Thursday, July 30, 2009

Arsole Fantüme cover art, and presale available!

Here is the cover art for the translation of Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, that classic French horror/crime fantastique litteraire, long considered and/or feared "lost."



We took the original Falîco artwork to create something that I think has an appropriately "sickening" feel. This is, after all, a novel about a man who murders by enema.

The book is available for presale here. Or, you can wait a few more days and order it from amazon.com.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Reader from France Writes in- And, Two New Arsole Fantüme Scans!

A couple of days ago I received the following email from a reader in France, who also happens to be a big Arsole Fantüme fan. I asked the author if he’d mind my sharing it with you, and he said no, but asked that his name be withheld. I honor that request, and translate it from French:

Noble Ricky,

Greetings from the home of Arsole Fantüme! I was very much excited to stumble on your blog entries. This strange character has been unjustly neglected for too long, even here in France. Perhaps your English translation will bring some publicity to the book. It is one of the weirdest I’ve ever read.

You mentioned that you’re doing your translation work from scans of photocopies of the original novel, published in 1901. I don’t know if your photocopies included either of the drawings of Arsole Fantüme in action, but in case you don’t have them, I’m attaching scans. They were drawn by someone who signed his work “Falîco.” Good luck trying to find out anything about him. I can’t! For all I know, the Arsole drawings were all he ever did.

I’m also attaching scans of a short story the authors, Marcel Maurice and Pierre, wrote together called “The Devil In The Ass” (you have mentioned this story on your blog- it is the one in which a deacon drives the devil out of a nun by giving her an enema). It was published in a collection called The Misery of Religion, which was limited to a mere 500 copies, very few of which still exist (the scans are from my own personal copy). In it, you will find some similarities with “Arsole Fantüme.”

Please keep me posted on your progress with the translation- I will happily buy a copy when it is published. Any friend of Arsole is a friend to me!

Best,


Of course I was overjoyed to get this email. I had photocopies of the drawings, but these high-resolution scans look absolutely beautiful, and I’m so glad to have them. Also, I can’t believe that I have a new Marcel Maurice and Pierre story to translate! Perhaps I’ll put this up on the blog- it’s hilarious.

But speaking of “Falîco”- in a strange bit of synchronicity, I just happen to have been recently reading Fantastique Littéraire, which had the following in an essay by the authors of “Vertigo,” (“The Living and the Dead”), “Diabolique,” and “Eyes Without a Face,” Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac:

“Our most secret inspirations are most certainly the mysterious Marcel Maurice and Pierre, who lived and wrote together in the early part of this century. Their only published novel, Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, was like a mythical treasure that we spent years searching for. When we finally found it, we feared to read it, worried that it would not live up to the expectations set forth in our minds.

“We need not have worried! This is a book of wonderful imagination and ingenuity, in which anything can- and does- happen. The sense of wild abandon that the book creates is perfectly captured by the strange and tawdry illustrations by 'Falîco,' which was, according to legend, the pen name of one of Maurice’s and Pierre’s 'wives.' Their living arrangement was quite modern and open.”


So, the creator of these strange illustrations was a woman who had a romantic relationship with both authors (at least according to Boileau and Narcejac). The mystery of the authors' lives deepens!




UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Little History of Arsole

The voice laughed, and the feculent sound echoed throughout the room. “I wear a mask,” it said. “A jester’s mask. I carry an enemata. There are those who call me- Arsole Fantüme!”


Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist is the greatest novel you’ve never heard of. It was first published in France in the Spring of 1901 by La Presse à Sensation, with its authors envisioning it as the first of an open-ended series that would follow the exploits of the evil Gentleman Immoralist, and the efforts of law-enforcement groups, psychiatric organizations, and religious cults to stop him. The authors, Marcel Maurice and Pierre, were so enthusiastic about the character that they actually completed five novels in the series before the first was published.

Unfortunately, the first book published would be the last published. The general malaise that greeted the novel was soon followed by violent anger, protests, and, worst of all, returns. Eventually, the publisher was forced to buy back most of the copies, which were then pulped. Its records in regards to the novel and the character were expunged. Today, it is nearly impossible to locate a copy, and only the most obsessive fans of littéraire fantastique have even heard of the book. Only a handful of modern readers have had the opportunity to read it.

