juncture of the Anglo-Saxon academic disciplines of Literary Studies and French Studies. Furthermore, the metaphysical itself, in critical theory circles, conjures the Yale School of deconstruction, in whose seminal essays the text finds its metaphysical readings shot through with the nihilistic seeds of their own undoing. For J. Hillis Miller (1979), for example, the metaphysical reading of a text (through the lens of which it is typically said to have meaning, and which distinguishes it from other ‘texts’) plays host to its own Other. So, as textual meaning is proliferated rather than dissolved according to this model, each actualisation of it, which is to say, each reading, only closes the text to the same degree that it opens up other (re)readings. The power of this understanding of the metaphysical is to extend the kind of analytical reading of crime fiction practised by Irwin, Merivale et al. beyond the generic boundaries of metaphysical or analytic detective fiction, where the analysis of analysis is reflexively staged by authors whose concerns parallel those of their critics, to crime fiction more broadly, where those very traditional structures at play (red herrings, emphatic narrative closure, essential Meaning reflected as detectival Truth and detection couched as a mise en abyme of authorial control) can be seen to lend themselves to irony and, ultimately, deconstruction. And at the heart of crime fiction’s deconstructive turn is this tension between crime fiction and French crime fiction (see Rolls 2009).

After all, deconstruction itself owes much to Yale’s hosting of Jacques Derrida, a number of whose key essays on différance and the living-on, or after-life, of text are so often predicated on the tension between the original authorial act of writing (and thus Derrida’s mother tongue: French) and the interpretive act of translation (the language in which the essays are ‘originally’ published: English) as well as that between the self and Other, and the inside and the outside of the text (the famous hors-texte, or rather his famous denial of its existence). Deconstruction, like poststructuralism, is then taken up as a critical tool for reading literature in Anglo-Saxon universities, where critical theory and textual analysis are systematically incorporated into literary studies whereas they remain divorced from them in the French system. While Derrida, Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva are undoubtedly household names in France, it is beyond France that they made their mark on literature.

Arguably, the one area of literary analysis in France that has accommodated this kind of decentring textual analysis, and this quite recently, is the self-styled detective criticism of Pierre Bayard. In his popular essays on Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Bayard plays on the rejection of closure that is the cornerstone of the metaphysical detective story, precisely as suggested above, by reopening these classic cases of crime fiction, providing new solutions and, cleverly and more or less ironically, disculpating famous villains.[1] Somewhat perversely, and perhaps most powerfully in his study of the case of Roger Ackroyd, Bayard takes as his starting point the problematic nature of narrative closure, only, via a psychoanalytically informed dismantling of Christie’s solution, to build what appears to be an equally hermetic case against his alternative suspect. Such irony as can be perceived here lies in the way in which he uses the rejection of closure in order to inoculate his own text against such criticism; indeed, in his later studies the terms ‘work’ and ‘author’ seem deliberately over-used, and consequently overvalued, to the extent indeed that they ultimately evoke their deconstructive homologues, ‘text’ and ‘reader’,[2] thereby enabling a simultaneous vulgarisation of poststructuralist theory and (wilful) reorientation of the hermeneutics of non-closure and non-self-coincidence. Whether his motivation or the impact of his work be considered avant-garde or reactionary, Bayard positions the rereading implicit in crime fiction at the limen of the critical (the work of textual analysis, in which each rereading is a reconstitution of what Barthes termed le texte scriptible,[3] and as such a writerly act, or demonstration of literature’s inherent tendency to eschew self-coincidence) and the creative (popular essays that effectively rewrite the solution previously written by the crime fiction author, actualising one line of flight of the virtual(ised/ising) text). His work also constitutes a crossing of borders insofar as it repatriates ‘French theory’, which explains, of course, how his essays can appear simultaneously avant-garde (to French readers of literary analysis still relatively unused to theoretical analysis) and reactionary (to Anglo-Saxon readers for whom the author’s death—in France—is old news indeed).

