Conflicts of Publishing Interests, or a Conflicted Case of Translation?

Which Orchids for Miss Blandish?


Alistair Rolls, Clara Sitbon and Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan

University of Newcastle

The University of Sydney

University of Newcastle



The title Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish still resonates today. But it seems fair to say that it is this French title, as opposed to the ‘original’ English, that still has currency, and specifically in the contexts of French Studies and, in the public space, among those fans who frequent such bookshops as Paris’s famous L’Amour du noir.[1] This French face of James Hadley Chase’s first novel has to all intents and purposes outperformed its original English avatar in both public and esoteric circles alike. Yet, despite this relative decline in recognition, the English version continues to exist, and furthermore continues to change shape, as if in response to a market demand, however virtual this may be. 

Background, Initial Doubts and Hypotheses

Our own specific interest in this novel was piqued when we realised that both faces, that is to say, both the French and English versions of the novel, were quite literally ‘two-faced’. The text we had read was the Bibliothèque Noire edition, published by Gallimard in 1989.[2] This text contains as a frontispiece a rather paradoxical publishers’ blurb, in which two opposed concepts are synthesised. On the one hand, it declares that Miss Blandish is something of a household name; indeed, according to the publisher “it would be difficult to find a single adult in the world who was not aware of the drama of Miss Blandish” (Chase, 1989, p. 9).[3] This fame, which the years have apparently done nothing to tarnish, began, we are reminded, in the summer of 1938, when Chase wrote the original text “over six weekends”. While the note refers at this point to the original English novel, entitled No Orchids for Miss Blandish, published by Jarrolds of London in 1939 and whose success launched Chase’s literary career establishing him, albeit erroneously, as one of the founding fathers of the American hardboiled tradition, the title used throughout is the French version, Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish. While the use of the French title in a note functioning as a frontispiece to the French edition is logical, there is a way in which the huge success of the novel is as much a French story as an Anglo-American one. The clear inference to be drawn from this publishers’ blurb is that the origins of the novel, and the French title by which it achieved a success that would be truly enduring, are subject to a deliberate act of synthesis:[4] the publishers are, it appears, conflating two stories of success, but more importantly of ‘originality’, into one. The blurb’s concluding paragraph initially appears less ambiguous: it explains that the current, 1989, edition has been “réécrite et remaniée [rewritten and reworked]”—although the distinction between these two terms is left unexplained—by the author, who was guided by the rather dated pre-war atmosphere of the original text. And yet, the reprinting of the text in 1989 is undeniably a tribute to the longevity of the story, and presumably to its universal and timeless valency; as we are told, the novel remains “the most controversial and most famous roman noir ever published”. This surely begs the question why the author felt the need to rewrite the text. The other obvious question is why the reader of 1989 would want to read a rewritten version and not experience the original text, be it the first edition or the corresponding first translation, that made this novel the most controversial and most famous roman noir of all time.           

Our aim in this preliminary study is to tease out the various questions at play here. First of all, this last section of the publishers’ blurb needs to be further unpacked. It is our contention that the note itself, far from providing clarity, adds to the ongoing controversy surrounding Miss Blandish’s story, for this controversy is, at least in part, one of editorial policy and practice, of which this publishers’ blurb can be considered a deliberately ambiguous metonym. The most important thing that it obfuscates is the date of the author’s rewrite. It is true that No Orchids for Miss Blandish was rewritten by Chase, but this rewrite happened in 1961, some twenty-eight years before the current edition cited in the note. This editorial sleight of hand, which lends a note of actuality to the 1989 reprint, may well be considered unimportant when one goes on to discover that Chase’s 1961 rewrite was in fact itself translated into French almost immediately after it had gone to print. Indeed, this new French version was published in the Série Noire, just as the first version, translated by Marcel Duhamel himself, had been in 1946. However, whereas Duhamel’s version, which was the third title of the series, was entitled Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, the version that was published in the series in 1962 had its own number (719) and, presumably as each number corresponds to a single title, a new, shorter title: Pas d’orchidées. The current edition referred to in the 1989 note, therefore, represents some form of repackaging (involving, no doubt, a degree of rereading and, potentially, revising) of the 1962 version. Indeed, both texts bear the name of the new translator: Noël Chassériau. And yet, the name of the novel, both that to which the note refers and which appears on the front cover of the 1989 version, is Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish. In other words, Miss Blandish makes a comeback in 1989, becoming once again the eponymous heroine of her own, famous story.           

