Arsène Lupin first appeared in July 1905 in the illustrated encyclopaedic magazine ‘Je sais tout’. Lupin is what is called an anti-hero, a character who does not meet the conventional expectations and morality and to whom the readers get attached. Intelligent, seductive and free-spirited, his position as an outlaw allows him to distance himself from good society and to better criticise its failings. The short story presented in this ebook gives a glimpse of Arsène Lupin’s cunning and elegant personality as he evolves amongst high society in the beginning of the 20th century. This short story, published on May 15, 1906, was also included in the first collection of Arsène Lupin’s adventure stories, simply entitled ‘Arsène Lupin, gentleman burglar’ (1907).
From then on, the character’s popularity grew steadily. Maurice Leblanc, the author, was even hailed as the French Conan Doyle.
This Arsène Lupin story is an introduction to the detective genre, a popular literature outside of the great literary classics and masterpieces, but just as fully integrated into the French cultural heritage.
The narrative construction of this adventure with enigmas and twists is also an opportunity for readers to play detective and to engage in active reading that may inspire them to follow the character’s next adventures.
The stories of this gentleman burglar are available in a series of short stories, a short and therefore often more accessible genre. Presenting one of them here is an invitation to learners to read other short stories.
Maurice Leblanc was born on 11 December 1864 in Rouen to merchant parents. During his youth, he mixed with Gustave Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant. He quickly developed a taste for literature and theatre. He moved to Paris in 1888 and started a career as a journalist, alongside writing. His first novel, ‘Une Femme’ (1893), made him known to the general public and drew the attention of the literary world. He began to socialise with famous writers such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Alphonse Allais. But his success really came in 1905, with the creation of the character of Arsène Lupin. It was an immediate success and his work quickly got recognised abroad.
In 1908, Maurice Leblanc received the Legion of Honour by the Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts. The character or Arsène Lupin was so popular that it tended to outshine Leblanc’s other works. Leblanc sometimes tried to distance himself from this overly brilliant character by making him die in his stories. But he always managed to reconcile himself with the beloved Arsène Lupin, who was resurrected in a following story. For the rest of his life, the author kept on telling the adventures of his hero, who gradually turned from a burglar into a detective.
Maurice Leblanc died of pneumonia at the age of 77. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery among great artists of French literature.
The literary work: Madame Imbert’s safe
The literary genre
Like all the other adventures of Arsène Lupin, Leblanc wrote this short story as a detective story with his own original and humoristic tone. The hero is not the policeman, but the burglar. The readers are on the side of the burglar Arsène Lupin. The police is not even present in this story.
This story is part of a series. There is no common chronological unit in all the Arsène Lupin stories, which makes it possible to read them without the need for external references.
Its European, or even international dimension (inspiration, literary current, posterity)
Arsène Lupin’s character traits are directly inspired from British literature and characters.
The director of the monthly magazine ‘Je sais tout’ requested that Maurice Leblanc created a character and stories following the style of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur J. Raffles. Lupin is probably directly inspired by Arthur J. Raffles. Like him, he is a gentleman burglar, a delinquent anti-hero but elegant, intelligent and seductive, which makes him very endearing.
When he wrote his stories, Maurice Leblanc also used Sherlock Holmes as a reference but more as an opposite character. To Holmes’ moralistic, rigid and cold spirit, Leblanc opposed a libertarian, sentimental and funny Lupin. He even wrote a story mocking Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson, in which the two friends, renamed Herlock Sholmès and Wilson, are tricked by Lupin. This mockery displeased Conan Doyle, who expressed his strong irritation in the press. Right after he was created, Arsène Lupin gained fame abroad.
Finally, Maurice Leblanc himself mentioned the importance of Edgar Allan Poe’s world as an inspiration for this novel and those he wrote in his early career. He then brightened up his writing.
Later, Leblanc’s work influenced writers: Gaston Leroux for his character Rouletabille, as well as Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain for their character Fantômas.
After the death of his creator, the adventures of Arsène Lupin remained an inspiration in France and abroad for cinema, television, theatre, comics and manga. Recently, the character got a web series dedicated to him. This longevity shows how Arsène the Lupin is part of the French popular culture and his influence abroad.
Indeed, the enthusiasm for the character was so strong in France that in 1985, almost 45 years after Maurice Leblanc’s published his last story, the ‘Association des amis d’Arsène Lupin’ was founded. This association brings together fans of the gentleman burglar. They organise pilgrimages to the places mentioned in his adventures and continue to analyse Leblanc’s work. This activity has given birth to the neologism “lupinology”, from which the terms “lupiniens” or “lupinophiles” are derived.
