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|Eugène Sue (1804-1857) - real name Marie-Joseph Sue|
Parisian journalist, called the "king of the popular novel," one of the most widely read writers of methe lodramatic fiction in 19th-century France. Eugène Sue was sponsored by Prince Eugène de Beauharnais and the empress Joséphine; he used the prince's name to form his famous pen name. Sue gained fame through the roman-feuilleton, the serial novel which achieved its greatest popularity in the French periodical press in the 1840's. Sue's republican and socialist views are reflected in his best-known novels, Les Mystères de Paris (1842-43), set in the Paris slums, and Le Juif errant (1844-45), published in instalments for Le Constitutionnel in 1842-1843.
"Brain, or heart of the land, which you will, as large as cities are, Paris may claim to have nerves, muscles, and arteries centering in it, which but few capitals, by right size, passions, horrors, loves, charms, mysteries, in a word, can reveal. To trace its emotions, impulses, secrets, wounds, cankers, joys, the following pages are devoted." (from The Mysteries of Paris)
The Mysteries of Paris inspired Karl Marx's only text concerning literature. It was published as part of the polemical The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism (1845). Marxs views of the book were not favourable: "it is to be noted incidentally that Eugene Sue motivates the career of the Countess just as stupidly as that of most of his characters", but mostly Marx mocked one Herr Szeliga, who had reviewed the novel. In another work Marx also commented on Sue's career as a politician: "...let the revolutionary energy satiate itself with constitutional successes, dissipate itself in petty intrigues, hollow declamations, and sham movements, let the bourgeoisie rally and make its preparations, and, lastly, weaken the significance of the March elections by a sentimental commentary in the April by-election, the election of Eugene Sue. In a word, it made an April Fool of March 10." (from The Eighteenth of Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1869)
Eugène Sue was born in Paris into a wealthy upper middle class family. (In some sources Sue's date of birth is January 26, 1804, and in others December 10, 1804.) His father was an army surgeon, and a favorite of Napoleon. Rebelling against his background, Sue left school with no qualifications and joined in 1823 the French Navy as an auxiliary surgeon. He sailed to Asia, Africa, and America, and after his discharge in 1829, he settled in Paris, starting his career in literature and journalism. Having inherited in 1830 a fortune from his father, Sue was economically independent. Modelling his lifestyle upon Lord Byron, he soon gained fame as a dandy. Sue worked as a reporter for the Paris Herald and was later an editor of a Bavarian paper. His long novels, published in instalments, increased the circulation of the newspapers in which they appeared. Eventually he became one of the highest paid writers in France and rose to be Europe's first press baron, owning among other publications the Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Sue's early stories, among them Plick et Plock (1831), Atar-Gull (1831), and La Salamandre (1832), were based on his experiences at sea, and attracted readers by their sensational exoticism. In Le Morne-au-diable (1842) the protagonist was a female pirate. Lautréaumont (1837) was a historical novel set in the days of Louis XIV. The French author Isidore Ducasse (1846-1870) took his pen name from it for his notorious work, Les Chants de Maldoror (1869). Sue also wrote a history of French seafaring, Histoire de la marine française (1835-37). In Arthur (1838) and Mathilde (1841) Sue still depicted contemporary 'high life', but then turned his attention to the social ills, which marked the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in France.
After the Revolution year of 1848, Sue was elected a Socialist deputy to the National Assembly, where his idleness was criticized. The new constitution lasted only a short time. In 1851, after Louis Napoleon's coup d'état, Sue went into exile in Savoy, then under Italian rule. He died in exile in Annecy, Savoy, on August 3, 1857.
As a storyteller Sue was exaggeratedly sentimental, but he had a strong dramatic sense. In the early 1840s, Sue had been converted to socialism under the influence of von Fourier and Proudhom. In the following works Sue did not hide his belief in the social purpose of art, but in spite of the propaganda, his largely bourgeois public devoured his stories about the "cruelties of capitalism." Sue's novels offered a new, exciting glimpse of the Parisian underworld and poorer neighborhoods - it was acclaimed by the progressive press and gave the bourgeoisie a justification for charity. However, Karl Marx did not see any mystery in the conditions of the poor in his detailed analysis of a review of Les Mystères de Paris. "In Eugene Sues novel, the transition from the low world to the aristocratic world is a normal transition for a novel. The disguises of Rudolph, Prince of Geroldstein, give him an entry into the lower strata of society, just as his title gives him access to the highest circles. On his way to the aristocratic ball he is by no means engrossed in the contrasts of contemporary life; it is the contrasts of his own disguises that he finds piquant." (Karl Marx in The Holy Family, 1845)
Sue started to write for feuilletons - the word referring originally to the detachable section of a French daily newspaper - to pay off the debts which he had gathered while spending his inheritance. Les Mystères de Paris was printed first in Le Journal des Débats, a pro-government newspaper, from 19 June 1842 to 15 October 1843. Sue's works had appeared also in La Presse, a liberal paper, which published Balzac's stories.