Our first question therefore has to do with ‘originality’ and the ramifications of these words “rewritten [réécrite] and reworked [remaniée] by the author”, which refer—clearly but nonetheless quite, and we should argue wilfully, ambiguously—to the 1989 edition. While “rewritten” implies the role of the author, which logically designates Chase, the term “reworked” seems to refer to the preparation of the new edition, which we learn was also overseen by the translator of the 1962 version from the Série Noire, Noël Chassériau. This ostensible conflation of the author and the translator is interesting, since it speaks, albeit covertly, of the king-making role of Duhamel’s series. As Claude Mesplède and Jean-Jacques Schleret note, a propos of Chase’s misleading reputation as a pioneer of the American roman noir, “[t]he fact that [Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish] was published from 1946 in the Série Noire maintains the confusion” (1996, p. 89). In this case, the new version simultaneously marks an updating of a 1962 translation and a return to its original (translated) title.           

This paradox is discreetly signalled in the copyright information given in the inner front cover of the Bibliothèque Noire edition, according to which the copyright for the ‘original’ English version is attributed to “Orchid Enterprise S.A.” and dated 1961,[5] and that corresponding to Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish is given as “Éditions Gallimard, 1946, pour la traduction française [for the French translation]”. Although this may appear logical in light of the tentative explanation given above, which sees the copyright follow the changes to the French title and thus revert to the earlier form, this is nonetheless a difficult and rather disingenuously signposted trail for the reader to follow. The association of “French translation” and “1946” necessarily suggest Duhamel’s “original French” version rather than Chassériau’s 1962 translation of Chase’s own rewrite. The potential complexities, arbitrariness and uneven application of certain aspects of copyright law notwithstanding, the publishers’ blurb seems designed to harness the potential of this ambiguity rather than to provide clarity.           

The identity of the second French translator of No Orchids for Miss Blandish constitutes a parallel, paratextual story of ambiguity. Very little is known of Noël Chassériau; indeed, the only details we have of him are an account of an interview with him conducted by Jean-Louis Touchant, former director of publications for the French crime fiction journal 813, Les Amis de la littérature policière, according to which the translator, whom he describes as “reserved” and “discreet”, is known to us readers of noir fiction only because we have read his name “below such and such a title” and also “because he was seen at the Festival de Reims, in 1985, being awarded the first Trophée 813 to be given to a translator” (1989, p. 13). That this man has remained such a reclusive figure may appear all the more astonishing insofar as, in 1989, he was, according to Touchant, responsible for the translation of five per cent of the total titles of the Série Noire, or some 100 works.[6] A parallel emerges in Touchant’s article between Chassériau’s reputation, as a name on the cover of so many books, and the identity of the Série Noire itself, which he describes “an institution, which has attained […] immortality [but which] remains no less sensitive to praise as well as to reproach” (1989, p. 13). Given the metonymic relationship that Chassériau has to the Série Noire, as its most prolific translator, it seems possible that Touchant’s title, “a hidden face of noir literature”, can be attributed equally readily to the series, which is itself metonymic of crime fiction in France, as well as to the translator. And given the high degree of pseudonymity associated with the Série Noire, Touchant’s reader may be forgiven, too, for suspecting Chassériau’s own identity to be a hoax.[7] Certainly, his translation credo, as it emerges in Touchant’s article, is full of self-contradiction and, as such, appears to have been rather artificially grafted from a typical range of opinions to do with translation praxis.

According to the skopos given to him by Gallimard’s high command for the republication project that was la Bibliothèque Noire, Chassériau embarked on the task of reediting various texts previously published in the Série Noire, apparently reinserting the missing words, sentences and even paragraphs excised by previous translators (themselves acting from their own skopos, again given by their own high command at Gallimard, presumably in most instances Duhamel himself). The logic here—of a return to the original English—accords with Chassériau’s advice, according to which “[a] good translator respects author and reader in equal measure” (Touchant, 1989, p. 14). This does not mean, however, that this reworking (which appears close in spirit to that typical of a retranslation) equals foreignisation; indeed, in order to respect the reader as well as the author, the translator “cannot simply perform a word-for-word translation” (Touchant, 1989, p. 14). In fact, Chassériau appears destined to intervene as much as the translators of Duhamel’s original team. As Touchant notes, 

[t]he English language is poorer than French, and so has to “enrich” the text, make it pleasant to read, even trim it, considering that the same work in French will be 25% longer than in English. The translator will sometimes have to condense descriptions, avoid repetitions, rectify mistakes made with [characters’] names (that change from one page to the next), journeys (he [Chassériau] works with a map of New York when translating stories set in the “Big Apple”), timetables, etc. (Touchant, 1989, p. 14) 

This is a Chassériau whose “versions” (“he refuses to use the term ‘new translation’”) restore missing text but also effect their own cuts; this is a model of translatory respect and restoration of the original English that, at the same time, admits correction of that text. Indeed, “Chassériau is convinced that it is sometimes in the author’s, and the text’s, best interest that cuts be made, and this out of respect also for the future reader” (Touchant, 1989, p. 14). This is a deontology of “equivalence” that privileges good translation practice unlike Duhamel’s whose own motto was, apparently, “to cut to the chase”.[8] And yet, elsewhere in the interview Chassériau reveals the following about the Série Noire: “the translated texts remain very close to the original” (Touchant, 1989, p. 14).           