Until now.

This roiling witch’s cauldron of a novel features outrageous characters including psychiatrists who use “therapeautic speech” to hypnotize people into doing their bidding, occultists who raise the undead and command discarnated spirits from “Otherwhere,” and policemen who keep professional mistresses and occasionally find crimes to be “too heinous to investigate.” There are also bizarre concepts such as the externalization of thoughts known as “ideoplasty,” music used as a weapon, shadowy organizations charged with running hospitals and law enforcement, a recipe for a dish that’s so good that someone might be willing to kill for it, and a disastrous trip in which a ship’s crew is forced to eat rope and sails to survive.

And at the center of all the madness is the dark criminal for whom goodness and decency are forms of constipation, Arsole Fantüme.

*

Just who is Arsole Fantüme? He is a “Gentleman Immoralist.” He commits heinous acts of perversity with panache and flair. He has an almost supernatural ability to conceive of and execute spectacular crimes that defy logic and description. He is a master of disguise, a master chemist, a master of the occult, and a master of evil.

But that is not what sets him apart. There are plenty of masters of evil. Arsole is different because his most favored means of dispatching his victims is by enema. Whether filling his victims with a simple poisonous solution, or using his enemata with such force that he ruptures his victim’s viscera, Arsole is a master of pain. At first blush, it might appear comical to be done away with in such way- and there is certainly an element of comedy to the dastardly proceedings within the novel’s pages. But eventually, one begins to see the torture to be caused by such a method of death.

It helps that the method becomes increasingly gruesome as the novel progresses. The final murders in particular are among the most disgusting and strange ever committed to paper, by anyone.

As the novel begins Arsole is met fully formed, yet concealed within the shadows. Having just committed a rather pedestrian (by his standards) murder-by-enema, he captures an “unfortunate thief” who happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and bore witness to the crime. Once his fate is sealed, Arsole seems to slip back into the shadows, as we meet our supporting players.

But- is Arsole one of them? Is he Inspector Lefévre, the investigator sent by “the Main Office” to investigate Arsole’s horrible crimes? Is he Dr. Bouchard, the interim head of the Wierd Institute, the City’s most impressive psychiatric hospital- a place so exclusive that it’s top floor “penthouse suite” doubles an exclusive hotel? Is he the composer and conductor Chaput, who recently installed himself in one of those penthouse suites as part of his effort to renew the vigor of his creativity? Is he the mysterious, veiled Dr. Termite, the man (who is never without his faithful poodle bitch Perdita) sent by “the Association” to assume control of the Wierd Institute? Is he Notta Thot, the five metre tall being from another dimension with the power to incarnate himself anywhere, at any time? Is he Guillaume Possédant, the wealthiest man in the City, and strangely unmoved brother of one of the victims?

Or is he none of these people at all? Perhaps he is nothing more than a feculent whisper in the breeze on the coldest night on earth.

*

The book’s construction suggests a madcap puzzle that, when viewed up close, seems to be nothing more than an anarchic mélange of insanity. However, a pattern does begin to emerge, and that pattern is devilishly simple.

The world is rigged to benefit the Arsole.

Take the city in which the action occurs. The port city is referred to only as “the City,” and it could be anywhere. It’s divided into three distinct sections: An area called “the City proper,” in which reside the most well-to-do citizens; a sort of buffer zone known as “Limbo;” and then there’s area that occupies most of the City, called “the Bottoms.” This rancid quarter of filth and squalor provides a nightmarish backdrop for its citizens, a pathetic lot described in highly vivid terms:

“The denizens of this area were as disgusting and shocking a lot as has ever plagued any patch of earth. They wandered, day and night, in a haze of drunkenness, covered in soot from the sulphur factory that provided the main income for most. For these people, clean clothes were a decadent luxury, so alien as to be unthought-of. Bathing was an activity engaged in the filthy ocean, amongst the dead fish and barnacles that clogged the shore. Any extra sous were spent on drink and drugs, in the vain hope of mental escape. For food, people would eat anything from the all too-plentiful flies, rats, and snakes with whom they shared the streets, to the hair of children, which was considered a delicacy owing to the soft texture granted it by immaturity.”


