Roman noir  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
For the French name for the hardboiled detective genre see hardboiled.

Roman noir is a name that was given by contemporary French to the gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries started with Walpoles Otranto. Today the French call this genre the roman gothique.

As the 19th century was about to begin, the English gothic novels hit the French literary scene with a bang. Their extravagant and macabre nature tapped into the emotions released during the French Revolution, and eventually helped the genre to seamlessly evolve into the more modern forms of the fantastique.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the English gothic writers helped launch a wave of what the French called romans noirs [black novels], or romans frénétiques [frantic novels], which became the first sub-genre of popular literature. Notable works in that category include:

  • Coelina, ou l'Enfant du Mystère [Coelina, or The Child Of Mystery] (1799) by François-Guillaume Ducray-Duminil.
  • Cyprien Bérard's Lord Rutwen ou les Vampires (1820), which was adapted into a stage play by Charles Nodier the same year, and starred John William Polidori's vampire character Lord Ruthven.
  • Falthurne (1820) by Honoré de Balzac, a novel about a virgin prophetess who knows occult secrets that date all the way back to Ancient Mesopotamia. Also of note by Balzac: Le Centenaire [The Centenarian], inspired by Melmoth the Wanderer (1822), L'Élixir de Longue Vie [The Elixir Of Long Life] (1830), Louis Lambert (1832), about a man seeking higher dimensions, the aptly-named La Recherche de l'Absolu [The Search For The Absolute] (1834), whose hero is an alchemist, and Melmoth Réconcilié [Melmoth Reconciled] (1835).
  • Charles Nodier with Smarra ou les Démons de la Nuit [Smarra, or The Demons Of The Night] (1821), a series of terrifying dream-based tales. Nodier's masterpiece was La Fée aux Miettes [The Crumb Fairy] (1832). In it, a young carpenter is devoted to the eponymous Fairy, who may be the legendary Queen of Sheba. In order to restore her to her true form, he searches for the magical Singing Mandragore. Nodier could rightfully lay claim to being one of the world's first "high fantasy" writers, sixty years before William Morris.
  • The three-volume La Vampire (1825) by Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon which tells the story of a young Napoleonic army officer who bring his Hungarian fiancée home to later discover that she is a vampire, and Le Diable [The Devil] (1832) featuring the charismatic, evil Chevalier Draxel.
  • Victor Hugo with Han d'Islande [Han Of Iceland] (1823), a bloody tale featuring a Viking warrior and a mythical bear, Bug-Jargal(1826) and the morbid and romantic L'Homme qui Rit aka The Man Who Laughs (1869) about a horribly disfigured man who lived in 17th century England. (Its 1928 film version, starring Conrad Veidt, was credited as the model for Batman's the Joker.)
  • Frédéric Soulié with the classic Les Mémoires du Diable [The Devil's Memoirs] (1838) which combined the roman frénétique with the passions of the Marquis de Sade.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Roman noir" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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