It is difficult to draw any clear conclusions from this article about the differences—in terms either of the publishers’ skopos or the translator’s praxis—between the translations of the Série Noire and the republications of la Bibliothèque Noire. And in the case of Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, things are less clear still. What we can do, in light of Touchant’s article, is attribute to Chassériau the role of editor—“[he] is currently preparing a Chester Himes […] and a James Hadley Chase, including the second version of Miss Blandish” (1989, p. 13)—and thus some responsibility for the 1989 publishers’ note. What remains unclear, however, is whether the text of Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish contained in the 1989 volume, which is described as being “traduit de l’anglais par Noël Chassériau”, is a simple reprint of Chassériau’s first translation of Chase’s rewritten English text, which appeared as Pas d’orchidées in the Série Noire, or whether it is indeed “a second version” on Chassériau’s part and thus a reworked version of his own previous translation.[9] Either way, the restoration of the original translation, which is to say a word-for-word translation of the English title, which did not change in English with Chase’s 1961 rewrite, is also a return to the title originally chosen for the Série Noire by Duhamel. The result is Miss Blandish’s return to the title of her own novel as rewritten by her original author.            

In terms of the two verbs of the previously cited phrase—“[t]he present edition has been rewritten and reworked by the author”—it is possible that the schizophrenic tendency of the Série Noire, which so often sees authors split into their legal identity and their pseudonymous one, is again at work. The 1989 text of Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish is clearly based on a text rewritten, in 1961, by the author, James Hadley Chase; it is also reviewed for publication by Chassériau, who had first translated the reworked original text in 1962. It is possible therefore that these two verbs designate the respective work of Chase (who “rewrote”) and Chassériau (who “reworked”). This dual, and equal, participation in the construction of the French version is borne out by the final description of the translator’s role offered by Touchant a propos of Chassériau, with which he designates the latter’s work, presumably in both the Série Noire and the Bibliothèque Noire (with their ostensibly opposed skopoi): “The translator is like the new author of the novel” (1989, p. 14). 

The Research

The story of Chase’s novel is, as is becoming apparent, one of rapid and massive success: written over the course of six weekends, and with sales in the region of two million copies, it remains one of the best-selling titles of the Série Noire. The story of our attempts to come to grips with this (ostensibly well-known) phenomenon, on the other hand, is longer and, arguably, far less successful. Where Chase’s originality was both lost and gained in a relatively short trip across the Channel to France, our own research trip, from Sydney to Paris, was far longer than the supposed transatlantic adventure of the author. Our journey to find the “original” versions of No Orchids for Miss Blandish began in earnest at the Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières (la BiLiPo) in Paris in July 2014.[10] La BiLiPo’s crime fiction holdings are extensive both for French material and work in other languages, notably in English; if we were to be able to compare the trajectory of this text in its source and (French) target declensions, it seemed a logical place to begin. There we consulted their 1939 Jarrolds copy, and that written in 1961 and published by Panther in the same year.

According to the Panther edition Chase had, in the intervening years, written a play based on the novel, which necessitated the production of additional dialogue. The influence of this theatrical adaptation appears to be indeed discernible in the 1961 text: description is certainly more extensive and dialogue more direct. The same publishers’ blurb notes further that

[t]he present Panther edition has been rewritten and revised by the author who feels the original text with its outmoded dialogue and its 1938 atmosphere would not be acceptable to the new generation of readers who may be curious to read the most controversial, the most discussed and the best known gangster story ever to have been written. 

This appears to confirm that the text’s evolution was conditioned by the perceived expectations of the readership. Given the limited space available to us here, we do not propose to compare these two texts or the novel’s English and French trajectories at any great length; we shall nonetheless attempt to provide a sense that what is on the surface a complicated story of textual evolution along two sets of parallel lines (two originals, two translations) is in fact more complicated still: there is an interweaving of both lines, including feedback loops that see the translation(s) informing the ever-evolving original. 

