"American Mysteries: Urban Crime Fiction from Eugène Sue's Mysteries of Paris to the American Noir & Steampunk"

Event Date: 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 4:00pm
Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 5:00pm
Friday, February 28, 2014
Saturday, March 1, 2014

Event Location: 

  • McCune Conference Room (HSSB 6020) UC Santa Barbara

Event Contact: 

Catherine Nesci (cnesci@frit.ucsb.edu)

American Mysteries: Urban Crime Fiction from Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris to the American Noir & Steampunk

Plenary Speakers Paul Erickson (American Antiquarian Society) & Marie-Eve Thérenty (Université Montpellier III-Rirra 21)

Featuring Writer Jean-Christophe Valtat

February 26-28 & March 1, 2014 Interdisciplinary Humanities Center McCune Conference Room (HSSB 6020) UC Santa Barbara

This conference is the fourth in a series of conferences on the innovative novel of urban mysteries, which has remained largely unexplored as a global cultural phenomenon. Starting with one of the first literary mass-successes, Eugène Sue’s serialized novel Les Mystères de Paris (1842-43 [The Mysteries of Paris]), the launch and reception of the urban mystery marked not only the most important media phenomenon that France had ever seen; it was also one of the first occurrences of cultural globalization.

In the months following the French publication, the novel was translated into several languages and gained international success from southern Europe to North America, from northern Europe to Latin America, Russia, throughout the Commonwealth, and, finally, at the turn of the century, in Japan and China. These translations were mostly adaptations. Sue’s Mystères de Paris also initiated the production of hundreds of novels worldwide with considerable local variation. Examples are Reynolds’s Mysteries of London (1844-1848), Juan Martínez Villergas’s Los Misteríos de Madrid (1844), Ned Buntline’s The Mysteries and Miseries of New York (1847-48), Edouard Rivière’s Antonino y Anita ó los nuevos mysterios de Mexico (1851), Camilo Castelo Branco’s Os Mistéros de Lisboa (1854), and B. Del Vecchio’s I Misteri di Roma contemporanea (1851-1853).

With interwoven stories and urban chronicles that feature deep conflicts of class and gender, Sue’s Mysteries of Paris was the first popular novel to confront head-on the modern megalopolis. Starting with Sue’s serialized best-seller, the urban mystery novel provided a matrix of hybridization with other literary or cultural forms: the gothic novel, the historical novel, the melodrama, the novel of social mores, the fiction of detection, the journalistic reportage, and travel narratives, to name a few.

Our UCSB mystery conference focuses on the translations, adaptations and transformations of the Parisian mystery novels in the United States, from George Lippard’s The Quaker City (1844) and Edward Zane Carroll Judson [Ned Buntline]’s The Mysteries and Miseries of New York (1847-48), to the influence this neglected popular genre had on the modern detective novel and the making of the Hollywood film noir.

We start and end our exploration with two special events:

  1. A reading with writer Jean-Christophe Valtat and his new take on the mystery genre and noir fiction, with his cult hit, the steampunk epic Aurorarama (2010), part of the trilogy of The Mysteries of New Venice,
  2. And the screening of Chan is Missing (1982), Wayne Wang's version of the film noir reimagined via two Asian-American cabbies searching San Francisco's Chinatown for a mysterious character who has disappeared with their money.

Location of events at UC Santa Barbara:

  • Opening special event with writer Jean-Christophe Valtat: February 26, Old Little Theatre, College of Creative Studies.
  • Colloquium February 27-28 and March 1: McCune Conference Room, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center.
  • Closing special event, Chan is Missing: March 1, 4:30-6:30pm, Theater and Dance Building 1701.

This Colloquium is organized by the Department of French and Italian, the Comparative Literature Program & the Graduate Center for Literary Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, In collaboration with Université Montpellier III and the Center RIRRA 21 (France) and the support of the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation, Inc.

UCSB co-sponsors include: the College of Letters and Sciences and its Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, the College of Creative Studies, the Multicultural Center, the East Asia Center and the Center for Modern Literature, Materialism and Aesthetics (COMMA); and the Departments of Asian American Studies, English, East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, Film and Media Studies, and History.   

The Mysteries of Paris by Joseph Marie Eugène Sue