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  • Origins and Legacies of Marcel Duhamel's Série noire by Alistair Rolls, Clara Sitbon, and Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan
  • Margaret Attack
Origins and Legacies of Marcel Duhamel's Série noire. By Alistair Rolls, Clara Sitbon, and Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan. (Approaches to Translation Studies, 46.) Leiden: Brill Rodopi, 2018. ix + 198 pp.

Gallimard's Série noire was an iconic collection that gained a special place in French popular and intellectual culture. From 1945 it was part of a constellation of noir film and fiction that has often been seen as an arena in the 1940s and 1950s for the exploration of the Occupation years. This volume focuses on the first years of the Série noire and the translation practice of Marcel Duhamel, a sometime surrealist, member of the [End Page 313] legendary Groupe d'octobre, adaptor of the dialogue of over a hundred American films, and a published translator. He took his enthusiasm for the British authors Peter Cheyney and James Hadley Chase to Gallimard and a series was born. The argument here is that the myths of the Série noire as American, and of Duhamel as a careless translator, cutter of texts, and passive recipient of American culture, need to be replaced by a focus on the way the translations construct a new French national alle-gory in order to address the realities of the Occupation that are said to have been blanketed under a code of silence. Duhamel's translations have been the subject of considerable analysis within a Bourdieusian framework, and Francis Lacassin and others have long stressed the Frenchness, as opposed to the foreignness, of the Série noire. What this book introduces is a reading of the national and transnational that exposes the slipperiness of these categories, which, it is argued, are founded in auto-alterity; it is the skopos, or target-culture reception, that is their driving force, mobilized through the recognition of self/France in the otherness that the source texts provide. Starting with Poe and Baudelaire and a discussion of 'anticipatory plagiarism' (Pierre Bayard's work is an important intertext) as well as of Baudelaire's actual plagiarism of American critics, there is then detailed analysis of the false Americans, Cheyney and Chase, followed by the false translations of Vernon Sullivan (authored by Boris Vian). A particularly striking chapter on Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280, the Série noire's famous 1000th title, translated as 1275 âmes, investigates the intriguing case of the missing inhabitants of Pottsville across a series of rewritings in English and French; whereas it is the role of the paratext that is highlighted as establishing Douglas Kennedy as a French author, again across various versions of his work. While there is much of interest in the narrative analyses and the highly wrought complications they reveal, the new national allegory as presented here is a serious impoverishment of the complex cultural politics of August 1944 onwards. The sole focus on the Americans as liberators (although the Allies are mentioned once) is distorting, relegating the Resistance for example to subliminal appearances in gangster shootouts supposedly referencing the Occupation. Moreover, there were dozens of novels published in the period tackling the ambiguities and conflicts of the Occupation years quite directly, including several Goncourt winners and major noir novels by Frédéric Dard, André Héléna, and Léo Malet. But the authors of this volume convincingly illuminate the vertiginous literary and discursive interplay of domestic and foreign in the chosen novels, as hoax, pastiche, parody, and plagiarism in source and target texts combine with the tropes and artifices of representation and identity in a veritable maelstrom of ironic fakery of which Vian emerges as the supreme exemplar.

Margaret Attack
University of Leeds


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pp. 313-314
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