In 2006, the world of literature paid tribute to Maurice Leblanc and his character by creating the Prix Arsène Lupin, which rewards detective novels that combine humour and detective mystery.
Major issues/problems of the time addressed
The adventures of Arsène Lupin take place during the Belle Epoque, during the Golden Twenties. The hero lives among the political and social life of the time and reflects the author influences from anarchist friendships to the patriotism of the Great War.
‘Mrs Imbert’s safe’ depicts how people lived in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, especially the Parisian upper class. It illustrates the relationships between social classes, for example when the bourgeoisie of the Imberts meets the working-class world of Arsène Lupin.
As well as depicting an increasing influence of bourgeoisie in French society at the time, Leblanc shows the growing part played by banking and finance. The Imberts’ financial difficulties echo the industrial and financial upheavals of the early 20th century, and how bank loans and mortgages impacted the French household economy.
Mrs Imbert’s safe
The gallery of characters
- The narrator and friend of Arsène Lupin
- Arsène Lupin
- Arsène Lupin’s partner
- Ludovic Imbert
- Gervaise Imbert
The story takes place in Paris.
The beginning and the end of the story take place in the narrator’s office. Some scenes take place in the streets of Paris, and the rest of the story is mainly set in the beautiful hotel of the Imbert couple.
Iconography in the ebook
This short story takes place during the Belle Epoque, and the illustrations in the ebook are from artists of that period such as Camille Pissarro, Henri Dabadie, Fernand Maillaud and Honoré Daumier.
The drawings reflect the style of newspapers and magazines illustrations from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They evoke the visual environment of the time the story was published.
PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK: UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity: A hero of the Belle époque
Entry activity in the ebook
- Sets of pictures of Paris (from the Belle-Epoque and other times) to project and distribute
- Sets of pictures of Arsène Lupin (from the ebook and other works) to project and distribute
Before the session
– Select music from the Belle Epoque.
– Prepare pictures to project of the streets of Paris in the Belle Epoque.
– Prepare a set of pictures to distribute, including the projected streets and one or more odd ones (pictures of Paris from an earlier period and from a more recent period, that can easily be distinguished).
– Prepare pictures to project of Arsène Lupin: pictures from the ebook where his style (suit and top hat) is clearly visible.
– Prepare a set of pictures to distribute, including the projected Arsène pictures projected and one or more odd ones (pictures of other heroes from different periods and countries).
In the workshop:
– Explain to the group that they have to understand where and when the story of the ebook takes place.
– Start by playing the music, then project the pictures of Paris. After the projection, ask the group: What city are we in? Is this happening now or in the past?
– Form sub-groups. Distribute a set of pictures to each sub-group. One or more odd ones (to be determined according to the time available for the activity) are hidden in the sheet. Each sub-group must find the odd ones out and justify their choice. Depending on the level of the groups, the trainer will provide more or less support for the explanation.
– Do the same thing with the pictures of Arsène Lupin.
– Finish the activity in the large group, by asking questions about the identity of Arsène Lupin. Ask the sub-groups to picture the place and role of this character in the ebook: will he be a good or bad character?
Another activity can be to introduce Arsène Lupin through his clothing accessories, by distributing pictures of objects that characterise the character: a walking stick, gloves, a monocle, a top hat, etc. Bring the objects to the workshop, to let the learners manipulate them, and thus inspire their answer about Arsène Lupin. Bring the objects to the workshop and let the learners handle them, thus inspiring their answer about Arsène Lupin. The odd one out activity can also be replicated here by bringing in incongruous objects.
PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK
Activity 1: What genre is it?
Preparation activity for global understanding
- Slides from the ebook
- Policeman/detective kit
- Thief kit
Before the session
- Print the ebook pictures that illustrates the detective literary genre
- Select pictures illustrating other literary genres, for example: historical, science fiction, romance, etc. They can be taken from other ebooks in the Bibliodos collection.
- Prepare a document to project the title of the ebook.
- Prepare a set of pictures of accessories for a detective: a magnifying glass, a notebook, a fingerprint detector, a torch, etc. Print as many as there are sub-groups. This is the detective kit.
- Prepare a set of pictures of accessories for a thief: a rope, wire to pick a lock, gloves, a mask, etc. Print as many as there are sub-groups. This is the thief kit.
In the workshop:
This first activity is proposed before reading.