The liminality that is most crucial here, however, is that which sees Edgar Allan Poe, whose “The Man of the Crowd” and Dupin stories inspire the critics of the metaphysical detective genre, become indistinguishable from his French translator, Charles Baudelaire. As Merivale remarks, “The Man of the Crowd” is a title that could apply just as easily to any of Baudelaire’s prose poems as it does to Poe’s short story; indeed, the prosaicising move that represents the new critical lens of the former’s Parisian poetics during and immediately following Haussmann’s modernisation of the city’s streets in the mid-nineteenth century is such that the latter’s story, if translated into French, could easily sit in Paris Spleen: “[a] substantial group of critics, those who […] follow the line of thought originated by Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, see the Baudelairean flâneur in the narrator and the problem of urban modernity—the City of Dreadful Night—in the crowd” (Merivale, 1995, p. 105). While this is clearly true, this comparison lends itself to a model of crime fiction historiography that sees an Anglo-Saxon pioneer’s work taken up in France, in translation, where it informs subsequent writing, both critical and fictional. The intertextuality here is more nuanced, however, since Baudelaire considered himself less to have been inspired by Poe’s work than to have found his own poetic ideas expressed by the latter (in what Bayard (2009) might consider a case of anticipatory plagiarism[4]) while they were still forming in his own mind. In this way, Baudelaire’s investigation of his own originality in his translation of Poe uncannily foreshadows the breakdown of self-recognition and crisis of identity at play in Beckett’s Molloy. It is certainly true that the model of the detective, especially Merivale’s gothic gumshoe, who follows his prey in erratic circles until the question of who is pursuing whom is superseded by a fusion of the two characters into one, can be mapped perfectly onto the new Parisian prose-poetics whose oxymoronic foundations speak Paris insofar as the modern metropolis simultaneously coincides with itself (objectively, from the vantage point of the artist’s garret, essentially, poetically) and fails to coincide with itself (subjectively, at street level, existentially, prosaically); it is equally true, on the other hand, that the Dupin stories already display the double movement of prose poetry (the aspiration of things towards the ethereal always already counterposed with the satanic pull of abstract ideals streetwards). Dupin, for example, may well embody (the myth of) the armchair detective—this is patently the case in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”, which distances itself from the historical account of the death of Mary Rogers in New York in 1841 by mapping it onto Paris, in an act proleptic of its own subsequent translation into French, and in which the case is solved entirely at one remove, through an analysis of secondary material pertaining to the events—but in “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” it is nonetheless the case that objective ratiocination is always doubled by the quasi-visceral pull of the crime scene; indeed, the detective accuses the Prefect of Police of being too objective, “all head and no body” (Poe, 1986, p. 224). If Poe’s Dupin stories are Parisian by virtue of their setting, they are all the more so in terms of their poetics; metonymically ever-present-absent in Baudelaire’s short stories, the Paris of Baudelaire’s prose poems is always already purloined, that is to say, unnamed, unperceived, because it is always right in front of your eyes.[5]

Thus, when Baudelaire translates Poe into French, he is doing more (or perhaps less) than rendering their text in a foreign language; in his own eyes, Baudelaire is writing his own prose poems as he translates Poe’s Paris. Like the eponymous hero of Poe’s “William Wilson”, Baudelaire’s great Other turns out to be, literarily if not literally, himself.[6] Indeed, the ending of that tale has as much to do with textuality as it does with psychology: “[N]ot a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!” (Poe, 1986, p. 178).[7] What Baudelaire creates, via Poe (to see the usual model reversed), is a French, and specifically Parisian, model of crime fiction that is written both originally and in translation at the same time, which therefore captures the simultaneous self-coincidence and non-self-coincidence so painstakingly built into Poe’s Dupin stories. As has been argued elsewhere (Rolls and Sitbon, 2013), this model of taking foreign texts and recontextualising them as French by translating them ‘originally’ is taken to another level a century later when France is again traumatised by urban change on a massive scale. Following four years of Nazi occupation during the Second World War and then liberated by Allied forces, and thus immediately re-occupied by American money and culture, Paris is again unrecognisable (and at the same time, of course, also recognisable) in its own mirror image. It is not by chance, or simply out of a new-found French passion for American hardboiled crime fiction and film noir, that Marcel Duhamel is able in 1945 to create a massively successful new crime series, founded on French translations of American thrillers, at Gallimard, Paris’s most famous publishing house. The translations are arguably creative exercises in rewriting; and the original novels are not always (and certainly not in those early years immediately following the Liberation) genuine American thrillers. More than that, however, what emerges from those early Série Noire titles—Peter Cheyney’s La Môme vert-de-gris and Cet homme est dangereux in 1945 (originally, Poison Ivy, 1937, and This Man Is Dangerous, 1936, respectively) and James Hadley Chase’s Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish in 1946 (No Orchids for Miss Blandish, 1939)—is a set of reoriented texts that use what is typically considered the passive mode of translation in order to take a (wilfully created myth of) the American crime novel and actively transform it into an allegory of the French national identity for a new, post-war context. American dames thus change camps, transforming (if read between the lines, obliquely) into double agents; translation itself becomes an act of resistance; and all-American heroes share victory in Europe (and in France in particular) with the citizens of the target culture (see Rolls and Walker, 2009).

