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Volume 7369

“The City of Lights” in ERB’s Fiction
by Alan Hanson 

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“The City of Lights” in ERB’s Fiction
by Alan Hanson
Neither a well educated nor a widely travelled man, Edgar Rice Burroughs instead utilized keen insight and ingenuity to take readers to fanciful places in his stories during the first half of the 20th century. He never visited Africa, but since neither had most of his readers, he could let his imagination build the locales of his Tarzan stories. Burroughs had never visited Europe either, but he knew his readers would have considerably more background knowledge about that continent than they did about darkest Africa. And so when he used European settings in his fiction, he had to rein in his imagination somewhat and lean on popular perceptions when using European settings.

The city of Paris is a good example. Burroughs made references to the French capital in over 20 of his books, starting with his second novel, The Outlaw of Torn, in 1911. The picture he painted of Paris varied little with how it must have been portrayed in the era’s pulp magazines, whose stories motivated him to start writing fiction.

In his fiction, Burroughs portrayed Paris as a city of contrasts. On one hand, he labeled it a “seat of culture,” whose possibilities for learning stunned Tarzan “when he contemplated the very infinitesimal crumb of the sum total of human knowledge that a single individual might hope to acquire even after a lifetime of study and research.” During Tarzan’s 60 days in Paris in 1909, as recorded in The Return of Tarzan, he frequented museums, libraries, picture galleries, and music halls. He also took riding lessons at a Parisian academy. 

Burroughs acknowledged the city’s reputation as the world’s fashion capital, but neither he nor his most famous character could bring themselves to embrace Parisian styles. In Tarzan and the Leopard Men, the author noted that the story’s heroine, Kali Bwana, had “worn some of the most ridiculous creations of the most famous couturiers of Paris,” and in Tarzan the Untamed, the ape-man expressed abhorrence with clothing as “uncomfortable, hideous, confining things that reminded him somehow of bonds securing him to the life had had seen the poor creatures of London and Paris living.”

There was a dark side, as well, to Paris in Burroughs’s fiction. In fact, Tarzan considered Paris to be more dangerous by night than the African jungle. That judgment was bolstered one evening when he passed through the Rue Maule district on his way home from the opera. According to ERB, “You need but ask the police about it to learn that in all Paris there is no street to which you should give a wider berth after dark.” An urban innocent, however, Tarzan preferred that quiet and dark passage to the noisy and pedestrian-filled streets around it because the Rue Maule “reminded him more of his beloved African jungle.” The night on which he was nearly lured to his death by the mock cries of a woman in distress, however, taught him that the lawless creatures of Paris were far more dangerous than the beasts of his jungle.

(ERB warned of one other dangerous segment of the Parisian population, as well. “Sometimes,” D’Arnot once reminded Tarzan, "you are about as careful of yourself as a Paris taxi driver is of pedestrians.”)

Another undesirable element of Parisian culture that Burroughs stressed was its emphasis on “dissipation.” After immersing himself in culture during the day, Tarzan “threw himself into a search for relaxation and amusement” at night. “If he smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much absinth,” ERB explained, “it was because he took civilization as he found it, and did the things that he found his civilized brothers doing.” And so, during his two months in Paris in 1909, Tarzan moved back and forth between the extremes of study and dissipation.

The Citizens of Paris
For the most part, Burroughs fashioned his leading Parisian citizens as he did many of his other major characters — either wholly good or utterly evil. One of the latter was Sir Jules de Vac, whose story is told in The Outlaw of Torn. Born the son of a French officer in Paris near the end of the 12th century, De Vac came to be reputed as the best swordsman in France. For reasons unknown, he left Paris and entered the service of King John of England. When John died in 1216, De Vac suffered an insult at the hand of the new English King, Henry III. In revenge, De Vac kidnapped the king’s son and raised him to hate everything English. De Vac never returned to Paris. A “little, grim, gray, old man,” he died at the sword hand of his protégé, Norman of Torn, in the year 1243.

