Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc (1909) (translated by Edgar Jepson)
First Impressions: I’ve read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and thought he was the one and only detective in my life… but then I was introduced to Arsène Lupin. Known for creating the fictional gentleman thief, he is often described as the French counterpart to Arthur Conan Doyle. The style of Leblancs prose is reminiscent of Doyle’s, but this novel focuses on the success of the gentleman thief instead of the detective. All I can say is that I’ve been converted to the French side.
Short Plot Summary: Before being visited by Lupin, French aristocrats receive a pleasant note, telling them that they will be robbed of a certain artifact on a specific night. No matter the precautions the rich take, they can never protect their valuables from Lupin. He is truly a master of disguise and an actor of the first-rate. He is a Robin Hood of his time, with all the refinement of an educated French gentleman. The tale is much more thrilling told from this point of view, because the Lupin always has everything to loose, but is too addicted to the thrill of robbery.
Excerpt From the Novel:
“Come,” he said, laughing still. “This is nonsense! What do you mean by the same handwriting? It can’t be.”
“It is the same handwriting. Am I likely to make a mistake about it?” spluttered the millionaire. And he tore open the envelope with an air of frenzy.
He ran his eyes over it, and they grew larger and larger—they grew almost of an average size.
“Listen,” he said “listen:”
“My collection of pictures, which I had the pleasure of starting three years ago with some of your own, only contains, as far as Old Masters go, one Velasquez, one Rembrandt, and three paltry Rubens. You have a great many more. Since it is a shame such masterpieces should be in your hands, I propose to appropriate them; and I shall set about a respectful acquisition of them in your Paris house tomorrow morning.”
“Yours very sincerely,”
“He’s humbugging,” said the Duke.
“Wait! wait!” gasped the millionaire. “There’s a postscript. Listen:”
“P.S.—You must understand that since you have been keeping the coronet of the Princesse de Lamballe during these three years, I shall avail myself of the same occasion to compel you to restore that piece of jewellery to me.—A. L.”
“The thief! The scoundrel! I’m choking!” gasped the millionaire, clutching at his collar.
Something to Think About:
- The character of Lupin might have been based by Leblanc on French anarchist Marius Jacob
- Leblanc appeared to have resented Lupin’s success. Several times, he tried to create other characters, but could not separate himself from Lupin.
- Leblanc wrote a story where he introduces the character Sherlock Holmes and he becomes one of the hunting detectives for Lupin.
His books have been turned into many movies, the most recent, a 2004 French adaptation with two notable French actresses, Eva Green and Kristin Scott-Thomas, of the character (perhaps the inspiration for creating a Sherlock Holmes blockbuster).