While it is evident that French crime fiction can be seen to emerge from, and in, the Série Noire when French authors begin to write original crime fiction in French (for an excellent account, see Gorrara, 2003), it is important to remember the pioneering role of series editors like Duhamel and translators like Baudelaire, in whose hands American crime fiction became French. And in reassessing Poe’s foundational role in the development of the crime fiction genre, it is worth wondering whether the term ‘French’ should not sit alongside ‘analytical’, ‘metaphysical’, ‘deconstructive’, ‘anti-detective’, ‘ontological’ and so on (Merivale and Sweeney, 1995, pp. 2-4). This grafting of a more powerfully Franco-French context onto the beginnings of the Série Noire also allows another conflict, otherwise considered to be markedly absent from those early classics (be they translated or originally written by French authors), which is to say, the Second World War, to be reassessed as present, albeit allegorically, in the post-war Zeigeist. As Gorrara’s (2012) longitudinal study of French crime fiction as a barometer of the nation’s remembrance of the horrors of Occupation, Liberation and, especially, the Holocaust, French Crime Fiction and the Second World War, clearly demonstrates, it took decades for French authors, and French people more generally, to feel able to articulate memories of the war openly. By revealing the Frenchness of the hardboiled novels translated in Paris in the immediate post-war period, one is able to read between the lines and to discover this important memory work occurring in French crime fiction as early as 1945. Thus, a conflict of historiography and taxonomy can reveal the uncanny purloining in novels read in their tens of thousands of a conflict as major as the Second World War.

Gorrara (2012, p. 9) offers a nuanced questioning of the over-simplistic view that writers and artists were all complicit in a deliberate erasure of the realities of Occupation from works of culture, and thus from public consciousness in France. This view arose from the influence exerted by Rousso’s seminal 1987 work on the period, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944, according to which a period of repression, running from 1954-1977, effectively suppressed any memories of the Occupation differing from the Gaullist narrative that defined the period as one of widespread, united resistance to the Nazi invader. What is clear is that the Second World War, and more precisely the period of Occupation from 1940 to 1944, has held, and continues to hold, a particular fascination for writers of French crime fiction. This fascination, and the ways in which crime narratives seem so well suited to the exploration of this problematic period, have been attributed to three factors: firstly, the parallels between the very tangible moral ambiguities of the Occupation period and the tendency of noir fiction to focus on the uncertain, the unresolved and the morally problematic; secondly, what Gorrara has called “the productive intersections” (2012, p. 13) between the investigative framework of the crime genre and continuing historical and judicial investigations into some of the hidden realities of the Second World War (notably the French state’s reluctance to acknowledge the role of the Vichy government in the Jewish deportations from France). These intersections can be seen in the way that contemporary writers frequently use the stratagem of investigating the war from the perspective of the present day, foregrounding a detective whose role it is to uncover the present-day repercussions of past conflicts.[8] This technique allows both the revelation of often uncomfortable truths about the conflict, truths not so readily available to the author writing crime fiction during the war, but also demonstrates how the memories associated with the war are very much alive in the present day. Finally, the importance of memory work within the crime genre, as the protagonist attempts to remember and reconstruct a hidden or forgotten past, reflects the wider framework of French society as it attempts to come to terms with memories of the war (Gorrara 2012, pp. 12-14).[9]

