Monday, September 8, 2008

Arsole Fantüm, Gentleman Immoralist

I’ve gotten more than a few requests for more information about the obscure writer Joel S Muttoe. There’s really not so much more that I can tell about him that I haven’t already mentioned in previous posts. However, I would like to comment a little on his work as a translator, which took up the bulk of the last four years of his life.

In France, the idea of the gentleman crook captured the hearts and minds of both authors and public alike. Characters like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin and Pierre Souvestre’s and Marcel Allain’s Fantomas were arguably the most famous. There was, however, another such character, Arsole Fantüm, Gentleman Immoralist, who created a messy trail of anarchy wherever he went.

The character was the creation of the French writers Marcel Maurice and Pierre Pierre, and he appeared in over 275 novels that the prolific pair of authors produced from 1906-1909. Though described as a “Gentleman Immoralist,” it was difficult to tell just what was so “gentlemanly” about the immoralist, other than the fact that he often wore a top hat and tails during the commission of his unspeakable crimes. Indeed, in the first chapter of the first novel, simply titled, Arsole Fantüm, Gentleman Immoralist, the title character “enemates,” (that is to say, commits murder by enema) three very unlucky characters. And from there, it only gets more bizarre and questionable.

Muttoe, who had fallen on hard times when the first novels started appearing in France, was contracted to translate the first novel into English, owing to the fact that it had an enema theme, and as I’ve already stated, Joel S Muttoe was one of the prime explorers of the art of the erotic enema. Obviously, there’s nothing erotic about the deadly enemas that Arsole Fantüm, Gentleman Immoralist inflicts, but Muttoe was also concerned with other types of enemas.

He turned out to be the perfect choice as translator, since the English versions of the novels sold over 10 million copies in America during the period from 1907-1909. Since that time, all the books have fallen out of print and remain largely forgotten (for instance, I could find no mention of him on wikipedia), although you can occasionally find old copies of the books on eBay and alibris.

My collection is extensive, and one of my proudest possessions. I’m happy to scan the first chapter of the first book here, for posterity/academic/historical purposes. Please enjoy- but be sure to read with the lights on! Arsole Fantüm, Gentleman Immoralist is one of the most terrifying creations in all of literature!

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