The English Text(s) 

In terms of “original” editions, we have two: 1939 and 1961. The theatrical adaptation (dated 1942) may also constitute an original insofar as it must be substantially different to the first avatar of the novel. It is also important to state that the motivation for, and substance of, these rewrites has to a large extent been lost on readers, as it has generally been on critics. Indeed, the different republications of the text—whether it be the English one or the French translation—do not specify to which version they correspond. Readers may purchase, unknowingly, the 1939 version, the 1961 version, or indeed a hybrid version combining strands of both, such as the Bruin Crimeworks edition.[11]           

One of the reasons for going to Paris was to gain the certainty of having the “original” in our hands. And yet, even here we felt this original, source text slipping through our fingers. While we had unquestioningly accepted that the 1939 version held in la BiLiPo was the first edition published, the cover page told another story: in small print the words “367th Thousand” were faintly visible. Again, as with the versions we had been able to purchase, no date was given in the book.           

In order to date the Paris copy, we fell back on the one held in the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney, which is also catalogued as being the original 1939 version. The Fisher copy contains the following publishers’ blurb:

 In the past twenty-five years no other character in fiction has so gripped the public imagination. […] This edition of No Orchids for Miss Blandish is based on the play of the same title, licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, presented by George Black and dramatized by James Hadley Chase and Robert Nesbitt, with an additional dialogue by Val Guest.  

This version, again published by Jarrolds, is not dated either. Given the allusion to the novel’s having been published twenty-five years previously, however, it is possible to calculate an approximate date of 1964. Furthermore, the press cuttings included in its paratextual material reprise word for word the epigraph of the 1961 Panther edition: an extract taken from the Liverpool Post declares that “[i]t is doubtful if the vile rudeness of gangsterism has ever been more vividly presented in fiction”. Further examination of the paratextual fine print reveals the words “500th Thousand”. Since this text was published twenty-five years after the original edition, it is possible to divide the number of copies (500,000) by twenty-five to produce an average annual sales figure, and from that number to put a rough date on the copy consulted at la BiLiPo. This calculation (however approximate it is—it does not take into account the likelihood of higher initial sales) produces a date of 1957. What remains absent is the 1939 edition from which all the subsequent texts have developed. For develop that text did, and it continued to do so until after 1961, which is to say, after Chase had famously reworked the book and had it republished by Panther.           

An interesting edition found at la BiLiPo is published by Corgi Books. As is by now traditional, this book contains no precise publication date. It does list a number of previous publications, including the Panther edition of 1961 and the Corgi edition published in 1977, republished in 1979, 1980 and again in 1985. The text itself appears to correspond to that of the 1957 Jarrolds edition. In the absence of any clear indication, however, it is difficult to say with certainty that this is a faithful reproduction of the original text. Furthermore, this absence of clear publishing genealogy suggests a blurring, and potentially a deliberate one, of the history of No Orchids for Miss Blandish on the part of publishing houses both in England and France.           

Our initial hypothesis was predicated on two original texts (1939 and 1961) and their corresponding translations. Our intention was to show that each original gave rise to its own network of texts. This proved not to be the whole story. The 1961 rewrite was far from being the first edition to present significant alterations to the text. And yet, this version had been deemed sufficiently important to merit a new French translation. On the one hand, the 1961 rewrite was beginning to look like one more step in an ongoing evolution of the “text”, the most logical end point of which might well be the otherwise aberrant hybridisation of the Bruin Crimeworks edition. The fact that the text had become pluralised as discreet editions (1939, 1961 and so on) seemed increasingly to speak to interests known only to the publishers themselves. 

The French Text(s) 

The first translation is Marcel Duhamel’s. As we have noted, it was published as the third title of the Série Noire in 1946. While it is not explicitly stated, this translation is the logical foundation, or archetype, of Duhamel’s domesticating skopos and the marketing strategy that would become synonymous with the words “traduit de l’américain”.[12] And yet, close comparison (of it and those editions that pass for the 1939 original) reveals it to be a faithful translation of the English. This translation was republished three times: in 1949 and in 1950, still in the Série Noire, and in the Carré Noir collection in 1972. It is the last republication that seems the most surprising. Why in 1972 would Duhamel’s translation be republished when the original text that it translates had by that stage been superseded by Chase’s 1961 rewrite and Chassériau’s new translation had already been published?           

Chassériau’s translation is interesting for a number of reasons. It was first published in the Série Noire in 1962 as title number 719; it was republished in the series in 1965 and again in 1966. Most striking in this case is the disappearance of Miss Blandish. The translation, entitled Pas d’orchidées appears to indicate that Miss Blandish had become if not redundant then somehow integrated into French collective memory, forever synonymous with her orchids. Perversely, the change in title appears to run against the received wisdom according to which the new text is designed to make the text more accessible to a contemporary reading public: if the English text retained the title, why should the French title change? One answer immediately suggests itself: because a new title in the Série Noire requires precisely that—a new title. But why celebrate Miss Blandish’s iconic success in the Série Noire (and thus in France) by republishing her in the same series while attenuating the very language of the text that made her famous, and arguably by undoing the very spirit of the series itself, and kidnapping her from the title of her own novel. Because it is a story of her sequestration? Because her very absence suggests her presence, by the power of the word association established by the (absence of) “orchids”, and thus the impossibility of her erasure?[13] Of course, this remains speculation.           

