2: Leroux

In April 1997 I read The Perfume of the Lady in Black, a novel written in 1908 by Gaston Leroux. It follows The Mystery of The Yellow Room, where young journalist Joseph Rouletabille solves this 1892 mystery where the culprit was the inspector in charge of the case, most famous Fred Larsan, who was too most famous criminal Ballmeyer. He was too Rouletabille's father, and was supposed to have died then in a shipwreck...
He seems yet to have resurrected on April 7, 1895, when Mathilde Stangerson, Rouletabille's mother, calls him in urgency. She saw Larsan during her honeymoon trip! She spends her honeymoon in an old castle, on the French Riviera. A terrible week follows, as Larsan is a genius of disguise, and could be about anyone. A fight in Mathilde's room occurs in the night of the 12th, Larsan seems to have been killed by Mathilde's husband. Yet in the afternoon it's not so sure the man was really dead. And he was not, as at last Rouletabille demonstrates on the evening of the 13th that Larsan was Mathilde's husband. He waited until dark in order to discreetly evacuate Larsan to a secret prison, as nobody had to know Mathilde's infamous wedding, but Larsan suicides.

I happened to know that April 14 was Easter Sunday in 1895, as it's a prominent date in Maurice Leblanc's The Golden Triangle (1917, complete English text here), in which Patrice and his lover Coralie are caught in a deadly trap on Apr 14, 1895. Twenty years later, another Patrice and another Coralie, son and daughter of the previous ones, are led towards each other by a mysterious destiny. They repeat their parents' story so tightly that they fall in the same trap on Apr 14, 1915, and are saved in extremis by Arsène Lupin.
Patrice then learns that the mysterious destiny was run by his father, who came back from the dead in the evening of Apr 14, 1895, but found useful to be known dead in order to prepare his revenge. The father seems to have turned mad, as now he acts like an enemy, trying to kill Patrice and Coralie on Apr 14, 1915. Lupin will solve this enigma.

I found many things alike between the two books, the biggest one being the death of the father (real or not) on the same Easter day. There are other coincidences, as this striking one: in both books the hero, Rouletabille or Lupin, has found the truth, the real identity of the disguised murderer, but he delays its revelation, and this delay is the direct cause of another death, and in both stories the victim is a janitor.

Instead of the Son resurrecting on Sunday, the Father dies...
There might be several allusions in both books to this status of counter-Passion, especially in Leroux's where Larsan is again supposed dead then resurrected on Good Friday. It's quite striking that one of his alias is Salvator Russel (given in the scene adaptation of the Yellow Room Mystery): salvator, 'saver', is the meaning of Jesus, Jeshua, whose human father was Joseph, name of Salvator's son, Joseph Joséphin later known as Rouletabille.
Russel is an English equivalent of Leroux ('The Red'), so maybe Leroux identified a bit with his wicked character. Anyhow it's a strange coincidence he died on April 15, 1927, which was a Good Friday.
Some months after I brought together the two novels, from the common date April 14, 1895, I came to see a documentary about Alfred Dreyfus, where was seen the beginning of his Devil's Island diary, first sentence of which reading:
Sunday, April 14, 1895
Today I begin the diary of my sad and tragical life.
This led me to another look on both novels, and to find strong echoes with Dreyfus case. Here is the most striking one:
- Frederic Larsan, commonly called Fred, is too Public Enemy number one Ballmeyer, sounding like a Jewish name. Rouletabille planned to take him on a craft after dawn on April 13, 1895, towards the discrete place where he would be kept for the rest of his life, but Larsan suicides, and that's his corpse that his son takes on the craft and drowns in the sea.
- Alfred Dreyfus, called Fred by family and friends, was Public Enemy number one in 1895, when a plot made a traitor of him, probably because he was a Jew. He was offered the 'Way of Honor', i.e. to shoot himself, but he refused and was condemned to end his life on Devil's Island, where he would be the only prisoner. He arrived there in the afternoon of April 13, 1895, and Guyana time was about 5 hours late with French time, so it might be exactly at the same moment that the two Freds were taken on a craft to their last place...

I won't go any longer in this direction as I'm not trying to prove anything about Leroux's intentions in this novel. Somehow it has to be considered it might not be just a simple thriller.
I feel sure anyhow Leroux didn't choose the dates by chance, and several clues show he knew perfectly that April 7 when the story begins was Palm Sunday in 1895.

I'm not so sure about Leblanc, who anyhow could not allow himself to write a clearly scandalous novel in 1917; WWI was raging and there was a censorship surveying literary works.
Since I'm fascinated by the switch between Jung and his doctor on 4/4/44, I have another look at The Golden Triangle which begins in the evening of Apr 3, 1915. I keep on wondering about this:
- The wicked man of the story, Essarès, tried to kill Patrice's father on Apr 14, 1895, but the father 'resurrected' on that Easter Sunday. He became Diodokis, and was accepted as a servant by Essarès.
- Essarès succeeds in killing Diodokis on Apr 4, 1915, actually unaware it was Patrice's father, and it was another Easter Sunday! In order to escape to his enemies, Essarès then takes the place of Diodokis and arranges things so that Diodokis' corpse will be taken as himself. This switch will make the case quite tricky.

I have no trace of the exact days of my finding. The only thing made sure is that I heard on March 22, 1997, during a literary seminar, of a book giving strange insights on George Perec's work.
I bought this book, in which some insights about Leroux made me curious to read him again, and that led me to The Perfume, which starts on Apr 6, 1895 with the wedding of the Lady in Black. It was the eve of Palm Sunday, as was curiously enough March 22, 1997.

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