My Book Notes: “The Little Old Man of Batignolles” (1876) by Émile Gaboriau


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

London: Vizetelly and Co., 1886. Available on line at https://archive.org/details/14201641.2531.emory.edu/page/n1/mode/2up. Originally published posthumously as “Le petit vieux des Batignolles” by Éditions Dentu, 1876.

37928566Book Description: “Le Petit Vieux des Batignolles” (1870), (“The Little Old Man of Batignolles”), Gaboriau’s other main detective short story. This tale does have a puzzle plot. Gaboriau leads his readers into an intricate maze where nothing is as it seems. Every clue or apparent deduction is immediately contradicted by something else, and the detectives find it hard to come up with any theory that explains all the facts. This sort of “overload” approach will later be used by Baroness Orczy. There is also a “paradoxical” feel to the tale; Gaboriau takes delight in each clue pointing to its apparent direct opposite. Gaboriau also shows how a clue can be interpreted in many different ways. The scenes early in the story, where the young doctor narrator meets the policeman M. Mechinet, and is invited by him to join him on a murder case, seem directly anticipatory of Dr. Watson’s meeting of Sherlock Holmes, in “A Study in Scarlet” (1887). Behind both Gaboriau and Doyle stands Edgar Allan Poe, and the meeting of the narrator and Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841).”The Little Old Man of Batignolles” is reprinted in English translation in E.F. Bleiler’s anthology A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979). The tale was made into an hour-long film for television in 2009, by famed French director Claude Chabrol. (Source: Mike Grost)

My take: Julian Symons at Bloody Murder, Penguin Books, 1974 encouraged me to read this short story by saying that: ‘This [Monsieur Lecoq] is the best of the novels: but “Le Petit Vieux de[s] Batignolles” is undoubtedly his finest piece of work, ….. (pp. 58).

The story is in the shape of an anonymous manuscript that, after several vicissitudes, was attributed to M. Godeuil. In consequence, it was published at a time when the French laws was banning the publication of anonymous texts as a measure against libels. It is written in the first person by M. Godeuil and it goes back to the time in which M. Godeuil had finished his medical studies and was living in Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. He barely knew the other tenants bar one with whom he developed some friendship after a while. He was called Monsieur Méchinet and his apartment was just in front of the door to  his room. M. Méchinet was married but his conduct was somehow irregular. He frequently used to leave in the evening to return just before daybreak and, at times, he disappeared during whole weeks.

On certain occasion, Méchinet got violently into Godeuil’s room with his head stained with blood. Fortunately the wound was mild and, once cured, he told Godeuil not to talk with anybody about that small incident. The next day, Méchinet returned calmly to express Godeuil his appreciation and invited him to dinner. After that dinner their relationships  became more often and, every now and then, they played dominoes. One day, their game was interrupted by a particularly urgent matter which Méchinet had to attend to, and he invited Godeuil to join him. Thus he became aware that Méchinet was a detective. The matter at hand had to do with the murder of an elderly man in Batignolles.

At first sight, it seemed a relatively straightforward case. Before dying, the victim had written the name of his murderer with his own blood. Accordingly, his nephew was arrested. But when Godeuil observed the victim closely, he came to realise that it couldn’t be possible. The name of the murderer had been written with the left hand. But, to everyone’s surprise, the nephew had already confessed his crime.

What follows is a highly entertaining short story that I’m sure will delight many lovers of the genre, particularly to those interested in getting to know how it evolved from its early stages. Highly recommended.

About the Author: Émile Gaboriau (1832 – 1873) was born in the small town of Saujon, Charente-Maritime. He became a secretary to Paul Féval, and after publishing some novels and miscellaneous writings, found his real gift in L’Affaire Lerouge (1866). The book, which was Gaboriau’s first detective novel, introduced an amateur detective. It also introduced a young police officer named Monsieur Lecoq, who was the hero in three of Gaboriau’s later detective novels. The character of Lecoq was based on a real-life thief turned police officer, Eugène François Vidocq (1775–1857), whose own memoirs, Les Vrais Mémoires de Vidocq, mixed fiction and fact. It may also have been influenced by the villainous Monsieur Lecoq, one of the main protagonists of Féval’s Les Habits Noirs book series. The book was published in “Le Siècle” and at once made his reputation. Gaboriau gained a huge following, but when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Monsieur Lecoq’s international fame declined. The story was produced on the stage in 1872. A long series of novels dealing with the annals of the police court followed, and proved very popular. Gaboriau died in Paris of pulmonary apoplexy. Gaboriau’s books were generally well received. About the Mystery of the Orcival, Harper’s wrote in 1872 “Of its class of romance – French sensational – this is a remarkable and unique specimen“. A film version of Le Dossier n° 113 (File No. 113) was released in 1932.