- Project the title of the ebook without illustration. Indicate that this is the title of the work. Help the group to read and understand.
- Form sub-groups and distribute to each one a slide of the ebook illustrating the detective genre. Ask each sub-group to describe what they see.
- Back in large group, ask to which genre the work belongs to. If necessary, to guide the answer, project pictures of other literary genres and try to make the group name them. Allow the group to suggest hypotheses about the genre of the work adapted in the ebook. Do not give the answer.
- Reform the sub-groups. Distribute the mixed pictures of the detective and thief kits. Invite the sub-groups to rebuild each kit, then to name what they know. In the large group, take the time to name some unknown elements.
- Back in large group, go back to the slide of the title of the work with the addition of the picture of the safe. Ask how it is understood, what indications it gives about the story.
- Start a discussion about the idea of “hero/heroine”. Would the learners prefer it to be a thief or a detective?
Activity 2: Arsène Lupin’s encounters
Global understanding activity
- Pictures of key scenes from parts 1 and 2, printed in small format.
- Pictures of the characters
- Name tags of characters appearing in parts 1 and 2 of the ebook.
- A timeline
Before the session
- Print out in small format the pictures of different key scenes from parts 1 and 2. For example, Arsène Lupin in the narrator’s office. Ludovic Imbert being attacked and then saved by Arsène Lupin, the Imbert couple welcoming Lupin into their home. Prepare as many sets of pictures as there are sub-groups.
- Print the pictures of the characters discovered in parts 1 and 2. Prepare as many sets of pictures as there are sub-groups.
- Print the name tags of these characters. Prepare as many sets of labels as there are sub-groups.
- Prepare a simple timeline with several markers to which the pictures of the story will be linked.
In the workshop:
This activity is carried out after the individual reading of parts 1 and 2.
- Tell the group that they will read the first two parts. Tell them that to focus on the characters what their names are.
For level 1, it is in fact a reading of pictures and possible key elements. We will still talk about reading. Explain that it is not a question of reading everything, nor of understanding everything on the first reading, but of discovering the beginning of the ebook while carrying out an initial investigation.
- Start a first reading of the work.
- After this first reading, form sub-groups and distribute the pictures of the work and the name tags of the characters to each group. Invite each sub-group to try to associate the name and the picture of the characters. The levels that are more comfortable with writing can write/copy the names of the characters themselves. Orally, each sub-group presents a character.
- Look again at the hypotheses put forward in the previous activity with the group. Is Arsène Lupin a thief or a detective?
- Start a second reading of part 1 (coupled with one or two listenings for reading levels 1 and 2), and this time ask the learners to focus on the temporality of events. To help them understand the instruction, show them the timeline to use after the reading to position the events.
- After this second reading, distribute the timeline to each sub-group and ask them to stick the pictures in the right place.
- Go through the groups and ask each one to tell the sequence of these scenes. If necessary, help them to express the possible causal links (“therefore”, “then”, etc.).
- In large group, review the chronological understanding of this part of the work, particularly the flashback. Look at slide 7. Ask if the night scene in the street takes place 6 months before or 6 months after the previous scene.
- Start the second reading of part 2 (accompanied by one or two listenings for reading levels 1 and 2). This time, the learners must try to understand why Lupin is happy to be employed by the Imbert family.
- After reading, ask the group to look for the answer to the above question in these first two parts of the work. Ask them to provide as many details as possible: How much money is there? Where does the money come from? Why don’t the Imberts use their money?
Activity 3: Arsene Lupin’s plan
Fine tuning activity
- A map of a house
- Pictures from Lupin’s in action (from slides 45 to 52)
- Timeline from the previous activity
Before the session
- Prepare a simple map of the Imberts’ house, where one can identify Ludovic Imbert’s office, Lupin’s office and the Imberts’ room.
- Select several pictures of the night of the robbery showing simple actions: Lupin going down the rope, opening the window, hiding behind the curtains, etc.
In the workshop:
This activity is carried out after the individual readings of parts 3 and 4.
- Tell the group that they will read parts 3 and 4 of the work. This reading is proposed, at first, without the audio for levels 1 and 2 of reading.
- After reading, ask where the story takes place.
- Form sub-groups and distribute the map of the house with the pictures of the characters, as well as the safe to be placed in the house. To make it easier to read the map and continue the activity, ask: Where is the safe? Where is Lupin’s office, on which floor? Where is Ludovic Imbert’s office? The groups that are comfortable speaking will have to answer precisely, using as many prepositions of place as possible. The others can do this by pointing to the map and will be helped to formulate their ideas.
