Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marcel Duhamel on Série Noire

Definition of noir literature or noir fiction is a bit elusive. Here's something to start with: it's a preface to a thing called Série Noire, a series of crime novels published in France, starting from 1946, and including mainly American and British hardboiled crime novels. Duhamel was closely linked with the Surrealists, so it's appropriate that he praises the subversive elements he finds in the books he selected for the series.

Let unwary readers be warned: books in the Série Noire cannot safely be placed in just any hands. Those who like Sherlock Holmes-type puzzles won't find what they're looking for. Neither will systematic optimists. The immorality generally accepted in this type of work solely to serve as a foil for conventional morality is just as much at home in our books as fine feelings, even just plain amorality. The spirit of such books is rarely conformist. In them there are police more corrupt than the criminals they're chasing. The nice detective doesn't always solve the mystery. Sometimes in our books there is no mystery. And sometimes there isn't even a detective. And so? So what remains is action, torment and violence, in all its forms, especially the most shameful - from beatings to massacres. As in good films, moods are expressed through actions, and readers who are fond of instrospective literature will have to do the reverse gymnastics. There is also love — preferably bestial — disorderly passion, pitiless hate. In short, our goal is quite simple: to keep you from sleeping.

Marcel Duhamel, founder of the Série Noire, 1948
translated by Karin Montin, 2006 (originally posted at
the Rara-Avis e-mail group; reprinted with the translator's permission)

1 comment:

william said...


You might want to read:


to see the actual facts of Série Noire.