While the Second World War offers a particularly potent source of inspiration in French crime fiction, it is not the only conflict to do so. France’s colonial conflicts and the problematic memories associated with those struggles have also provided a rich seam of source material for crime writers to mine, for very similar reasons. Just as the scars inflicted by the experience of the Occupation on French society took time to heal and needed to be processed through culture as well as through judicial process, France’s colonial conflicts continue to weigh heavily on its present. Memories of the repercussions of decolonisation figure in the work of a number of crime writers, with a particularly strong showing of crime novels set in Algeria, both pre- and post-liberation. Perceptions have been that the Algerian people were the sole victims of the Algerian War of Independence, first subjected to French colonial rule and subsequently to the violence inflicted on them during the fight for independence. While revelations of the brutality, torture and rape inflicted on the Algerian population have now been acknowledged as an integral part of the narrative of war, both during and after the conflict, examination of a range of crime novels suggests a more nuanced view that also gives voice to the French settler population of Algeria, the pieds noirs, displaced from the country of their birth after the war, and to the French conscripts dispatched by their government to fight a brutal war, groups that can equally be deemed victims of the conflict, in their different ways (see Kimyongür, 2014). Yasmina Khadra, whose work is here discussed by Mohamed Aït-Aarab, extends this view of the consequences of colonialism into the present day, with his analysis of continuing conflict in postcolonial Algeria. Initially acclaimed as Algeria’s answer to Agatha Christie, Khadra would later reveal his real identity as Mohammed Moulessehoul, a high-ranking military officer writing under a pseudonym to bypass censorship and take aim at the corruption rampant post-independence.

Other African former French colonies have produced crime fiction with an anti-(neo)-colonial focus, some of it by writers better known for more ‘classic’ forms: in the case of Cameroon’s Mongo Beti, Trop de soleil tue l’amour (1999) is overshadowed by his breakthrough 1956 novel Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba, or his initially censored anti-colonialist essay, Main basse sur le Cameroun, autopsie d’une décolonisation (1972); Congolese Alain Mbanckou’s African Psycho (2003), about a serial killer or, most recently, Tais-toi et meurs (2014) both merit closer attention alongside his often controversial non-fiction writings; Malian Aboubacar Eros Sissoko’s Mais qui a tué Sambala? (2011) juxtaposes the investigation of murderous crimes with political machinations, as does Senegalese Abbas Ndione’s La Vie en spirale (1988; reprinted in the Série noire in 1998); and Driss Chraïbi, arguably Morocco’s best-known francophone writer alongside Tahar Ben Jelloun, brings a fierce humour to his Inspecteur Ali series (1981-2004), in which Moroccan and western values clash repeatedly.

Thanh-Van Tran-Nhut, whose work is also featured here, returns to her Vietnamese origins in creating as her principal investigator Mandarin Tan, a young, Confucian-trained magistrate: on a superficial level her fictional world, seventeenth-century Viêt-Nam, an empire called Dai-Viêt, has little to do with the kinds of postcolonial conflicts that preoccupy these African writers. There is nevertheless a similar, political focus: the country is on the brink of civil war as two families, one from the North and the other from the South, vie for control. National stability is at stake with a weakened Emperor and rampant corruption within the Confucian administration. The internal crisis is intensified by armed clashes at the borders with Champa, an Indianized nation, and by the massive arrival of Westerners. While French Jesuits arrive with hopes of evangelising the population, Portuguese and Dutch merchants aim to profit from the natural riches of the area. Crimes are investigated against a background of the struggle for ideological and material control of the territory.

One characteristic that many contemporary French crime writers share is a broadly left-wing perspective on the conflicts they record and a vision of the noir embodiment of crime fiction as an ideal format for the investigation not merely of individual and historical crimes, but, more expansively, of the dark underbelly of French society. A generation of crime writers, including novelists such as Didier Daeninckx, Thierry Jonquet, Dominique Manotti, Patrick Pécherot, Jean-Claude Izzo and Maurice Gouiran have used the form in order to produce a version of crime fiction that could be described as socially or politically motivated. Indeed, in a 1997 issue of Les Temps Modernes dedicated to the roman noir, Jean Pons (p. 9) described it as “an engaged form of writing”. Several of the writers listed here are or have been politically active on the left, and have produced noir novels that display a social, political or ethical conscience. Unlike narratives by writers of classical detective fiction, where the disorder engendered by crime is dispelled and order restored by the investigating figure, many of these contemporary novels reveal a society in which disorder is what Dominique Manotti (2009) has described as “the truth of this tragic world”, a world in which crime is pervasive and resists reassuring resolution at the novel’s end, a society in which the police are not necessarily the guardians of law and order we assume them to be. Some of the most powerful expressions of contemporary socio-political conflict in France have been seen in the well-documented tensions experienced in the suburbs of major cities such as Paris and Lyon, tensions often linked to France’s frequently problematic relationship with its religious and ethnic minorities. Life in the troubled banlieues and its frequent accompaniment, tensions between police and ethnic minority youths, have found their way into contemporary crime fiction. Such representations are not just the work of established novelists such as Thierry Jonquet and Dominique Manotti, but also that of younger writers such as Rachid Santaki, Barouk Salamé and Karim Miské, whose origins are found in those ethnic minorities and who approach the problems of the banlieue from a rather different perspective. The conflict elaborated in French crime fiction is, therefore, not simply a backdrop offering local colour and the guarantee of authenticity, but is an integral part of a narrative that goes beyond entertainment to offer a frequently political perspective on contemporary France and the francophone world.

