“This mysterious being was enveloped in a big black cloak, a black slouch hat half covered a black hooded mask which hid his features.
This was Fantômas, beyond doubt !”Pierre Souvestre (1874-1914) and his assistant Marcel Allain (1885-1969) wrote their first serial ‘Le Rour,’ for the newspaper L’Auto, in 1909. The roman policier ‘Le Rour,’ featured a criminal character with artificial wings. Souvestre wrote the first Fantômas serial in February 1911 and 32 novels in total were published by Fayard. Eleven new adventures were written by Allain alone after the death of Souvestre in 1914. Intellectuals like Guillaume Apollinaire and Jean Cocteau were fans of the writing style, similar to penny dreadful and dime novel serials. In America the writing was often compared with dime novel heroes Nick Carter and Old Sleuth.
I have read four Fantômas novels in English translation and although I can’t recall the names of characters who are the dual identities of Fantômas, he had at least three and perhaps more serial dual identities. A wild waggish character, Fantômas could be anybody, and often was everybody – the reader becomes suspicious of every character. “He was nowhere and everywhere at once.” Juve – is it Juve or Fantômas? Fandor – Fandor or Fantômas? He changed identities at the drop of a hat. The heroes, journalist Fandor and Inspector Juve, also often disguise themselves adding to the confusion. Identity is fluid, unfixed, eyes peer out of masks, every man has a double, cops are criminals, criminals cops, everything is turned upside down.
All Images courtesy Joe Rainone.
Continue to Fantômas Part II HERE.