Even in those areas not so plagued by disturbing poverty and crime, anything is possible. The dead can be raised. Spirits can be summoned. Minds can be clouded. Yet, it is precisely because anything seems possible that Arsole is able to reign with such impunity. One message of the novel is that Arsole sees the world for what it is, and accepts it. For that reason, he thrives.

*

Very little is known of the author’s lives. We know that one of them, Marcel Maurice, was born in 1874. True-crime historians might recognize that as the year that a banker in Dijon named Edouard Fournier killed his wife with an enema that contained a mixture including the black seeds of the highly poisonous Laburnum plant. In a letter, Marcel describes the effect this had on him, declaring, “I believe my morbid interest in the enema as a murder device was informed by my being born in the same year as that horrible crime.”

Marcel Maurice and Pierre (whose last name is unknown) apparently met in 1894. The two became fast friends, with Pierre moving into Marcel’s Paris home within a few weeks, and this living arrangement would continue until both died in 1914. The living arrangement included living with and sharing the company of a number of women. Marcel described them in another letter as, “some single, some married, some beautiful, some homely… Pierre and I both feel a magickal attachment to our ladies.”

The word “magickal” is important. The activities in Marcel’s home caused scandalized talk in Paris, with some believing the two men had a mystical or religious hold over their partners. The women apparently exhibited no signs of being under a spell or of brainwashing (there seems to have been no attempt to prevent the women contacting their families, for instance); nevertheless, their untraditional arrangement was frowned upon.

Marcel’s family was wealthy, and so neither had to work. They spent their free time writing. A few of their stories can occasionally be found in obscure and expensive journals. Some of these stories also prominently featured enemas. In one, a priest seeks to chase the devil out of a nun by giving her an enema. When they turned their attention to the writing of novels, they became fixated on the character of Arsole Fantüme, and all of their novels revolved around him. The ladies with whom they shared their home also had some interest in the character. The two illustrations that decorated the book were provided by one of them, whose real name is unknown to us, but who is credited as “Falíco.”

Marcel and Pierre were murdered by the jealous husband of one of “their ladies.”

*

My own history with the character began back in college. I attended the University of New Mexico, where I audited a few French classes. I was interested in the language primarily because I’d just discovered the works of Arthur Rimbaud, and I wanted to read him in the original. But I knew enough about myself to know I’d never really learn it, so I didn’t actually take the classes for credit.

As part of my “independent study,” I decided I’d try to translate something on my own. Too intimidated to start with poetry, I looked for a prose novel, and I happened to pick at random a book called “Arsole Fantüme, Monsieur de Immoralité.” I had no idea what the book was about; believe me.

It took me about two months to get through the first chapter. Translation is an exhausting business, especially when you really don’t know the language. Also, there was the fact that the book was totally demented, being as it was about a master criminal who murders by enema.

Eventually, I finished the first chapter and then, true to my character, I gave up. The book was never reprinted in English, so I was never really able to tell how well I did. I asked my girlfriend at the time, who knew a little French, to check my work, but she read the translation and said, “That is the stupidest, sickest thing I’ve ever seen,” or words to that effect, and told me to go soak my head.

As a joke, I posted the translated chapter on my blog. To my surprise, in January 2009, I was contacted by someone who said he was the head of something called Obscurinati Publishing. He said he was dedicated to collecting strange and esoteric literature, and he asked me how I’d come to know about Arsole Fantüme, since the book was so incredibly obscure.

We traded a few more emails and got along pretty well. After a couple of weeks of correspondence, he mentioned that he had a copy of “Arsole Fantüme,” and he was thinking about having it translated, in the hopes of publishing it as a limited edition hardcover. Would I be interested in translating it?

Yes, I would. My French was bad, but I’d stumble my way through it.
In March, he sent me a check for about one-quarter of the agreed upon rate for my translation. At that point I had completed the first five chapters (my French was a lot better than it had been back in college, and I was excited).

Then he mentioned that he’d come into possession of manuscript copies of the unpublished sequels, and maybe if the first one did well, he and I could work out some kind of deal for publishing those translations, too. I was now even more excited, with visions of fair compensation dancing in my head.

