The Mysteries of Paris  

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Eugène Sue's 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). Marx’s views of the book were not favourable - "it is to be noted incidentally that Eugène Sue motivates the career of the Countess just as stupidly as that of most of his characters". Marx's negative views of the Mysteries of Paris are a poignant example of cultural elitism, because in reality the publication of the Mysteries helped create a climate which allowed the 1848 revolution to occur. [JWG, May 2006]

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Les Mystères de Paris is a French language novel by Eugène Sue (1804-1857) which was published serially in Journal des débats from June 19 1842 until October 15 1843. Les Mystères de Paris, single-handedly increased the circulation of Journal des Débats.

There has been lots of talk on the origins of the French novel of the 19th century: Stendhal, Balzac, Dumas, Gautier, Sand or Hugo. One often forgets Eugène Sue. Still, The Mysteries of Paris occupies a unique space in the birth of this literary genre: not only is it a stream of consciousness novel which entranced thousands of readers for more than a year (even illiterates who had episodes read to them), it is also a major work in the formation of a certain form of social consciousness. One often hears that the 1848 revolution was partly born in the pages of the Mysteries of Paris or, more appropriately, that the Mysteries of Paris helped create a climate which allowed the 1848 revolution to occur.



The hero of the novel is the mysterious and distinguished Rodolphe, who is really the Grand Duke of Gerolstein (a fictional kingdom of Germany) but is disguised as a Parisian worker. Rodolphe can speak in argot, is extremely strong and a good fighter. Yet he also shows great compassion for the lower classes, good judgment, and a brilliant mind. He can navigate all layers of society in order to understand their problems, and to understand how the different social classes are linked. Rodolphe is accompanied by his friends Sir Walter Murph, an Englishman, and David, a gifted black doctor, formerly a slave.

The first figures they meet are Le Chourineur and La Goualeuse. Rodolphe saves La Goualeuse from Le Chourineur's brutality, and saves Le Chourineur from himself, knowing that the man still has some good in him. La Goualeuse is a prostitute, and Le Chourineur is a former butcher who has served 15 years in prison for murder. Both characters are grateful for Rodolphe's assistance, as are many other characters in the novel.

Though Rodolphe is described as a flawless man, Sue otherwise depicts the Parisian nobility as deaf to the misfortunes of the common people and focused on meaningless intrigues. For this reason, some, such as Alexandre Dumas, have considered the novel's ending a failure. Rodolphe goes back to Gerolstein to take on the role to which he was destined by birth, rather than staying in Paris to help the lower classes.

Film adaptations

The novel was made into a feature film several times, most notably in 1962 as Les Mystères de Paris, a French film by André Hunebelle, starring Jean Marais.

On the Road

The book is mentioned in Jack Kerouac's On the Road (pp.188,192).


Numerous novels inspired by Les Mystères de Paris were published all over the Western world: les Mystères de Marseille by Émile Zola, The Mysteries of London by George W. M. Reynolds, Les Mystères de Londres by Paul Féval, Les Mystères de Lyon (featuring the Nyctalope) by Jean de La Hire, I misteri di Napoli by Francesco Mastriani, the Mystères de Munich, Les Nouveaux Mystères de Paris (featuring Nestor Burma) by Léo Malet.

External links

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