Another dastardly Parisian villain in ERB’s fiction was Prince Alexis Soborov. In the opening scene of Tarzan’s Quest, Jane Clayton learned that her friend, Kitty Krause, a widowed American heiress, had met and married Prince Alexis Soborov in Paris during the summer of 1933. After a plane crash left Jane, the Soborovs, and others stranded in an African forest, the prince murdered Kitty to inherit her $70 million fortune. Like De Vac nearly 700 years before, Alexis never returned to Paris. He was torn to pieces by leopards outside the Kavuru village.

Paul D’Arnot was a Paris citizen whose character was in sharp contrast to that of the evil Prince Soborov. After Tarzan saved the French officer from death in Mbonga’s village in Tarzan of the Apes, D’Arnot guided the ape-man out of the jungle and eventually to Paris, where they arrived in August 1909. There D’Arnot arranged for Tarzan’s fingerprints to be examined to determine if he were the true Lord Greystoke. The Frenchman later sent the telegram to Tarzan is the U.S. confirming his lineage.

When Tarzan returned to Paris that October, D’Arnot gave him lodging in his apartments for the ape-man’s two-month stay in the city. During that time, the French lieutenant counseled Tarzan in the customs of civilization, used his influence to help Tarzan avoid arrest in the Rue Maule incident, and attended the ape-man during his duel with Count de Coude. D’Arnot again saw the new Lord Greystoke three years later when Tarzan came to Paris to visit his best friend in 1912. 

Contemporary Paris residents of D’Arnot were the Count and Countess De Coude, who met and befriended Tarzan aboard ship as they were returning to France from New York. The De Coudes had considerable social contact with Tarzan for a month’s time after arriving in Paris. Then the evil machinations of the countess’s brother, Nicholas Rokoff, nearly led to Tarzan and the count killing each other. Their friendship was eventually rekindled, and the count helped Tarzan get a position with the French government. When Tarzan left Paris in November 1909, the Count and Countess De Coude receded from the pages of ERB’s fiction.

Another aristocratic couple, the Count and Countess of Crecy, were also residents of Burroughs’s Paris. They were returning to the city from a honeymoon cruise round the world when their yacht sank and they were thrown upon an uncharted South Seas island with their baby daughter. The Crecys did not survive, but Burroughs recounted the story of their daughter’s return to civilization (to Boston, not Paris) in his novel, The Cave Girl.

Other ERB Paris citizens include the French Foreign Legion Captain Armand Jacot (father of Jeanne Jacot, aka Meriem Clayton), the French police fingerprint expert Desquerc, Monsieur Flaubert (who delivered Count de Coude’s challenge to Tarzan), and French diplomat General Rochere. Finally, in the late 1920s, Johnny Lafitte and his wife (aka La Diablesa) were “respectable married folk” living in Paris following their harrowing South Seas adventures recorded by ERB in Pirate Blood.

The Visitors to Paris
A half dozen other Burroughs characters visited Paris during their respective stories recounted by the author. The most prominent of these visitors to the French capital, of course, was Tarzan of the Apes. As mentioned earlier, he made three visits to Paris, one in each of the first three Tarzan stories. The first was for a week in August 1909, after D’Arnot initially brought him out of the jungle. All that is known of Tarzan’s activities during his first stop in Paris is that he was fingerprinted by the Paris police and that he attended melodramas at Paris theaters. At first opportunity, he sailed for America in search of Jane Porter.

Burroughs revealed much more about Tarzan’s second trip to Paris. Three chapters in The Return of Tarzan detail the ape-man’s trials during the 60 days he spent in the French capital in October-November 1909. After accepting lodging in D’Arnot’s apartments, Tarzan spent two weeks immersing himself in the cultural offerings of the city and indulging in its forms of leisure by night. The incident in the Rue Maule taught him lessons in the dark side of civilized human nature and unnaturalness of civilization’s laws. 

