François-Eugène Vidocq Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

François-Eugène Vidocq was the first official detective in the Western world. Having led the life of a vagabond, strolling actor, soldier, robber, gambler, dealer in illicit goods, and convict, he offered his services to the préfect of the brigade of the Sûreté in 1809. Hired as a police spy, he became by 1811 the chief of the detective bureau of the Sûreté that he had organized. Phenomenally successful in his investigations, by the time Mémoires de Vidocq, chef de la police de Sûreté jusqu’en 1827 (1828-1829; Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police Until 1827, 1828-1829) appeared, he had become a legend not only in France but also in England and Germany. His fame spread to the United States. An American edition of his memoirs was published simultaneously in Philadelphia and Baltimore in 1834. Excerpts from the memoirs ran from September to December, 1838, in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, a Philadelphia periodical.

Vidocq’s memoirs proved an important stimulus to the development of detective and mystery fiction. They inspired the American writer Edgar Allan Poe to become the “father of the detective story”; it is no accident that Poe set the first bona fide story of this genre, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in Paris. In this story, Poe refers to Vidocq as “a good guesser” but one who “impaired his vision by holding the object too close.” Poe’s detective hero C. Auguste...

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François-Eugène Vidocq Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Edwards, Samuel. The Vidocq Dossier: The Story of the World’s First Detective. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Biography of Vidocq, emphasizing his role in creating Paris’s detective bureau.

Morton, James. The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Eugène Vidocq, Criminal, Spy and Private Eye. London: Ebury, 2004. Comprehensive biography of Vidocq, discussing his sometimes ambiguous position in the Paris underworld and the role played by that ambiguity in the invention of the police detective.

Murch, Alma E. The Development of the Detective Novel: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. New York: Philosophical Library, 1958. This broad overview of the detective story gives Vidocq his due as the first detective author, as well as the first real-life detective.

Porter, Dennis. The Pursuit of Crime: Art and Ideology in Detective Fiction. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981. Study of the ideological and aesthetic effects of stylistic choices made by mystery and detective writers; sheds light on Vidocq’s works.

Sayers, Dorothy L. Les Origines du Roman Policier: A Wartime Wireless Talk to the French. Translated by Suzanne Bray. Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, England: Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 2003. Address to the French by the famous English mystery author, discussing the history of French detective fiction and its relation to the English version of the genre; provides perspective on Vidocq’s writings.

Stead, J. P. The Police of Paris. London: Staples Press, 1957. Useful study of the Paris police department, its history, administration, and methodology. Helps readers understand Vidocq’s novels. Includes bibliography.

Vidocq, François Eugène. Memoirs of Vidocq: Master of Crime. Translated and edited by Edwin Gile Rich. Reprint. Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2003. Vidocq’s own account of his life in the Paris underworld, which influenced most great detective-fiction authors of the nineteenth century.