In late April, he told me that he was killing the project. He was out of money. Without going into too much detail, he was a young guy (mid-20s) who came from a fairly wealthy family, and he wanted to get into publishing weird literature and comics. But the recession has hit him pretty hard, so, no more translation project. He told me to keep the money he’d already paid, as a sort of “kill fee.”

But of course by this time I was hooked. This is one really, truly weird book. I decided I would finish the translation, and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind letting me buy back the copyright on it. He graciously agreed, and I returned the money he’d already paid me.

*

And that is how it came to be that I translated this lost classic. I very much hope that I’ve been able to do it justice, and that readers will come to love it for what it is- an eccentric masterpiece that deserves a much wider audience than it has received up to now.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Doesn't The Hamburglar Kind of Resemble Arsole Fantüme?

Were the creators of the McDonald's fast food restaurant character "The Hamburglar" aware of the "Arsole Fantüme" novel? It's pretty obscure, so we can't know for sure. But what we can see is that, like Arsole Fantüme, The Hamburglar wears a wide-brimmed hat and mask. Also, Hamburglar has a black cloak, not unlike the dark coat favored by Arsole.

Here's a detail from one of the illustrations from the 1901 novel:



And here's a picture of The Hamburglar:



I guess if we ever see The Hamburglar giving Grimace an enema, we'll know for sure if "Arsole Fantüme" was an influence.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Hamburglar pic source.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ARSOLE FANTÜME, GENTLEMAN IMMORALIST- First Chapter

By Marcel Maurice and Pierre, translated by Ricky Sprague
translation © 2009 Ricky Sprague

CHAPTER 1
THE UNFORTUNATE THIEF, JACQUES

Jacques’ step was heavy with dread, his tattered clothing encrusted with dried mud and grime. The man used something to prod him with more force than seemed necessary.

“Keep movin’, ya foul peasant.” The man, dressed in the blue and red uniform that Jacques all too readily recognized as the uniform of a City police officer, had a voice that was animalistic- almost savage.

“You’d think it was me bein’ charged with somethin’,” Jacques said, under his breath.

“Until th’ chief inspector hears your story, I don’t know how we’ll be dealin’ with you!”

In the inky blackness that immediately preceded dawn, Jacques was barely able to see the trampled grass of the ground on which he walked, let alone the decaying farming equipment and skeletal barn they now approached. His muscles ached with each step, a cruel reminder of the cold of the night, and of the long hours spent in a frantic race to escape the fearful thing of nightmares that had chased him.

The policeman, head down, stepped ahead of Jacques and used something he couldn’t quite make out- it might have been a piece of pipe or a musket- to press against the barn door. It moaned open, and Jacques was assaulted by the concentrated smells that Jacques believed common to any farm. The policeman took hold of his arm, and pulled him roughly inside. He forced Jacques to sit at a table and then forced the door closed.

Now all was ominous shadow, and the policeman’s voice came to Jacques as if something disembodied. “Don’t move from that there spot where I seated you,” the policeman said. Then there was the sound of a match being lit, and a spark became visible. The match seemed to float before him as the policeman lit the candle on the center of the table at which Jacques now realized he was seated.

The candle provided just enough illumination that Jacques could see a man sitting across from him, on the other side of the table. The man’s face was covered in murky shadow. As a common thief, Jacques knew the favored attire of Inspectors; the thick tweed coat that gave them a sense of importance, and he could see that his table-mate wore this outfit. Perhaps if the candlelight had been brighter, he might have recognized the Inspector’s face.

“This here’s Jacques,” the policeman said. “He’s a witness.” Then, to Jacques, he said, “Tell the Inspector what you saw!”

Jacques leaned forward slightly and felt the policeman’s hand on his shoulder. “Lean back in your chair an’ relax,” the policeman said, in a tone that sounded almost soothing. “Just relax an’ tell your story.”

Jacques was compelled to follow the policeman’s advice, leaning back and listening to the almost silence that surrounded him. From somewhere in the darkness he could hear the sound of something dripping. It had been nearly a fortnight since the last rain, but surely the water had collected in the gutters and through one of the many gaps in the structure’s walls and ceilings. Indeed, there was damp mustiness all around him. And the smell! It was one of many reasons that Jacques preferred to spend his time in the City. Not even the Bottoms got this bad.