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[1] See Bayard (1998, 2002 and 2008, respectively). For a study of Bayard’s irony, see Gulddal and Rolls (2015).

[2] See especially Bayard (2010).

[3] Barthes (1973) develops the terms le texte lisible (the readerly text, which is transparently meaningful like the metaphysical in the deconstructionists’ parlance) and le texte scriptible (for whose meaning the reader assumes responsibility, in what the deconstructionists would consider a nihilistic act promoted by the text itself) in his semiotic study of Honoré de Balzac’s short story “Sarrasine”.

[4] All translations from the French in this article are translated by the authors’ own unless otherwise specified.

[5] Paris is only referred to directly in the final prose poem, the “Épilogue”, in which it is addressed as the capital, because it is always seen from the inside. This is Baudelaire’s ironic masterstroke, for Paris is only named in the poem, and vilified as purgatory, prison and brothel, because the epilogue, unlike the prose poems that precede it, takes the form of a verse poem. Paris, as poem, is thus always already idealised in form no matter how abased in content. In the prose poems themselves the fact that they are set in Paris, which they nonetheless embody, is (only) made evident by the full title Le Spleen parisien: Les Petits Poèmes en prose. For an excellent chiastic reading of the full title see Covin (2000, especially pp. 51-2).

[6] For an excellent reading of “William Wilson”, see Sweeney (1999, especially pp. 249-51).

[7] Baudelaire’s translation can be found in Poe (2010, p. 97).

[8] Such authors include Didier Daeninckx, Maurice Gouiran, Thierry Jonquet and André Fortin.

[9] For a discussion of the ideological role played by memory within French crime fiction, see Kimyongür (2011).


Jean Anderson is Associate Professor of French at Victoria University of Wellington, where she was founding director of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation 2007-2011. Recent publications are in French and Francophone contemporary and late 19th-century women’s writing, crime fiction, literary translation and television crime series. She is co-editor, with Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti, of The Foreign in International Crime Fiction: Transcultural Representations (Continuum, 2012) and Serial Crime Fiction: Dying for More (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan 2015). She has translated or co-translated the work of several Pacific writers, including Chantal Spitz and Moetai Brotherson (Tahiti) and Patricia Grace (New Zealand).

Angela Kimyongür is senior lecturer in French in the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Hull. Her earlier research focused on the fiction of communist writer Louis Aragon and she has authored two monographs and numerous articles on his work. Recent publications include: Rewriting Wrongs: French Crime Fiction and the Palimpsest, eds. Angela Kimyongür and Amy Wigelsworth, Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle, 2014. ‘Crime in popular fiction: Remembering the Algerian War of Independence in contemporary French crime fiction’, Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 2014; ‘Dominique Manotti and the roman noir’, Contemporary Women’s Writing, 2013. She is currently working on a monograph about the politics of contemporary French crime fiction. Countering Crises in 21st century French and Francophone culture: engagement in evolution, eds. Helena Chadderton, Angela Kimyongür and Imogen Long, will appear with University of Wales Press in 2016.

Alistair Rolls is Associate Professor of French Studies at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He is currently President of the Australian Society for French Studies and co-leader, with Jesper Gulddal, of Detective Fiction on the Move, a University of Newcastle strategic research network. His recent publications include Paris and the Fetish: Primal Crime Scenes (Rodopi, 2014) and If I Say If: The Poems and Short Stories of Boris Vian (University of Adelaide Press, 2014), which he co-edited with Jean Fornasiero and John West-Sooby. With Rachel Franks, he is currently co-editing Crime Uncovered: The Private Investigator, which will be published by Intellect in 2016.


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The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction
Vol 1 No 1 Special Issue 2015
'Detecting and (Re)Solving Conflicts in French Crime Fiction' Special Issue Editors: Jean Anderson, Angela Kimyongür, and Alistair Rolls