French Gothic Novel or The Roman Noir

The term, “noir” instantly brings to mind the works of such authors as Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain, and Dorothy B. Hughes.  Many of their novels turned into the gritty, black and white films of the 1950s.  Tales of downtrodden men and women (victims and perpetrators alike) lost in the underbelly of society.

However, Roman Noir (black novel) was first coined by the French in the 18th century, and originally referred to the Gothic novels emerging from England at the time.

The English Gothic novel (born from Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto) were mysteries often set in ruined castles populated by lonely women, tyrannical Lords, and creepy servants.   Ancient curses, ominous visions, forbidden romance, and fears of the supernatural abound.

The Roman Noir became the parallel literary movement in France.  Notable authors included  Denis Diderot, Madame de Genlis,  Baculard d’Arnaud,  Stéphanie Ducrest de St-Albin,Gaston Leroux, Balzac, Vicomte d’Arlincourt,  Francois Ducray-Duminil,  Victor Hugo, and Maupassant.

During the nineteenth century,  in continuation of the Gothic or Roman Noir, a new emphasis on horror gave birth to the  le roman frenetique.  

-Lou Chaney as The Hunchback of Notre Dame