“Can you-all protect me?” Jacques said.

“Just tell us your story,” a voice said. Although Jacques still could not see the Inspector’s face, he knew that the voice belonged to him. It was a full octave higher than the policeman’s, and coming from the inspector’s direction. “If you know anything important, you’ll be taken care of.”

Jacques sighed heavily and decided he’d better tell them everything he knew, if he had any chance of escaping with his life. “Two days ago, I was in the City, when I heard through tha Underground that Mme Possédant had just acquired the Coer de Merde diamond- tha largest diamond in the entire world! Naturally, I conspired to steal it.”

“How did you hear of this information? Be specific.”

“A man dressed in black come in to the Cat and the Fiddle, an’ announced it. I don’t know that anyone else believed him, but I knew it were true.”

“How?”

“'Cause, Mme Possédant is rich! Rich people always have big diamonds like that!”

After a short pause, the voice asked, “Had you ever seen the man in black before?”


“Never!"

“What did he look like?”

“I don’t know!” Jacques’ voice was almost a whine. “He were dressed in black, with glasses and black hair and black moustache and eyebrows.”

“Fine. Continue with your story.”

“I took the train up to her estate at N’t’Pauvre, and I managed to sneak my way past the drunken chambermaid. Oh, she were a pretty one, that chambermaid! I say I actually thought twice about my endeavor-”

“Please don’t get bogged down,” the voice said. “We are losing time.”

Indeed, Jacques now noticed that sunlight was starting to penetrate the gaps in the walls and ceiling, and providing more illumination than the single candle. Still, Jacques could hardly see anything beyond the torso of his table-mate. He noticed now that the Inspector’s arms rested at his sides.

“I snuck meself up to the Mme Possédant’s quarters, an’ when I got to tha door, I heard from within the sounds of either pain or ecstasy, I couldn’t tell which one. All’s I thought was, weren’t it surprising, since most o’ tha upper crust people I ever run across turned out ta be real stale! Hahahaha!” Jacques laughed at his own joke, but neither the policeman nor the inspector seemed to find him amusing.

Jacques looked around, over his left shoulder, then his right, but did not see the policeman anywhere. “Say, is tha policeman what brung me here still about?”

“He is behind you, in the shadows,” the Inspector said, with irritation that Jacques found intimidating. “Now then, continue your story- quickly!”

“Right. Ah, well, anyway, I managed to sneak myself into tha next room over, which happened ta be tha bathroom. Through tha door, which was cracked a bit, I seen tha Mme on the floor, her skirts up over her back and shoulders, and over her was the strangest looking man I ever seen. He had in his right hand this narrow sort of cylinder, with a plunger he operated with his left hand. On tha other end, it had a long rubber nozzle, which ran from the cylinder in his hand to some point behind the Mme’s skirts.

“Then, suddenly, tha Mme screamed out, an’ weren’t no mistakin’ tha sound o’ that scream. It were tha scream o’ death, an then there was this sound of gushin’, an’ tha Mme was surrounded by a chunky pool o’ her own intestinal effluvia! I realized I’d just witnessed her gettin’ murdered by enema!”

“Then what happened? Did you see the face of the man who did it?”

Jacques was suddenly filled with the terror he’d been repressing. “I think he’d been wearing a mask, for there was a jester’s mask, with the long nose, on the floor beside the Mme. I figured it must have been knocked off in the struggle… Oh, I wish he’d still worn the mask, for tha face was tha face o’ pure evil it was…” Jacques leaned forward, only slightly, looking for some sign of sympathy from the Investigator. All he heard was that eerie dripping sound.

“Don’t ask me to disclose no further information! ‘Twas enough ta make even tha stoutest o’ blood veer off an’ scream, terrible-like!”

Jacques frantically searched the Investigator’s face, which he could almost make out, thanks to the increasing light from the rising sun. The face, what he could see of it, was inscrutable.

“Oh, why ya got to do this ta me? He’ll kill me, he will, if he finds out I described ‘im to ya!”

