Maurice Leblanc – Formidable Fiction in France

Maurice Marie Emile Leblanc was born in Rouen, Normandy, in 1864, to a father of Italian descent and a mother who came from an Old Norman family. Maurice was raised alongside his two sisters Johanna and Georgette, who became a famous opera singer and movie star. Leblanc was well-known for the role he played in helping to develop detective fiction, and his vivid imagination was apparent from early childhood when he would describe the landscape in his hometown. The ease with which he learnt also showed in the prizes that he was awarded while at school. After graduating from secondary school, he worked at a card manufacturer, practising his writing during his spare time.

Leblanc then travelled to Germany and Italy, where he studied briefly before returning to France to pursue a law degree. He settled in Paris, after dropping out of law school, and began writing short stories. His work was mainly psychological fiction that criticised certain bourgeois values and were influenced by authors such as Gustave Flaubert. The stories were admired but remained relatively unsuccessful and Leblanc was perceived as a short story writer for French periodicals, rather than an outstanding author.

An editorial request for a French version of Sherlock Holmes boosted his career dramatically, when Leblanc created a character that was exactly the opposite. His first Arsene Lupin story appeared in Je Sais Tout magazine, in July 1905, and readers fell in love with the glamorous gentleman thief. The mastermind criminal became the foundation for most of the stories that Leblanc subsequently wrote, which included 21 Lupin novels, some of which were short story collections. In one of the most popular novels, Lupin met (and defeated) one of Britain’s greatest fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes.

Even though he never publicly admitted it, many people believe that Leblanc’s inspiration for Arsene Lupin was the French anarchist, Marius Jacob, who had been in the public eye frequently during the birth of the character. His ‘gentleman thief’ might also have been based on books that Leblanc had read in his youth. Lupin first began appearing as a short story series in magazines, but by 1907, Leblanc was writing full length novels. Even though he dedicated the rest of his career to writing about Lupin, it has been suggested that Leblanc was resentful of the fact that the character was so successful. He would have liked to experiment with other genres, and believed that the focus was a deterrent from his true passions.

Many of the other characters he tried to create would merge Lupin, such as private eye Jim Barnett, and Leblanc continued writing until the 1930s. In addition to the detective genre, he also wrote two successful science fiction novels. Maurice Leblanc received France’s Legion d’Honneur (the country’s highest award for military and civil contributions) for his literary services. The author passed away on November 6, 1941 in Perpignan and was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.