The protagonist of Les Mystères de Paris is Rudolphe, the Prince of Gerolstein. Disguised as a painter of fans, he roams on his moral crusade the slums adjoining Notre Dame Cathedral. However, Sue did not care about the Latin Quarter or theaters, and Rodolphe is not even French, but comes from a small German state. Rodolphe represents the forces of good, and fights with his immense physical strength, wealth and intelligence against such neo-Gothic villains as a multiple murderer with a mutilated face and a monstrous whore-mistress. Like the real-life detective François Eugène Vidocq, Rodolphe solves crimes while exposing social injustices. Marx wrote of his character in 1845 in The Holy Family: "Rudolphe... traverses the world to separate the good from evil ones, in order to punish the latter, and reward the former. The representation of good and evil has stamped itself so deeply in his feeble brain that he believes in the physical existence of Satan, and would like to catch him alive, as the famous prof. Sack of Bonn. On the other hand, he tries to reproduce on a small scale the devil's antithesis, God." Fleur-de-Marie, the beautiful heroine, is trying to survive on the streets among petty thieves, demimondes, and criminals. After many adventures, Rodolphe saves her from the evil notary Jacques Ferrand, and when her true identity is finally revealed, she turns out to be Rodolphe's long-lost daughter.
Les Mystères de Paris influenced Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, and was imitated throughout Europe, creating a wave of books exploring the "secrets" of metropolises. In America Edgar Allan Poe admired its tense, dramatic situations, but saw Sue's writings as a "paradox of childish folly and consummate skill." After its publication, Sue was one of the best-paid authors in France. The Constitutionnel offered him 100,000 francs for his Le Juif Errant (The Wandering Jew) and henceforth this amount was regarded as his standard fee for the next 14 years. The Wandering Jew increased the circulation of Le Constitutionnel from 5,944 to 24,771 in the course of its publication. In the radical periodicals Sue was hailed as the chief rival of Alexandre Dumas, considered a royalist storyteller. But Dumas still had the biggest income, earning roughly 200,000 francs yearly - at that time a labourer earned about 2 francs per day, and the average feuilletonist earned between 75 centimes and 1 franc per line. Along with the growth of the publishing industry there was demand for translations for the mass audience. The English novelist Henry William Herbert (1807-1858) reached more readers by translating into English novels by Sue and Alexandre Dumas than by his own books.
The Wandering Jew was partly based on an old legend. According to one version, on his road to Cavalry Jesus Christ condems a man, sometimes named Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, to wander on the Earth until the Second Coming. Before Sue's work, perhaps influenced by Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), the character had appeared among other in Christian Schubart's Der ewige Jude (1783), Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), William Godwin's St Leon (1799), Jan Potocki's Manuscrit Trouvé à Saragosse (1804), George Croly's Salathiel (1828), Caroline Norton's The Undying One (1839), and Edgar Quinet's Ahasvérus (1833). The legend also inspired H.C. Andersen's Ahasveus (1844), and Alexandre Dumas's Isaak Lakadam (1853), which was unfinished. Perhaps the best interpretation of this myth is by Pär Lagerkvist, whose The Death of Ahasuerus (1960) reflected his own fear of death.
In this anticlerical novel of good and evil, Sue's villain is a Jesuit priest, Pére Rodin, who wants to become the next Pope, and is after the Wandering Jew's treasure, which has been gathering interest over the centuries. The seven descendants of Marius de Rennespont, who once aided the cursed wanderer, are summoned to Paris to be present at the reading of the will. The Jesuits, who represent the oppression of Church, conspire to get the fortune in their own hands. Thomas M. Disch has noted that "readers of such current melodramatists as Stephen King or Anne Rice ought to be highly receptive to Sue's grand excesses" (Horror: The 100 Best Books, ed. by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, 1988). Sue employed in this story more cruel episodes than before. He continued to use horror elemests to underline his message in such works as The Gold Sickle, a tale of druids and human sacrifice, The Infant's Skull, and The Iron Pinners, an account of the persecution of the Albigensian heretics. Several of these tales were translated by Daniel De Leon into English and published in New York by Labor News Co. between the years 1904 and 1911. Sue's The Mysteries of the People (1849-1857), a brutal family chronicle spanning twenty centuries, was suppressed by the French government.
For further reading: Le Juif Errant D'Eugene Sue: Du Roman-Feuilleton Au Roman Populaire by Maria Adamowicz Hariasz (2002); French Fiction Writers: Romanticism and Realism 1800-1850, edited by Catharine Savage Brosman, Bruccoli Clark Layman (1992); Le Monde d'Eugène Sue III. Si les riches savaient! by Brynja Svane (1988); Le Monde d'Eugène Sue I: Bibliographie des oeuvres d'Eugène Sue by Brynja Svane (1986); Le Monde d'Eugène Sue II. Les lecteurs d'Eugène Sue by Brynja Svane (1986); 'Structures narratives et tendances idéologiques. Une étude d'Eugène Sue: Mathilde' by Brynja Svane, in Actes du VIIIe Congrès des Romanistes Scandinaves (1983); Materialen zur Kritik des Feuilletons-Romans, ed. by Helga Grubitzsch (1977); Eugène Sue by Jean Louis Bory (1962); Les idées sociales D'Eugène Sue by J. Moody (1938)
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