Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Dusting off my French with Arsène Lupin

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I have talked in the past about how, to Italian kids of my generation, Arsène Lupin, the character created at the turn of the last century by Maurice Leblanc, was a timely and much welcome introduction to tongue-in-cheek adventure and good-natured rule-breaking, jazz, sophistication and beautiful women, thanks to a wonderful TV series featuring the excellent Georges Descrières in the role of the gentleman thief.
Indeed, Descrières as Lupin and Patrick Macnee as John Steed have a lot to answer about how I turned out as a person.

Later came the Lupin books, often in strange translations and abridged editions to make them suitable for young readers, and later still the movies, but everything started with the TV series. Re-watched today, the series is slow-paced and suffers from an almost theatrical construction of certain scenes, and yet the acting, the production values and the locations (episodes were shot all over Europe) are worth alone the price of admission.

I was trawling through Amazon a last night, as I negotiated another horrid bout of insomnia, and I chanced on a big fat volume published by Wordsworth Classics, called An Arsène Lupin Omnibus. The volume is a thick 700+ pages book that goes for less than four bucks both in paperback and in ebook, and collects four Lupin novels – “Arsene Lupin Versus Holmlock Shears” (yes, it features a parody of a well-known detective), “The Confessions Of Arsene Lupin”, “The Golden Triangle” and “The Eight Strokes of the Clock”.
Good belle epoque mysteries with the vaguest hint of fantasy to them, fine book (Wordsworth Paperbacks are so cheap and rugged they have almost a zen-like quality), an introduction by David Stuart Davies… incredible value.

I kept looking around, and so I found out that Leblanc’s books are now in the public domain in France, and a group called Bibebook is making them (and a lot of other stuff, check out their website) available for free. You find them also on Amazon – and you can therefore have them delivered directly to your Kindle reader.
Now that’s neat.

And I like the clean, no-frills and vaguely retro style of the ebooks, with their pale green covers with frayed edges, that remind me of the books I used to find in my grandmother’s attic.

And so I went and downloaded a few titles in the series (that comprises twenty-five volumes, written between 1905 and 1936) – because I am curious of reading the adventures of Lupin in the original, and because I’m sure it would be a fun way to try and dust off my very rusty French – nothing’s better than having fun reading a story we like, to keep going and acquire new words and phrase structures. The Lupin books are fun, reasonably short (they are usually under 200 pages) and many of them are collections of short stories. And as I said they form an important part of my earlier education.
And why not make them also part of my later education, by taking advantage of the forced sedentary status imposed on us by the lockdown, to learn or brush up another language?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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