The Inspector’s face was impassive, almost blank.

“Fine!” Jacques screamed, frustrated by the Investigator’s lack of compassion. “His eyes were red as tha blood-reddest sky! His nose were shaped like tha shape o’ pure evil! His mouth was curled up inna snarl, sorta like tha snarl o’ tha most evil animal you ever did see!”

By now the light was enough that Jacques was able to make out the Inspector’s face completely. The eyes stared ahead, unmoving, unblinking. There were no movements such as one might expect to see from someone breathing. Behind the Inspector’s chair, Jacques believed he could just barely make out the figure of another person, and he had the chilling thought that the person was the policeman who’d brought him here.

“Have you more to say?” the policeman said, but in the inspector’s voice.

“Please, policeman- something seems to be wrong with tha Inspector-”

The policeman laughed. “You silly fool,” he said. “There’s no policeman here!”

“But- I thought you-”

“I never told you I was a policeman!” the man Jacques believed to be a policeman said, viciously. “You simply assumed that when I handcuffed you and told you I’d place you under arrest if you didn’t submit to our questions!”

Jacques was thinking suddenly with great clarity, as if the illumination provided by the rising sun was burning the fog from his mind. He realized the terrible sound of dripping was coming from directly in front of him, from under the table. But he was too afraid to look.

“Please, sir! I beg of you! Let me go!”

“But you saw my face,” the man said. “Your description of me was perfect. Any officer of the law would be able to spot me.”

Jacques tried to stand, but found he was too terrified to move at all. “I won’t tell no one, I swear-”

“But you just told me, with hardly any prodding at all.”

“No! That was just ‘cause you- you musta hypnotized me, or something!”

More laughter. “If I’d wanted to hypnotize you, I could have! I could have you believe I’m anyone- I could appear to you to be five metres tall, if I wanted!”

Jacques had a pathetic, frantic thought, and leaned forward toward the Inspector. “Please, Inspector, you got to help me! You got to stop him!”

“The Inspector can’t help you,” the voice said. “I’ve already cleaned him out!” He nudged the Inspector’s shoulder, and his body toppled off the chair and onto the floor, accompanied by the sound of a horrible splash.

The Inspector’s body was now lying on the floor, in what Jacques now saw was a chunky pool of his own intestinal effluvia.

Jacques looked up just in time to see the figure of the man he’d believed to be a policeman leaping toward him, tube in hand, and he realized that he himself was about to be murdered by enema.

His scream was something like ecstasy and pain.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

The Arsole Fantüme Films that were Almost Made

A French novel about a psychopathic master criminal who murders people by enema might seem an unlikely source for film material, particularly as early as 1927. Nevertheless, on at least 5 different occasions, “Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist” very nearly made it to the big screen. Below, is a brief overview of aborted Arsole projects.

Tod Browning and Lon Chaney made ten classic films together, including “The Unknown” in 1927. That same year, Browning worked on a script for an Arsole Fantüme adaptation that would have made good use of Chaney’s skills as a makeup artist- the ambitious project would have featured Chaney playing every male character, in disguise, so as to keep the audience confused about Arsole’s true identity. Despite Chaney’s popularity, the funds couldn’t be raised to finance a film that would require such expensive camera effects, and the script was abandoned.



Perhaps the greatest actor of all time, Lon Chaney, was nearly cast as Arsole in a silent film version in 1927. One shudders to think what Chaney's Arsole would have been like.

In 1934, Peter Lorre was cast as Arsole, but script re-writes delayed production on what would have been Lorre’s second English-language film. He ended up taking the role of Dr. Gogol in “Mad Love,” interestingly enough that film was itself based on a strange work of French fiction, Maurice Renard’s “The Hands of Orlac.” Today that film is regarded as something of a classic, although at the time it was a commercial failure. Universal decided not to pursue the Arsole Fantüme property anymore, and the project was forgotten for a few years.

The script was written by Norman Foster, who would later write Lorre’s “Think Fast, Mr. Moto.” According to legend, the script changed Arsole’s method of murder from enema to simple “injection,” although apparently there was some allusion to the fact that those “injections” were going into the victims’ lower ends. This was apparently part of the studio’s problem with the script; but even more than that, was the problem with the source material.