“El viejecito de los Batignolles”, de Émile Gaboriau

Descripción del libro: “Le Petit Vieux des Batignolles” (1870), (“El viejecito de los Batignolles”), es el otro relato policial principal de Gaboriau. Este relato tiene una trama de enigma. Gaboriau lleva a sus lectores a un intrincado laberinto donde nada es lo que parece. Cada pista o deducción aparente se contradice de inmediato por otra cosa, y los detectives encuentran difícil encontrar una teoría que explique todos los hechos. Este tipo de enfoque “recargado” será utilizado posteriormente por la baronesa Orczy. También el relato tiene un toque “paradójico”; Gaboriau se deleita en que cada pista apunte en apariencia a su polo opueto. Gaboriau también muestra cómo una pista se puede interpretar de muchas maneras diferentes. Las escenas al principio de la historia, donde el joven narrador médico se encuentra con el policía M. Méchinet, y es invitado por él a acompañarle en un caso de asesinato, parecen anticipar directamente el encuentro del Dr. Watson de Sherlock Holmes, en “A Study in Scarlet” (1887). Detrás tanto de Gaboriau como de Doyle se encuentra Edgar Allan Poe, y el encuentro del narrador y Dupin en “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841). “El viejecito de los Batignolles” se publicó en inglés en la antología de E.F. Bleiler A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979). En el 2009 el relato fue transformado en un película de una hora de duración para la televisión, por el famoso director francés Claude Chabrol. (Fuente: Mike Grost)

Mi opinión: Julian Symons en Bloody Murder, Penguin Books, 1974, me animó a leer este cuento diciendo: “Esta [Monsieur Lecoq] es la mejor de las novelas: pero” Le Petit Vieux de [s] Batignolles “es indudablemente su mejor trabajo, … (págs. 58).

La historia tiene la forma de un manuscrito anónimo que, tras varias vicisitudes, fue atribuido a M. Godeuil. En consecuencia, se publicó en un momento en que las leyes francesas prohibían la publicación de textos anónimos como medida contra los libelos. Está escrito en primera persona por M. Godeuil y se remonta a la época en que M. Godeuil había terminado sus estudios de medicina y vivía en la Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. Apenas conocía a los otros inquilinos, salvo uno con quien desarrolló cierta amistad después de un tiempo. Se llamaba Monsieur Méchinet y su apartamento estaba justo enfrente de la puerta de su habitación. M. Méchinet estaba casado pero su conducta era en cierto sentido irregular. Frecuentemente solía irse por la tarde para regresar justo antes del amanecer y, a veces, desaparecía durante semanas enteras.

En cierta ocasión, Méchinet entró violentamente en la habitación de Godeuil con la cabeza manchada de sangre. Afortunadamente, la herida era leve y, una vez curada, le dijo a Godeuil que no hablara con nadie sobre ese pequeño incidente. Al día siguiente, Méchinet regresó con calma para expresarle su agradecimiento a Godeuil y lo invitó a cenar. Después de esa cena, sus relaciones se hicieron más frecuentes y, de vez en cuando, jugaban al dominó. Un día, su juego fue interrumpido por un asunto particularmente urgente que Méchinet tuvo que atender, e invitó a Godeuil a acompañarle. Así se dio cuenta de que Méchinet era un detective. El asunto en cuestión tenía que ver con el asesinato de un anciano en Batignolles.

A primera vista, parecía un caso relativamente sencillo. Antes de morir, la víctima había escrito el nombre de su asesino con su propia sangre. En consecuencia, su sobrino fue arrestado. Pero cuando Godeuil observó a la víctima de cerca, se dio cuenta de que no podía ser posible. El nombre del asesino había sido escrito con la mano izquierda. Pero, para sorpresa de todos, el sobrino ya había confesado su crimen.

Lo que sigue es un relato muy entretenido que estoy seguro deleitará a muchos amantes del género, particularmente a aquellos interesados en conocer cómo evolucionó desde sus primeras etapas. Muy recomendable.

Sobre el autor: Émile Gaboriau, (Saujon, 9 de noviembre de 1832 – París, 28 de setiembre de 1873), fue un escritor y periodista francés. Precursor de la novela policíaca y novela negra en su país. En su obra se conjugan aspectos fantásticos con las influencias de Honoré de Balzac y Edgar Allan Poe. Murió en París a consecuencia de una apoplejía pulmonar. Sus títulos principales son: L’affaire Lerouge (1866), Le dossier 113 (1867), Le crime d’Orcival (1868), Monsieur Lecoq (1869), Les esclaves de Paris (1869) y La corde au cou (1873).

2 thoughts on “My Book Notes: “The Little Old Man of Batignolles” (1876) by Émile Gaboriau

  1. I read story in French this last week, using the link you provided in your previous Gaboriau post, if I remember correctly. So, thanks for that!

    I enjoyed it, but as with other old tales that were very influential, it is not quite as enjoyable today as it was influential then. Even so, definitely an enjoyable read, not just for the tale but also for the old-fashioned writing style: the gap between written and spoken language was larger in French than it was in English, it seems to me. Whereas the writing in stories by Poe and Doyle barely feels ‘antiquated’ or ‘not of this time’ stylistically, this was definitely the case here … an alienation effect that added to the reading experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.