The new French text is first republished, albeit still by Gallimard, in the famous Livre de Poche format. The title, however, reverts to Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish. The same text is next republished by Sauret in 1969, again as Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, with an introduction by Jean Martin-Chauffier who explains that the novel has been shortlisted for inclusion among the “Best Works of Detective Fiction”, a list established by André Sauret and the newspaper Le Figaro Littéraire. With this introduction Martin-Chauffier is the first to qualify Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish as a “classic of the roman noir”. It is interesting to note that Miss Blandish’s return to the limelight in France (and the cover of the Sauret edition) should coincide with her inclusion among the classics of the genre, when previously her fame had justified her disappearance from the cover of her own, and the same, story. Whether present or absent, Miss Blandish was becoming an icon of the Série Noire and, increasingly, synonymous with crime fiction in France. As is the case with the original English texts, the lines between the French versions appear deliberately blurred.           

All subsequent republications of the text are by Gallimard, which regains its monopoly over them. As noted previously, in 1989 Miss Blandish is not only officially rehabilitated but also paired with Miss Shumway, Chase’s other heroine, in a noir trilogy published in the Bibliothèque Noire collection. While the translation is still Chassériau’s, the copyright given on the inner cover corresponds to the 1946 version of Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, which was, of course, translated by Duhamel. In 1995, Miss Blandish is again republished, this time in Gallimard’s famous paperback collection Folio Policier, and this edition is itself republished in 2007. Again Miss Blandish appears in the title; again the second translator is given due credit with the caption “traduit de l’anglais par Noël Chassériau”; but once more the copyright refers to the French translation of 1946.           

Visually, each edition of the French translation is adapted to its target audience, which is logical—covers have always been the most direct way of appealing to new readers (we may think of the way classic texts are rereleased with cover art depicting the actors from their respective film adaptations) and of updating literary texts (or deliberately outmoding them, as in the case of the new, vintage-looking Penguin Classic series, whose orange and white covers are as iconic as the black and yellow of the Série Noire). In 1972, for example, Duhamel’s translation is accompanied by a photograph of a young woman with blond hair, looking suspiciously unafraid as a 1970s-style gangster holds his gun to her head (and not a fedora in sight). And yet, it is the 1946 version, the translation of the now outdated English text, that lies in wait (for Miss Blandish) beneath this cover. Miss Blandish’s return in France may be deemed complete in 2007 when the Folio Policier cover dispenses with detectives and gangsters alike—all that remains is Miss Blandish herself, resplendent in a little black dress (and no orchids). 

Variation in the Texts

A few brief examples will serve to demonstrate the lack of consistency in the evolution of the text, on the one hand, and the tendency, on the other hand, of what are otherwise ostensibly parallel trajectories to cross-fertilise one another.           

In the first example, taken from the first page of the text, it can be seen that Chase’s 1939 version requires little work on Duhamel’s part to fit the Série Noire mould. We can infer from his autobiography that the latter cut his teeth on No Orchids for Miss Blandish in terms of creating a skopos for his new series; his trade-mark, idiosyncratic style thus appears, logically enough, less domesticating here than it will do when applied to future texts. Thus, the 1946 Série Noire version corresponds faithfully to Chase’s version as published by Jarrolds circa 1957: 

Bailey avait une g.d.b. [gueule de bois] terrible. Il s’était payé une bonne biture la veille et la chaleur n’arrangeait pas les choses. Il avait les yeux chassieux et la bouche comme une cage à poules. (Chase, 1946)  

Bailey was feeling lousy. He had been hitting the booze hard the previous night and the heat didn’t help. His mouth felt like a bird-cage and his eyes were gritty. (Chase, c.1957) 

Similarly, Chassériau’s version of 1962 is a faithful rendition of Chase’s rewrite of 1961, in which the reference to Bailey’s mouth and eyes has been removed: 

Bailey n’était pas dans son assiette. Il avait beaucoup bu la nuit précédente et la chaleur l’incommodait. (Chase, 1962) 

He felt bad. He had been drinking heavily the previous night and the heat worried him. (Chase, 1961) 