- Start a second reading of part 3 (accompanied by one or two listenings for reading levels 1 and 2). Point out that they will have to pay attention to the way Lupin tries to open the safe.
- After reading, ask them to explain what strategy Lupin uses in this part. To guide the answers, ask the group to go back to slides 30 to 35. Learners who are not very communicative can use mimes.
- Start the second reading of part 4 (accompanied by one or two listenings for levels 1 and 2 reading). Indicate that the aim is to retrace the events of the evening of the robery in pictures.
- After reading, distribute the pictures of Lupin’s robery to the sub-groups in the wrong order. Each sub-group must retrace the steps. Ask the volunteers to explain what happened.
- Back in large group to look at the last slide of part 4 regarding the disappearance of the Imberts. Ask the groups what hypotheses can be put forward.
- To finish, distribute a new picture of the robery to each sub-group to stick on the timeline.
Activity 4: Arsène becomes Lupin
Fine tuning activity
- Pictures of Arsène Lupin from the ebook, some referring to his “gentleman” side, others to his “burglar” side
- Pictures or extracts from films/plays/series featuring Arsène Lupin
In the workshop:
This activity is carried out after the individual reading of part 5.
– Tell the group that they are going to read the last part of the work. This reading is proposed, at first, without the audio for reading levels 1 and 2.
– Start the reading by indicating that the aim was to understand the when the last part happened in relation to the previous one.
– After reading, form sub-groups and ask each group to go back to the timeline and to position the last part on the timeline. Is it already on the timeline?
– Then ask the sub-groups about Lupin’s discussion with his friend. Why is he angry? What happened?
– Propose a second reading (accompanied by one or two listenings for levels 1 and 2 reading), and ask them who stole from whom? For the levels that are more comfortable with reading, ask why Lupin mentions “Brawford” again, a name already mentioned in part 2 during the lunch with the Imberts.
– Now that the whole ebook has been read, ask the group if this is a happy or unhappy ending for Lupin? To fuel the discussion, suggest going back to slide 69 and try to explain Lupin’s sentence: “A nice school for a beginner!
– Go back terms specific to the detective genre, and suggest that the group try to understand them together. What does it mean to “pull a trick”? “To be fooled”? “To trick someone”?
– Then ask them to explain why Lupin is called a “gentleman burglar”. Project a representative picture of Lupin to help them. To help understanding these two words, form sub-groups and distribute different pictures of Lupin and ask them to classify the pictures into the two categories “gentleman” and “burglar”.
– Ask what picture of a gentleman they think is best. Encourage personalised responses, explaining that there are many possible views. Answers can be drawings.
To go further with cross-culturality
Initiate a large group discussion on the idea of an anti-hero, a person who is not always recommendable but to whom one becomes attached. Ask the group whether such characters, male or female, exist in the literary tradition (oral, written) of their country. To help with this activity, give examples of famous anti-heroes (Aladdin, Don Quixote, etc.)
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity: Creating an atmosphere for the audio
Activity to enhance the reading experience
- Objects for sound effects
- Laptop computers with built-in microphone and sound processing software
Before the session:
- Look for objects that can be used for sound effects: shoes with heels for the sound of footsteps, dishes for the sound of lunch, an object that can make the sound of the safe lock, newspapers, etc.
In the workshop:
- Explain to the group that the audio lacks sound effects, and that they will have to imagine some to create an atmosphere for the different scenes in the work.
- Ask the group to organise themselves into sub-groups and ask each group to choose one or two scenes to be sounded. Illustrate the instructions with examples: Ludovic following in the street: street noises and footsteps; Lupin and the Imberts having lunch: the sound of dishes; Lupin (or Ludovic) opening the safe: the sound of a lock rattling…
- Invite the groups to use the audio of the chosen scenes to work on their sound effects.
- Once the sound effects have been created and tested, ask the sub-groups to play them for the other groups to see if they are convincing. Then ask them to memorise the texts of the scenes in preparation for being recorded.
- Go through the groups to record on the computer. Groups that are comfortable with computers can record themselves.
- Have the group listen to all the scenes
The creative activity could also consist in making posters in small groups to illustrate a play or a movie adapted from this episode of Arsène Lupin’s adventures. The groups could use photography, painting, drawing or collage to make it. These posters could be exhibited in the hall or centre to encourage other groups to discover the work or the ebook.