Émile Gaboriau Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Émile Gaboriau’s grandfathers were lawyers, and his father was a district superintendent of the property registry who repeatedly moved with his family around the southern and central provinces of France in the largely unfulfilled hope of advancement. The young Gaboriau was not a gifted pupil at school, but he was a voracious reader. He briefly became a lawyer’s clerk but always wanted to practice journalism and literature; after a short interlude in the cavalry, he was bought out and went to Paris. There, moving from address to address, he eked out a miserable existence by engaging in journalism of many kinds for numerous periodicals, writing poetry, and collaborating in theatrical ventures. Gradually, his circumstances improved, and he became a respected social and political commentator.

Gaboriau began also to write serialized stories to the popular taste, in many of which he made use of his own experiences and which eventually included detective stories. Lecoq first appeared in print in a moribund journal in 1865, but his adventures were soon transferred to much more successful journals, and the invention of this character made Gaboriau famous. Unfortunately, he had been plagued by illness since the 1860’s and his new affluence was but little compensation, save that he was able to abandon much of his purely journalistic work and concentrate on literature.

In 1870, Gaboriau was mobilized to fight in the Franco-Prussian War, and his letters and journal give a vivid account of the despair of a patriotic Frenchman, the incompetence of his superiors, and the misery of Paris during the siege that followed. Between 1861 and 1873, he published a score of works, including detective fiction, sensational historical novels, and collections of anecdotes. In 1873, ailing and exhausted, he married Amélie Rogelet, his nurse and intimate companion for more than a decade, and died two months later. After his death, his publisher issued in book form a number of other works that in his lifetime had appeared only as serials.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

After an uneventful childhood and a brief period of service in the cavalry, Émile Gaboriau (gah-bawr-yoh) arrived in Paris around 1856, where he eventually began to write sensational serial stories for the daily newspapers. Since he specialized in romances of crime, he spent much time in police courts and morgues searching for material. Turning to the novel, Gaboriau soon produced the popular The Widow Lerouge, which shows the influence of Edgar Allan Poe and in which the detection of crime is an important theme; this work has the distinction of being called the world’s first true detective novel. There followed in quick succession fourteen novels, of which four can be classified as detective fiction. His life was brief; he died in Paris on September 28, 1873, probably of a heart attack.

Many of Gaboriau’s novels were soon translated into English, first in the United States and then in England. Devotees of detective fiction point out the influence of Gaboriau’s novels on the subsequent development of the genre. His Monsieur Lecoq in many ways is the prototype of many a later ingenious detective, especially Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In Gaboriau’s novels, the solution of the mystery, although often skillfully worked out, is usually not the climax of the story. Melodramatic family scandal is basic to most of his works. Gaboriau’s novels are sensational, discursive, and verbose; yet, without a doubt, they are significant contributions to a popular literary type.