Both texts have been considerably flattened in tone. In light of this, the Jarrolds version, dated by us at circa 1964, and thus as later than the 1961 rewrite, is interesting insofar as it retains the more hardboiled adjective “lousy” and the reference to the “bird-cage” (although the spelling of the latter word has been altered) but removes the reference to “hitting the booze the previous night”, which Chase retained in the substantive rewrite; in its place is a suitably hardboiled reference to liquor and heat not mixing: 

Bailey was feeling lousy. Hard liquor and heat don’t mix. His mouth felt like a birdcage and his eyes were gritty. (Chase, c.1964) 

If there is no obvious influence of the rewrite as published by Panther, the Jarrold’s text has continued to evolve, in a noir style, presumably with Chase’s authorial input. At the very least, the validity of the suggestion that readers’ tastes had changed since 1939 must be called into question. Indeed, this motive for the 1961 rewrite is sorely tested by the novel’s opening line, which in the Jarrolds edition (c.1957) reads “It began on a summer morning in July” whereas the Panther edition of 1961 offers the following: “It began on a summer afternoon in July”. It seems inconceivable that readers in the 1960s, swinging though the decade may have been, would struggle to understand the word “morning”. Interestingly, it should be noted that this opening line has proven unstable in French as well: Duhamel’s version, which originally gives us “Ça avait commencé un matin de juillet”, has, by 1949, changed to “Cela avait commencé un matin de juillet”. This change, however small it may appear, represents a significant, and liminally important (given its prime position as the opening word of the text), shift from the familiar, and thus hardboiled, register of ça to the standard, more innocuous, register of cela.           

If the above, and other corroborating examples, speak to an independent evolution of Chase’s two textual trajectories in English, the following example provides evidence that Duhamel’s French translation also had influence on Chase’s rewriting. In the Jarrolds edition (Chase, c.1957, p. 7), we read, a propos of Miss Blandish, “I’d give a year’s rent to lay that dame”. For his part, Duhamel renders the character Heinie’s colloquial expression with the equally colourful “Dix ans de loyer, je donnerais, pour tomber c’te souris” (Chase, 1946, p. 13). Chase’s “a year’s rent” has become in French “ten years’ rent”. This new number is subsequently taken up by Chase and used in his 1961 rewrite: “I’d give ten years of my life for a roll in the hay with her” (1961, p. 9). Interestingly, while this figure of ten years remains in subsequent French editions, there follows a distinct standardising of register in Heinie’s choice of verb: in Chassériau’s first translation we read “je donnerais dix ans de ma vie pour l’enviander” (Chase, 1962, p. 14), where the verb enviander is at the vulgar end of the familiar scale (and is typically used to denote anal sex, although this does not appear to be implied here), whereas by 2007 the much flatter and more commonly used expression se [la] faire is preferred: “Je donnerais dix ans de ma vie pour me la faire” (Chase, 2007, p. 13). This is one case where the text corroborates the stated aim of a linguistic modernisation of Miss Blandish’s story.           

Thus, while the idea that the text was rewritten in 1961 in order to suit the tastes of the readership of the day is not entirely unfounded, it seems clear that the English versions and their French homologues began to evolve before this notorious 1961 rewrite and have continued to evolve both in light of it and independently of it. Accordingly, the rewrite myth can be shelved alongside the now popular assumption that the novel was “originally” written in six weekends. While there may be some truth there, it is can equally be argued that the novel was not definitively written in Chase’s lifetime. And the received wisdom, according to which the Série Noire was built on French translations of American hardboiled crime novels, must be tempered by an understanding of “originality” that allows for cross-fertilisation, for a translation skopos that marries fidelity with creative rewriting and, ultimately, for the emergence of a textual identity predicated on Anglo-(American-)French hybridity. 


It is clear that James Hadley Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish inspired Marcel Duhamel and provided the platform for the Série Noire. At the same time, it seems equally valid to say that publication in the Série Noire contributed to Chase’s prestige and enduring legacy in France, And while this feedback loop could not prevent Chase’s star from fading in the Anglo-Saxon world, alongside that of his fellow luminary of post-war Parisian noir literature, Peter Cheyney, Miss Blandish has continued to live on in any number of permutations of her original form. The king-making role of the Série Noire would continue, too, launching future stars of French literature, such as Daniel Pennac, and enabling more American writers (including ‘real’ Americans, like Douglas Kennedy) to make the move into literary stardom in France.         

