Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561
Gaston Leroux, a lawyer, journalist, and writer of fiction, was born in Paris on May 6, 1868, two years before the formation of the Third Republic. He was the son of a building contractor. Although Paris-born, Leroux always thought of himself as a Normande, as his mother was from Normandy. He lived for some years at Eu, inland from Le Tréport, while his father was engaged in the restoration of a castle. Leroux attended a school in Eu for a time; later, he was graduated from secondary school in Caen, Normandy.
Leroux removed himself to Paris, where he took up residence in the Latin Quarter and began the study of law, which he later practiced on completion of his studies. A description of his physique about this time by a contemporary indicates that he was a plump man with a curly, chestnut beard. From behind his spectacles, his dark eyes sparkled with malice, his countenance suggesting repressed irreverence. He overflowed with life and energy, and he seemed to have in him something of the street Arab and the Bacchic reveler. The whole judicial system frustrated and irritated him. Eventually, he quit. Leroux remained cynical about the judicial system the rest of his life, and this attitude pervades his fiction. His Rouletabille redresses the errors of human justice, and Chéri-Bibi, for a time at least, is both the victim of judicial error and the instrument of supreme justice.
After his stint as a lawyer, Leroux decided to enter the world of journalism. In 1892, he worked for the Ècho de Paris, first as a law reporter, then as a theater critic. Soon leaving the Ècho de Paris, he became a reporter on the Matin. It was not long before Leroux became one of the greatest journalists of his time. He interviewed illustrious persons, covered the Dreyfus affair, and became a foreign correspondent. He followed the peripatetics of the Otto Nordenskjöld expedition to Antarctica (1901-1903). He covered the Russian Revolution of 1905 and later interviewed the admiral who had quelled the rebellion in Moscow. In 1907, Leroux spent some time in Morocco and covered the eruption of Vesuvius in Italy. Too old to be mobilized at the outbreak of World War I, he covered the Armenian massacre by the Turks in 1915. At that point, Leroux decided that he had had enough of traveling to foreign places and terminated his career as a journalist.
Having to find another way to earn a living, Leroux hit on the writing of novels of adventure, including the roman policier. After several months of writing, he produced the manuscript of his first novel, The Mystery of the Yellow Room. This story was first published in the September 7, 1907, issue of the magazine L’Illustration. It proved an immediate success and was succeeded the following year by The Perfume of the Lady in Black, which was almost as successful as his first novel. With these two books, Leroux became a world-famous author, and he was to continue to write many more successful novels until his death in Nice on April 16, 1927. As a skilled writer of fiction he has not been forgotten. Apart from the fine study of him by Antoinette Peské and Pierre Marty in their Les Terribles of 1951, the journal Bizarre devoted its first issue to him in 1953, and the journal Europe paid tribute to him in its June/July, 1981, issue.
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