His contempt for civilization grew when Rokoff’s plot resulted in the dishonor of his friend, Olga de Coude, the near murder of her husband, and the pistol duel that followed. “Paris is no place for me,” he told Paul D’Arnot. “I will but continue to stumble into more and more serious pitfalls. The manmade restrictions are irksome. I feel always that I am a prisoner. I cannot endure it, my friend, and so I think that I shall go back to my own jungle, and lead the life that God intended that I should lead when He put me there.

When Tarzan departed the city toward the end of November 1909, he was glad to leave. He left without anger but instead with sympathy for the people he left behind. “He pitied the poor creatures of Paris,” Burroughs explained, “penned up like prisoners in their silly clothes, and watched by policemen all their poor lives, that they might do nothing that was not entirely artificial and tiresome.

Much happened to Tarzan before he returned to Paris for his last recorded visit three years later in September 1912. He had married Jane, claimed his rightful title and the public responsibilities of Lord Greystoke, and had a son. In the opening page of The Beasts of Tarzan, he sat in the Paris apartments of Paul D’Arnot, having made the trip over from his London home to visit his old friend. The visit ended quickly, however. When Tarzan learned that his son had been kidnapped, he hurried back across the channel to deal with the catastrophe. Tarzan was only 24 years old when he left Paris that day.

In 24 more Tarzan tales, Burroughs never again took Lord Greystoke to Paris. The author left unrecorded a number of lengthy periods in Tarzan’s life, however, and it is possible that during those gaps he made further trips to Paris to visit his friends D’Arnot and the de Coudes, as well as his daughter-in-law’s parents, the Jacots 

Through the years, however, Burroughs sent a handful of other characters to Paris for various reasons. Princess Emma von der Tann, Barney Custer’s love interest in The Mad King, is one example. She spent much of the years1913-14 in Paris, the same period that Barney was absent from Lutha between Parts 1 and 2 of The Mad King. ERB brought Emma back from France and Barney back from Nebraska so that they could achieve their destiny together in Lutha. 

Another Paris visitor played an important role in Tarzan’s life. As a young man, Abdul Kamak spent six months in Paris with a troupe of Arabs on exhibition. While there, Abdul, like Tarzan, learned the customs and the vices the city had to offer. Some years later, while a member of Sheik Amor Ben Khatour’s band of Arab raiders, Kamak realized that Meriem, a girl the Sheik claimed to be his daughter, was actually a French officer’s child who had been abducted by the Sheik years before. 

Hopeful of collecting the large reward for her return, Kamak made his way to the Paris home of Armand Jacot and told him he knew where his daughter could be found. Unwilling to trust the swarthy-looking Arab, Jacot took the advice of his friend Paul D’Arnot and went to London to seek the help of Lord Greystoke in finding his daughter. In Tarzan’s London townhouse, in the closing pages of The Son of Tarzan, Jacot was reunited with his daughter, Jeanne, then known as Meriem, the wife of Tarzan’s son.

A couple of other characters in the Tarzan series probably visited Paris. In Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, the ape-man confronted the pompous American banker, Wilbur Stimbol. “That was a name to conjure with,” Burroughs noted. “Even in Paris and London it had opened many a door, bent many a knee.”

And in Tarzan Triumphant, English aviatrix Lady Barbara Collis indicated she had visited the French capital city. Seemingly speaking from experience, she told professor Lafayette Smith, “One might think that you were a Cook’s Tour courier who had got lost during a personally conducted tour of the art galleries of Paris and expected to lose his job in consequence.”

Burroughs even made reference to Adolph Hitler’s brief visit to Paris in 1940. In his short story, The Strange Adventure of Mr. Dinnwiddie, ERB alluded to the title character’s delusion of a “glorious half hour that he had directed traffic at a busy intersection in Kansas City on the occasion of a Shriner’s Convention. Hitler, entering Paris, doubtless enjoyed similar emotions, though probably in a lesser degree.”