Universal president J. Cheever Cowdin was skeptical that any version of the film, no matter how heavily sanitized, could ever be made. Just having the credit “based on the novel ‘Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist’” would corrupt the film, and cause disastrous protests that the studio couldn’t afford.


Just before he portrayed "Dr. Gogol" in the classic film "Mad Love," Peter Lorre almost had the chance to show off his Arsole.

In 1944, George Sanders appeared as Inspector John Warwick in John Brahm’s film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ classic novel “The Lodger.” During the filming, Sanders discussed possibility of taking a role (it’s unclear if he would have played Arsole) in an adaptation of the novel that Brahm was trying to put together. This, too never came into being. The world was ten years older than when the last adaptation was attempted; nevertheless, the world had not yet caught up with Marcel Maurice’s and Pierre’s vision.

Interestingly, Sanders is said to have dressed as Arsole Fantüme for some infamous Hollywood Halloween parties.


The dapper actor George Sanders is said to have shown off his Arsole at parties. Alas, he never got the chance to put it to film.

Italian horror and fantasy filmmaker Mario Bava put together a script that was the most faithful to the book yet, complete with scenes that would have shown all of the enema murders up to and including the most infamous. His first choice to play Arsole was Patrick McGoohan, who at the time the script was written- 1965- was taking his second turn as the lead in the British television series “Danger Man.” The legend is that when offered the script, McGoohan literally refused even to allow it into his home. Supposedly he said, “I don’t have disinfectant strong enough for that.” Bava reworked his script (which prominently featured the novel’s occult group “the Lunar 13”) into his next film, “Kill, Baby, Kill.”


Patrick McGoohan refused to even consider showing his Arsole.

I doubt if Stanley Kubrick ever considered doing a film version of the novel, but in 1971 his film “A Clockwork Orange” contained a scene in which Alex, portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, wears a mask inspired by the one that Arsole wears in the book (covering the top half of the face, and with a comically yet sinister long nose).


Mysterious filmmaking genius Alejandro Jodorowsky's Arsole would have been a very strange one indeed.

In 1979, Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of the classic “head films” “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” tried to get a version of Arsole Fantüme financed. His cast included Richard Gere as Arsole, and Mick Jagger as Dr. Bouchard (he’d met Jagger during the pre-production on his ill-fated “Dune” project). Jodorowsky’s vision for the film diverged from the novel in a number of ways. For instance, in his version, “the City” would have been an entirely enclosed area which residents could neither enter nor leave, except by the Possédant’s boats, which Guillaume and his sister used exclusively for their import and export business. The implication was that Mme Possédant would have deserved her fate- and Arsole would be seen as a warrior for the commoners against the bourgeoisie (this of course is implied in “the jester/his Renfield” speech in the Bottoms in book’s later chapters).

Because residents of the City had no way of getting in and out, they were plagued by incest, and therefore subject to grave mental and physical defects. The worst of these incest victims who were wealthy were interred in the Wierd Institute. The worst of these victims who were poor residents of “the Bottoms” would have formed a criminal group known as “the Toads”- a nod to the snitch character in the novel.

Jodorowsky’s vision for “the Lunar 13” included having the group be a widely-followed religious organization seeking spiritual answers to the town’s problems. Notta Thot was somewhat re-imagined as an enforcer who attempts to murder anyone who crosses the Lunar 13.

A cast-against-type Richard Gere could have been an Arsole for the ages.

Tim Burton has long acknowledged his affection for Arsole. The line from his “Batman” film, “This town needs an enema!,” uttered by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, was inspired by Arsole’s antics. Recently, both Johnny Depp and Vincent Cassel have been rumored to be possible Arsoles in an adaptation that Burton is looking at trying to get financed. For now, Burton and Depp are working on a version of “Alice in Wonderland,” so if they are to make an “Arsole Fantüme” film, it probably won’t be for some time.


Vincent Cassel has made a career of playing eccentric and deranged characters- he might be a perfect choice for Arsole.


Not to take anything away from Johnny Depp, a talented actor who would also make a convincing Arsole.

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist from amazon here.

