La langue française est une belle langue dans laquelle il y a beaucoup de poésie qui passe. Il y a beaucoup de choses qui passent dans la langue française. Je ne dis pas qu’il n’y a pas de la poésie dans la langue anglaise, mais ce n’est pas la même chose, ce n’est pas la même beauté, ce n’est pas les mêmes accentuations. Ce n’est pas le même flow, comme on dirait. Donc moi, la langue française, je la trouve plus belle, je l’aime beaucoup plus que certains Français ne l’aiment, n’aiment leur langue.
– “Africa’s greatest living diva”, the Benin-born, New York-residing Angelique Kidjo, who performed last month at Sherbrooke’s Granada Theatre
As translated by the BBC: “French is a beautiful language, with a great deal of poetry. I am not saying that there’s no poetry in English, but it’s not the same thing, it doesn’t have the same accents, the same flow. So I find French a more beautiful language. I love it much more than some French people love their language.”
This week in Good Reads, words written in the language of Molière: A French novelist and a French-speaking Belgian, both of whom created beloved characters, and both of whom set their crime and detective novels in France.
First, Arsène Lupin, the gentleman cambrioleur, a rogue and accomplished thief whose charming impulses always lead to the rescue of a damsel in distress. His creator is Maurice Leblanc (born 1864, he died during the Second World War).
Leblanc was forced to change the name of his good-hearted anti-hero almost immediately, in 1905 or so, from Lopin, a moniker shared with a local politician who was most displeased by the association.
A second name change-aroo occurred when Lupin met Sherlock Holmes in a battle of wits, without legal permission. Later reprints featured Lupin facing his nemesis, Herlock Sholmes (and in the US, Holmlock Shears). (You can find that first story, Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late, at Gutenberg.org, along with some of S/Holmes’ later appearances, also.)
Arsene Lupin appears in 20 volumes penned by Leblanc (there are also some authorized sequels floating about). The Lennoxville Library only has one, a later adventure, L’Île aux trente cercueils (filed in Adult French Fiction). Leblanc had fun with this one, writing a fantastical novel narrated by a histrionic woman trapped by her father’s curse, in which Leblanc poked fun at the gothic writing style and – just a bit – at his own gentleman, who pops up at the end to right wrongs. Lupin is for those whose French reading skills allow for complex flair.
Our second featured icon is the more solid Commissaire Jules Maigret, a Parisian detective inspector created out of the imagination of reporter Georges Simenon.
The late Simenon was one of the most astonishingly prolific writers ever, cranking out at least 60 pages a day (he published hundreds of novels).
Born at the turn of the 20th century in Liege, Belgium, Simenon later moved to France. During the Second World War, he worked rather well with the Vichy government, becoming quite rich in the process. At the end of the hostilities, he suddenly felt a need to scoot off to North America (including spending a few months in Quebec before moving to the US).
Maigret is never without a pipe and glass of wine, or a Pernod, or maybe a beer. He first appeared in 1930 and went on to a long career in law enforcement, his life an earnest plodding, following clue after clue, leading to the killer.
There are generally two kinds of women in his novels: the pretty and dead, and the quiet wife, who cooks whenever he makes it home, knowing her husband is otherwise chugging back coffee and alcohol, seeking that perfect mix of wakefulness and creativity that will lead him to the bad guy.
The Lennoxville Library has a 16-set Maigret series in the Gros Caracteres (large print) section. Maigret Et La Jeune Morte (1989) is the third book, in which Maigret sleeps four or five hours over as many days as he struggles to work with a sadsack peon while solving the murder of a woman so quiet and unassuming even her name is a mystery.
Maigret A Peur (1991) is no. 13, and features a commissaire who is feeling his age. On vacation, outside his element, he’s drafted to solve a series of murders before fearful townspeople take things into their own hands.
The Maigret novels are written simply and straightforwardly. “Just one piece of general advice from a writer has been very useful to me,” Simenon once said. “It was from [the writer] Colette. I was writing short stories for Le Matin, and Colette was literary editor at that time. I remember I gave her two short stories and she returned them and I tried again and tried again. Finally she said, ‘Look, it is too literary, always too literary.’ So I followed her advice.”
A lot of paring went into Simenon’s minimalist flow.
– Eleanor Brown, March 7, 2014