Midweek Distractions 11/15/23: Lupin and “Herlock Sholmes”

Assane Diop from Lupin and Sherlock Holmes
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In the wake of binging the third season of Lupin on Netflix, I decided it was finally time for me to check out the Arsène Lupin stories the show is based on. These books (17 novels and 39 novellas) by French novelist, Maurice Leblanc, were released between 1905 and 1939 (though a lost Lupin story was later discovered and published in 2012). These titles are as widely known and read in France as the Sherlock Holmes stories are in the English-speaking world.

In fact, one of the curious things I discovered in the introduction to the collection I read (Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief, a “best-of” compilation of Lupin stories), is that Lupin was actually explicitly inspired by Sherlock Holmes. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dazzled the English public with his serialized detective stories, over in France, a then-unsuccessful Leblanc was encouraged by his magazine editor to write a Sherlock-esque character. The result was Arsène Lupin, a “gentleman-burglar,” whose intelligence and cunning (along with an almost superhuman ability to change his appearance) allow him to pull off the most impressive of heists. But the Sherlock connection goes further — there are several Lupin stories in which the burglar faces off against Sherlock Holmes. Of course, Doyle wasn’t too happy about this (particularly since Lupin often gets the better of Holmes), and filed complaints against Leblanc. That’s why, to this day, many of these stories refer to Arsène Lupin and “Herlock Sholmes.”

I also learned that while the Netflix Lupin series is set in Paris, Leblanc set many of his stories in his beloved Normandy. Some of the region’s most famous landmarks, like the Cliffs at Étretat, feature prominently in these stories. You can learn more about them in our Normandy travel guide.

Both the Lupin-styled character Assane Diop from the Netflix show and Leblanc’s Arsène are definitely cut from the same cloth; both share a slyness and an allure that push and pull on the reader’s (or watcher’s) emotions. While the Netflix show follows one cohesive storyline, most of the Lupin stories can be read as one-offs, and often follow the burglar as he gallivants among a cast of characters who will never be heard from again. But the Leblanc stories I enjoyed the most were the ones that built off of Lupin’s relationships to other characters, like his frenemy, the detective Ganimard, or the heiress Hortense Daniel, one of Lupin’s love interests. It struck me that both Diop and Lupin have a similarly domineering style of wooing women: they lead with charm, but beneath the charm is a carefully orchestrated plot that makes even the most reluctant of women feel as though they are powerless against the burglar’s desire. It’s both captivating and unnerving, an Old World stereotype of French romance which, though it feels somewhat problematic, hasn’t lost all of its allure.

(Side note: While Googling “Lupin’s love interests” to remember Hortense’s last name, the first search result Google gave me was about a manga series based on Leblanc’s stories, called Lupin III. Created by the Japanese artist Monkey Punch, this unaffiliated book series, which came with its own copyright disputes, centers on Arsène Lupin’s grandson. Apparently, in the series, “Lupin is engaged to a talking dolphin named Leticia.” Thanks, Google.)

Le Weekend…

You may have noticed that your inbox was missing Caitlin’s Le Weekend on Friday. Caitlin was in surgery last week but will be back this Friday with her newsletter, and even managed to binge and review Netflix’s All the Light We Cannot See while she was recovering.

What I’m listening to this week…

I’m revisiting “From Gaza with Love,” the debut album from French-Palestinian artist Saint Levant. The rapper, who sings in French, English, and Arabic, canceled his U.S. tour a few weeks ago in protest of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, and is selling merch to benefit the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Though his songs put up a cocky, sexual front, he sneaks in a lot of political commentary, and it’s worth looking up the translations for the Arabic portions of his songs, which often touch on the oppression his family faced over generations in Palestine.

Things I found on the Internet…

Did you know your Le Creuset is two pans in one? Love letters to French sailors in the 18th century have finally been uncovered. And how to sound French without speaking French.

New Yorkers…

Cult favorite bakery L’Appartement 4F is doing a limited release of a Tomato Galette on Saturday, November 18, in partnership with Maille, the beloved French mustard brand. There will even be a mustard tasting, and prizes to the first 15 people in line. (The bakery opens at 8 AM.)

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor, frenchly.us

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