Lon Chaney London After Midnight pic source.
Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol pic source.
George Sanders pic source.
Patrick McGoohan pic source.
Alejandro Jodorowsky pic source.
Richard Gere pic source.
Vincent Cassel pic source.
Johnny Depp pic source.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Little About the Inspirations For Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist

From whence did the amazing and bizarre murderer by enema, Arsole Fantüme, flow? "The dark czar of nightmare," for whom "goodness and decency were forms of constipation" did not just spring in one spectacular gush from the minds of authors Marcel Maurice and Pierre in the Spring of 1901. He has a specific place in the history of world literature in general, and French literature in particular.

Of course, “Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist” has its antecedents in the fantastic and vulgar works of Matthew Lewis (“Monk”), Le Comte de Lautrémont (“Maldoror”), and the Marquis de Sade, among others. Within the novel itself Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” which had been published only a few years before “Arsole Fantüme,” is directly referenced.

The zombies of “One Thousand and One Nights,” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstien” were also obvious influences- their echoes can be found in the characters that comprise “the Lunar 13.” Balzac’s “Falthurn” and “Louis Lambert” also exhibited some influence on the authors, as did the works of Victor Hugo, Gérard de Nerval, and Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly.

It's also fair to say that the works of Paul Féval- pre Christian conversion- such as "Le Chevalier Ténèbre," and "Le Bossu" were known to the authors. The character Inspector Lefévre is often thought to be a parody of the heroes of detective fiction, in particular Féval's "Jean Diable."

And of course, Jules Verne was a major influence. In fact, co-author Marcel Maurice described Jules Verne as "that giant of a man, at least five metres tall and spectacularly endowed, who cast an imposing shadow over all who followed." Readers familiar of the Arsole Fantüme novel will no doubt notice a bit of the supernatural character of Notta Thot in that description.

Well-endowed: Jules Verne was a major influence on the creators of the supervillain who murdered by enema, and may have been the model for one of the novel's supernatural characters.

Published in 1901, it predated the famous character “Fantomas,” created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre by ten years. Like that more famous character, Arsole Fantüme is gleefully sociopathic, a madman whose only reason for committing his heinous acts is that he is insane. Unlike that more famous character, Arsole Fantüme murders people by enema.

The character Arsole Fantüme himself was inspired by the case of Edouard Fournier, a banker in Dijon who killed his wife with an enema containing a mixture that included the black seeds of the highly-poisonous Laburnum plant. Apparently, Mme Fournier experienced intense diarrhea and vomiting that continued for several hours. It wasn’t until she lapsed into a coma that Edouard alerted a doctor.

The case scandalized France, and held the public’s interest for much of 1874. This is the year of the birth of one of "Arsole Fantüme’s" authors, Marcel Maurice (we don’t know “Pierre’s” birth year). At times, Maurice would claim this coincidence of his birth year was the reason for his “morbid interest” in the enema as a murder tool. It’s impossible to know if this claim is sincere, but it’s certain that both authors knew of the famous killing when they created their villain.

(It's important to note that Marcel Maurice and Pierre also wrote a number of stories concerning the enema as a therapeutic tool- including one story in which a priest uses an enema to drive the devil out of the body of a nun.)

Marcel Maurice and Pierre lived together in a polyamorous relationship that included a number of women who kept coming and going from their group. The modern equivalent to their living arrangement might be the “commune,” with quasi-religious overtones, as the two were often said to have a “mystical” hold over their partners. (In fact, in one letter, Marcel Maurice describes in flowery language the power of the “magickal attachment to our ladies.”) The two were insuperable, and shared everything.

Through it all, they wrote several short stories, a few of which can occasionally be found in obscure journals and collections, and they wrote six novels featuring the character Arsole Fantüme. Unfortunately, only the first novel was published. Until now, it has never been published in English.

Happily, I have photocopies of the manuscripts of the next five novels. If this first book I've just finished translating does well, it’s possible the next books in the series will be translated.


An illustration from the 1901 novel "Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist." He murders by enema, which is presumably what we're seeing here. (Sorry about the quality- it's a scan of a photocopy- the book is rare indeed.)

UPDATE: Order the novel Arsole Fantüme from amazon here.

Jules Verne pic source.