We have seen that the status of “original text” can legitimately be shared by Duhamel’s translation of 1946, although this was republished by Duhamel with not insignificant changes as early as 1949, and Chase’s first publication in 1939, whose mythical stature is commensurate with the difficulty one faces when trying to locate it. Certainly, neither text was superseded by the author’s famous subsequent rewrite or the new translation that followed close on its heels. Indeed, any number of changes have been made to both texts (in parallel, the one influencing the other, and perhaps with open collaboration between author and publisher—they met and corresponded often enough); and, far from differentiating them, these evolutionary changes appear, perversely, to have driven the texts closer together, fusing her English and French trajectories until Miss Blandish can be more easily understood as a ‘text’ in all the ambiguity and mobility of that singular term. The result is French versions that display contradictory information about the source of their translation and palimpsestic English editions that seem to cut-and-paste sections from various predecessors with a logic known only to their editors, but typically marketed as being the “original text” now made available for today’s readers.           

Seen in this light, Noël Chassériau’s role in this complicated story now appears appropriately mysterious. If doubts as to his existence have been allayed by the testimony of those few members of the French noir literati to have known him,[14] and his dates of birth and death fixed with precision (1919-2003), his ability to continue to translate from beyond the grave remains inexplicable. His name appears as the translator on any number of books published, notably by Gallimard Jeunesse, its children’s fiction series, up to and beyond 2010. It is tempting to consider his name as a marque, a guarantee of translation quality and, as such, as a label designed to ensure sales, not unlike Duhamel’s famous, but also mythical, “traduit de l’américain” (mythical, of course, because many of the most famous texts, and notably those that embody the myth, actually bear the words “traduit de l’anglais”). Certainly, the inconsistencies in Chassériau’s translation philosophy can be mapped onto the inconsistent translation and publishing strategies that constitute Miss Blandish’s hybrid Anglo-French textual trajectory.            

As we write this article in 2015, Miss Blandish’s original form is difficult to ascertain. The original English copy is rare: library copies catalogued as 1939 prove to post-date this first publication date, often by some decades; indeed, the “original” text can even post-date Chase’s “official”, substantive rewrite of 1961. How many “rewrites” the English version has been subjected to is a mystery. The ‘“original” French version, which launched Miss Blandish on the continent and ultimately ensured Chase’s place in the noir canon, is itself difficult to obtain: versions appearing to be Duhamel’s first translation often turn out to have been printed in 1949, and, as we have seen, their texts differ in slight but important ways. Lastly, the second Série Noire edition is attributed to a translation phenomenon, whose life and times are, if verified, at the least mysterious to the point of appearing clichéd. Certainly, death has not stopped Chassériau’s translations any more than Miss Blandish’s original suicide has prevented her story from undergoing multiple subsequent reconstructions.         

This parallel absence and ongoing variation of original and translated text make Miss Blandish metonymic of the Série Noire’s initial (and original) usurpation of original “American” thrillers in favour of a crime fiction series that would represent, on the one hand, a new forum for French noir and, on the other, a retaking of French ground and a new French allegory in a post-war European space increasingly dominated by American finance and culture. In this way, the after-life of French noir’s most famous eponymous heroine and the posthumous career of its most prolific translator are entwined inextricably and, seemingly, inexplicably. And while any number of conflicting interests, myths and debates will continue to un- and re-ravel, it looks certain that there will always be (no) orchids for Miss Blandish.



CHASE, J. H. (1946) Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, trans. M. Duhamel. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire.

------- (circa 1957) No Orchids for Miss Blandish. London: Jarrolds.

------- (1961) No Orchids for Miss Blandish. London: Panther.

------- (1962) Pas d’orchidées, trans. N. Chassériau. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire.

------- (circa 1964) No Orchids for Miss Blandish. London: Jarrolds.

------- (1989) Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, La chair de l’orchidée, Miss Shumway jette un sort, trans. N. Chassériau. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque Noire.

------- (2007) Pas d’orchidées pour Miss Blandish, trans. N. Chassériau. Paris: Gallimard, Folio Policier.

DUHAMEL, M. (1972) Raconte pas ta vie. Paris: Mercure de France.

MESPLEDE, C. and SCHLERET, J.-J. (1996) Les auteurs de la Série Noire : Voyage au bout de la Noire 1945-1995. Paris: Joseph K.

ROLLS. A. and WALKER, D. (2009) French and American Noir: Dark Crossings. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

TOUCHANT, J.-L. (1989) “Un visage caché de la Noire.” 813, Les Amis de la littérature policière. 28. pp. 13-14



[1] This bookshop is located at 11, rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th arrondissement. We should like to thank the team there, especially Olivier Ancel and owner Bernard Terrades for their help in our endeavours in 2012 and again in 2014.

[2] Each volume of this series republishes three classics of a given Série Noire author: the series’s webpage indicates that the James Hadley Chase volume overseen by Chassériau is amongst the most popular. (accessed 22 January 2015).

[3] Here and throughout this article, all translations are, unless otherwise specified, the authors’ own.

