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A Focus on Our Authors > Gaston Leroux

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message 1: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux (6 May 1868[1] – 15 April 1927) was a French journalist and author of detective fiction.

In the English-speaking world, he is best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, 1910), which has been made into several film and stage productions of the same name, notably the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical. His novel The Mystery of the Yellow Room is also one of the most famous locked-room mysteries ever.

Leroux was born in Paris in 1868 and died in 1927 in Nice. He went to school in Normandy and studied law in Paris, graduating in 1889. He inherited millions of francs and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy. In 1890, he began working as a court reporter and theater critic for L'Écho de Paris. His most important journalism came when he began working as an international correspondent for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. He was present at, and covered, the 1905 Russian Revolution.

Another case at which he was present involved the investigation and in-depth coverage of the former Paris Opera (presently housing the Paris Ballet).[1] The basement contained a cell that held prisoners of the Paris Commune.

He suddenly left journalism in 1907 and began writing fiction. In 1919, he and Arthur Bernède formed their own film company, Société des Cinéromans, to publish novels and simultaneously turn them into films. He first wrote a mystery novel titled Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1908; The Mystery of the Yellow Room), starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. Leroux's contribution to French detective fiction is considered a parallel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's in the United Kingdom and Edgar Allan Poe's in the United States.

Leroux published his most famous work, The Phantom of the Opera, as a serial in 1909 and 1910, and as a book in 1910 (with an English translation appearing in 1911).

Leroux was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in 1909.

The Adventures of Rouletabille[edit]
1907 - Le mystère de la chambre jaune (English translation: The Mystery of the Yellow Room, 1907; Rouletabille and The Mystery of the Yellow Room, 2009, translated by Jean-Marc Lofficier & Randy Lofficier, ISBN 978-1-934543-60-3)
1908 - Le parfum de la dame en noir (English translation: The Perfume of the Lady in Black, 1908)
1913 - Rouletabille chez le Tsar (Rouletabille and the Tsar; English translation: The Secret of the Night, 1914)
1914 - Rouletabille à la guerre (Rouletabille at War) consisting of
Le château noir (The Black Castle; English translation: The Slave Bangle, 1925; The Phantom Clue, 1926, translated by Hannaford Bennett)
Les étranges noces de Rouletabille (The Strange Wedding of Rouletabille; English translation: The Sleuth Hound [UK], 1926; The Octopus of Paris [US], 1927, translated by Hannaford Bennett)
1917 - Rouletabille chez Krupp (English translation: Rouletabille at Krupp's, 2013, by Brian Stableford, ISBN 978-1-61227-144-6)
1921 - Le crime de Rouletabille (The Crime of Rouletabille)
1922 - Rouletabille chez les Bohémiens (Rouletabille and the Gypsies)


message 2: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3744 comments I read The Phantom of the Opera about 10 years ago, after having seen several film versions. The writing is really awful, so I think I'll skip The Mystery of the Yellow Room.

message 3: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Rochelle wrote: "I read The Phantom of the Opera about 10 years ago, after having seen several film versions. The writing is really awful, so I think I'll skip The Mystery of the Yellow Room."

Ive read the first chapter and the writing seems fine to me.

message 4: by Madge UK (last edited May 02, 2018 10:57AM) (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments It is a good mystery, better than the Phantom and has been called 'the best detective tale ever written':

'Where does one begin when reviewing one of the first locked room novels to be written in any language? ‘The Mystery of The Yellow Room’ is an amazingly complex tale that is bound and driven by all those old Victorian social conventions we now find so strange. It has a wonderfully crafted intricate and dynamic plot by one of the great masters of late Victorian and Edwardian fiction, coming from the same pen as Phantom of The Opera! Like so many other novels of that era, it also stretches the reader’s credulity in parts of the solution, yet without ever actually crossing the line into absurdity. It is not a ‘fair play’ mystery, as part of the background is withheld from the reader, yet enough clues are provided to allow the reader to work out most aspects of the complicated denouement – including the identity of the culprit. Yet, perhaps the best way to sum it up is by noting that John Dickson Carr, the undisputed master of the locked room, simply noted that it is the “best detective tale ever written” and in Edward Hoch’s famous 1981 poll of 17 famous mystery writers, it was voted third best locked room mystery of all time, right behind Carr’s Hollow Man and Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit.'

message 5: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
I am definitely reading this one.

message 6: by Linda2 (last edited May 03, 2018 01:30PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3744 comments "one of the great masters of late Victorian and Edwardian fiction"
Who are you quoting, Madge?

message 7: by Madge UK (last edited May 03, 2018 06:50PM) (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments Douglas Sewell, a journalist and critic who writes about mysteries. The Mystery of the Yellow Room is widely regarded as one of the best of its genre and time. Agatha Christie admired it and said she would like to try writing such a book. It has the florid and OTT style of Victorian mysteries which is perhaps what you do not like.

message 8: by Gem , Moderator (new)

Gem  | 796 comments Mod

Gaston Leroux came into the world somewhat inconveniently on May 6, 1868, on the road from Le Mans to Normandy. His parents were forced to stop the coach between one train station and another and his mother, Marie-Alphonse, was carried to the nearest house, where she gave birth to a healthy and no doubt squalling baby boy. Years later, Leroux returned to see the house that had served as his inadvertent birthplace, only to discover that it had been converted to an undertaker’s shop. “There, where I sought a cradle,” he wrote, “I found a coffin.”

As metaphors for a life go, this tale seems wildly appropriate: A man who vagabonded around the globe in pursuit of stories is born almost before the carriage carrying his mother has a chance to stop. The writer who would become famous for his gothic tales and dark, sinister novels finds a coffin shop ensconced in his birthplace.

Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux, despite his adventurous introduction into the world, led a relatively normal, if privileged, childhood—his way smoothed by his father’s money, but also by his own easy nature and not insignificant intelligence. The son of a successful Normandy shipbuilder, Leroux was an excellent sailor, a good swimmer, and apparently also proficient at handling a catch of herring.

But of course parents always want something better for their children, so when he was old enough Gaston Leroux was sent to school to study law, where he took the requisite prizes and impressed his teachers. Had anyone asked what would become of M. Leroux at the time he received his degree, all would have avowed that the young man was destined to become a brilliant lawyer. But two significant things happened in 1889 in the life of young Leroux. He had a sonnet published in the newspaper L’Echo de Paris, and his father died.

At first glance, it would seem that the latter tragedy would be more important than the former small triumph, especially since upon his death Leroux père left his son an inheritance of one million francs. Leroux did what any young man would do upon finding himself suddenly independent and very rich—he went on a bender. He dropped his law career and dived head first into the gambling dens, nightclubs, and theatrical shows of fin de siècle Paris, becoming immensely popular with all sorts of dissolute, albeit interesting, types. After six months, Gaston Leroux was broke. And the only thing he seemed to have learned from half a year’s worth of self-indulgence was that he absolutely did not want to be a lawyer. Instead, he decided to be a writer.

To call Gaston Leroux a late bloomer is something of a misnomer. By the time he wrote The Mystery of the Yellow Room in 1907—the novel that would establish his literary reputation—he already enjoyed near-celebrity status as a journalist. He was the kind of correspondent who would go to almost any lengths to get his story, and became famous for getting interviews with elusive people under unusual circumstances. Leroux had demonstrated this aptitude early in his career, when he took it upon himself to interview a prisoner awaiting trial for a serious crime by posing as a prison anthropologist, even going so far as to produce forged credentials. This was outrageous enough, but much to the chagrin of the courts and the police, the article Leroux wrote exonerated the prisoner completely.

By all rights, he should have been arrested. But sales of the paper skyrocketed, and the editors at his paper Le Matin, knowing a good thing when it fell into their laps, stood by their wunderkind and promptly began dispatching him around the globe in pursuit of breaking news. Leroux’s name at the head of a column became a sure way to increase circulation. And so Gaston Leroux became a roving investigative reporter, charged with ferreting out the story others couldn’t get. He journeyed from hot spot to hot spot, from one dangerous situation to another—a life of constant adventure that would have made Sir Richard Francis Burton envious, if only there had been more sex in it.

His talent for subterfuge and disguise, his willingness to walk into danger, and his ability to strike up a conversation with anyone under any circumstances became the most useful weapons in Leroux’s arsenal. He reported on an erupting Vesuvius from the edge of the crater, and disguised himself as an Arab to report on riots in Fez. He broke a story about a secret summit between Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Russian Tsar by making friends with a cook in the Tsar’s entourage. He met arctic explorers and Russian revolutionaries, but the man who brought world events to the pages of Le Matin was not a simply a yellow journalist anxious to jump on the most sensational story. His coverage, early in his career, of public executions by the guillotine made him an opponent of capital punishment for the rest of his life. He was also instrumental in the second trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, whom Leroux believed unequivocally to be innocent, and spared no ink in attempting to expose the scandal that poisoned France for more than a decade.

So why was it that in 1907, at the height of his fame and the pinnacle of his success as an investigative journalist, did Gaston Leroux decide to hang it all up so he could write novels? George Perry, in his book The Complete Phantom of the Opera, suggests it was an impulsive decision made when Leroux, having just returned from a long foreign assignment, received a late-night phone call from his editor telling him to hop on the next train to Toulon. Leroux responded with something Gallic and unprintable, slammed down the phone, and decided to become a novelist.

But it should not be forgotten that what first inspired Leroux to live by the pen was that sonnet published years before. He fell in love with literature as a young man studying law, going on to become a great reader who admired many important novelists of the age, including Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas père, Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Émile Zola. And he never really abandoned what we might call “creative” writing, despite the demands of his journalism career; like many writers, his first novel, The Mystery of the Yellow Room, was not, in fact, his first novel. Since 1903 he had been publishing serialized fiction in Le Matin, and one of these—The Seeking of the Morning Treasures, based on the exploits of a famous bandit known as Cartouche—was wildly popular, not least because the paper staged a series of treasure hunts around Paris to publicize it. The Mystery of the Yellow Room was Leroux’s breakthrough novel. He must have started writing the moment he hung up the phone on his editor, because it was published the very same year.

The genre known as “locked room mysteries” is something of an acquired taste. Modern readers tend to prefer their mystery novels for the “whodunnit” and “whydunnit” aspects of the story. The “howdunnit” is somewhat out of fashion in this era of forensic science and computer wizardry.

But in Leroux’s day, howdunnit was all the rage. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle fascinated readers everywhere. So Leroux, like any budding novelist, decided to write what was selling. “When I sat down to pen that story,” he recalled, “I decided to go ‘one better’ than Conan Doyle, and make my ‘mystery’ more complete than even Edgar Allan Poe had ever done.”

This would have been fabulously arrogant if Leroux hadn’t made good with his very first book. The Mystery of the Yellow Room is often cited as one of the original—and best—of the locked room mysteries. John Dickson Carr, the acknowledged master of the genre, cites it as the book to which he aspired.

Gaston Leroux would go on to write dozens of other novels, many featuring Rouletabille and liberally sprinkled with anecdotes from his vast experience as a journalist. He still enjoyed gambling, and was in the habit of writing a new book whenever he had to pay off his gambling debts. “I have to be pushed by deadlines,” he said, the reporter’s discipline never truly leaving him. It wasn’t until 1911 that Leroux wrote the novel that would make him famous forever, The Phantom of the Opera.

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