The Dreamers of Paris

Finally, a handful of dreamers in Burroughs’s fiction, usually driven by avarice, fantasized about a life of luxury in radiant world capitals, Paris always prominent among them. When the conspirator Carl Kraski got his hands on Tarzan’s bag of diamonds in Tarzan and the Golden Lion, the thought of the wealth it represented sent him fleeing into the jungle. “There is only one chance in a thousand that I can reach the coast alone,” he realized, “but this, this is worth every effort, even to the sacrifice of life — the fortune of a thousand kings — my God, what could I not do with it in London, and Paris, and New York!

In The Girl From Hollywood, Custer Pennington desperately sought to replace the dream of stage stardom in the heart of Grace Evans with the splendor of world travel. “Then, when father is gone,” he promised her, “we could go and live in the city — in any city that we wanted to live in — Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, Paris — anywhere.” To Grace’s misfortune, she succumbed to the lure of Hollywood instead.

Grace was not swayed by Custer’s vision, but a similar dream planted by a suitor took root in the heart of young Meriem in The Son of Tarzan. The Hon. Morison Baynes, a visitor at the Greystoke African home, employed the romantic image of Paris in trying to convince Meriem to run away with him. “He was telling Meriem stories of London and Paris, of balls and banquets, of the wonderful women and their wonderful gowns, of the pleasures and pastimes of the rich and powerful.” Meriem agreed to go, but Baynes, like many other Burroughs’ romantics, died in Africa along with his dream.

Another dreamer, Alexis Soborov, was driven to murder in Tarzan’s Quest by the vision of what his wife’s money could buy in Europe’s shining cities. “If it were not for you,” he thought while gazing at his wife, “seventy million dollars … Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo … ” And in Tarzan the Magnificent, the villainous hunter Troll had similar dreams after kidnapping the Kaji Queen Gonfala. “Be good to me,” he told her, “an’ I’ll take you away. Me an’ you’ll beat it with the diamond. We’ll go to Europe, to Paris.

While other Burroughs characters dreamed of opulent lives in multiple cities, the mongrel Atan Thome fantasized about only Paris in Tarzan and the Forbidden City. Believing he had the giant diamond of Asher in his possession, Thome declared, “I shall put the maharajas of India to shame. I shall strew the streets of Paris with gold … It is mine, and I have been waiting to open it in Paris. I shall buy all of Paris with it and be King of France!

A Final Dream of Paris
Like all of ERB’s Parisian dreamers before him, Atan Thome’s visions of splendor in Paris were realized only in his imagination. Ironically, although Burroughs dashed the hopes of his characters who dreamed of visiting Paris, he made the illusion come true for himself. It happened in the opening pages of The Moon Maid, written in 1922. The author, writing in the first person, envisioned himself a passenger on the airship The Harding, leaving Chicago on June 10, 1967. Aboard Burroughs foretold his meeting with Julian 3, who, during an overnight flight, related the future story of his grandson, Julian 5. “Great Scott!” ERB’s guest cried hours later. “I had no idea that I had kept you up all night. Here we are in Paris already.

Burroughs provided no information about his imaginary future visit to the French capital in 1967, and his death in 1950 guaranteed that his prediction of visiting Paris 17 years later would not come true. If he had gone to Paris as an old man, though, one wonders if he would have found it in reality the fascinating city that he portrayed in his fiction.

—The End—

From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources

The Outlaw of Torn
The Return of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Leopard Men
Tarzan the Untamed
Tarzan’s Quest
Tarzan of the Apes
The Cave Girl
Pirate Blood
The Beasts of Tarzan
The Mad King
The Son of Tarzan
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
Tarzan Triumphant
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
The Girl From Hollywood
Tarzan’s Quest
Tarzan the Magnificent
Tarzan and the Forbidden City
The Moon Maid

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