[4] While it is difficult to know which version of the original one is holding, since no dates appear in the various Jarrolds versions, English frontispieces comparable to the one published in French in 1989 celebrate the sales figures of No Orchids for Miss Blandish. We read, for example (Chase, c.1964), that “[t]he story of Miss Blandish needs no introduction. Nearly half a million copies of the book have been sold. More than seven million people have read it”; and that “[i]n the past twenty-five years no other character in fiction has so gripped the public imagination.” Nor is it clear here whether the seven million readers of Miss Blandish’s story include those reading it in French.

[5] While it is not within the remit of this paper to explore the full extent of the changes that No Orchids for Miss Blandish has undergone in English, suffice to say that these have been radical and include an alternative American title: it was published by New York company Howell, Soskin in 1942 as The Villain and the Virgin. As can be seen online, the 1949 edition of The Villain and the Virgin also bears the title No Orchids for Miss Blandish in brackets. See (accessed 28 July 2014).

[6] The last Série Noire title published in 1988, Jean-Bernard Pouy’s La Clef des mensonges, was number 2161.

[7] We are grateful to Paris-based crime-fiction translator Pierre Bondil, who was not only able to establish that Noël Chassériau died on 2 January 2003 (having been born on 4 November 1919) after a long a career as a translator (personal correspondence: email dated 7 July 2014) but also to arrange for us to have lunch with Jean-Louis Touchant in Paris on Thursday 10 July 2014.

[8] Duhamel’s expression is given as “couper dans les gamberges”. Given how difficult this expression is to translate, we could not resist the temptation of this play on words here.

[9] Given the difficulty in knowing what differences the various texts may display—some that we have discovered have been both surprising and surprisingly major, others minimal and equally baffling—we shall henceforth use the term ‘republication’ systematically over such near-synonyms as ‘reprint’.

[10] We should like to record our sincere thanks here to Catherine Chauchard and Samuel Schwiegelhofer from la BiLiPo for their invaluable assistance and generous hospitality.

[11] Published in Eugene, Oregon, this edition is undated; it cites the copyright dates of the 1939 and 1961 editions and styles itself “yet a further update for the latest generation of readers” (“A note to the reader”, inner cover).

[12] It is well known that of the three novels that Duhamel chose to inaugurate the Série Noire, it was No Orchids for Miss Blandish that gripped him the most powerfully. Peter Cheyney’s Poison Ivy and This Man is Dangerous he found more comical. His reasons for publishing them first can be explained with the changes that he makes to them, and notably to the title of the first, which becomes the iconic La Môme vert-de-gris. Whereas, via Duhamel’s skopos, the Cheyney texts were transformed into an allegory of post-war France, Chase’s novel is translated with surprising fidelity, almost as if in it Duhamel had found the tone of his noir series. For his description of reading the texts for the first time, see Duhamel (1972, p. 491); for an analysis of the allegorical translation of La Môme vert-de-gris, see Rolls and Walker (2009, pp. 57-71).

[13] Perversely, despite the fact that the orchids are always present in the negative in the title (other than the American title mentioned in note 5 above), orchids are used on a number of covers. See, for example, the 1972 edition of the novel published by Gallimard in the Carré Noir collection.

[14] Conspiracy theories are, of course, compelling, so it is perhaps worth juxtaposing Chassériau’s most famous appearance in public, in 1985 when he received the ‘813 Trophy’ for his services to crime fiction translation, with that of Émile Ajar, who won the Prix Goncourt in 1975 for La Vie devant soi but who was nonetheless a heteronymic identity, the auctor, or authority behind the text, being none other than Romain Gary. Neither prizes nor public appearances are proof positive of someone’s ‘real’ existence.


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.

Clara Sitbon is a Scholarly Teaching Fellow at the University of Sydney. Her research is centred on literary hoaxes and authorship; it focuses, inter alia, on famous cases of (fake) post-war crime fiction (translations), such as the Boris Vian/Vernon Sullivan affair. She has also published articles on Baudelaire’s plagiarism and, more recently, the work of San-Antonio.

Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan is a Senior Lecturer in French Studies and Head of Languages and Language Studies at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests lie in translation studies, and especially the translation of culture. Her publications include Transfert de langue, transfert de culture (Peter Lang, 2012), a linguistic study of the translation of Dymphna Cusack’s Southern Steel into French. More recently, Marie-Laure’s own French translation of Cusack’s novel has been published as Acier austral (L’Harmattan, 2015).


As co-authors, and co-members of Detective Fiction on the Move, they are interested in various facets of the Série Noire collection, including authorship (Clara), translation (Marie-Laure) and allegory (Alistair).


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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