The Underworld

Eugene Sue and Les Mysteres de Paris


The System

Famous Crime





"The other inmates of the tapis-frac, men and women, presented no remarkable characteristics. There was the ferocious or embruted face,--the vulgar licentious mirth; but from time to time there was a deep and dull silence."

Les Mysteres of Paris, Chapter 1

Eugene Sue, a popular forerunner to Hugo, was well known for his sympathies for the poor. Although he was sympathetic, he was not as sympathetic as Hugo, who extended his compassion for a wider variety of classes. The two most sympathetic characters in the novel are the gamine Fluer-de-Marie and the ex-convict The Slasher. Fluer-de-Marie is the daughter of the hero of the novel, a man very similar to Vidocq and probably based on his character, Rodolph. The Slasher is a compatriate of the two who once was jailed as a murderer, ut becomes a honest man by the end of the novel. Rodolph finds Fluer-de-Marie a poor, mistreated urchin and takes her in, only to later learn that she is his long lost daughter. Their relationship is very similar to that of Cosette and Jean Valjean of Les Miserables.

While Sue's Mysteries of Paris was without a doubt the forerunner to Les Miserables, he doesn't compare well to the author due to the unrealistic sympathy he has for the main characters. His writing style is too effusive to create a realistic view of the underclasses. For instance, the passage below:

"The Goualeuse [Fluer-de-Marie] was, perhaps, about sixteen and a half years old. A forehead, of the purest and whitest, surmounted a face of perfect oval and angel-like expressions; a fringe of eyelids, so long that they curled slightly, half veiled her large blue eyes . . ." (Sue 21).

This initial description of Fluer-de-Marie paints a picture of a beautiful young girl; however, as her status in society is a gamine, this description seems overwrought and frilly especially compared to Hugo's description of Eponine:

". . . sharp shoulders protruding from the chemise, a blond and lymphatic pallor, dirty shoulder-blades, red hands, the mouth open and sunken, some teeth gone, the eyes dull, bold, and drooping" (Hugo 636).

Although his description is much harsher, it is probably the more realistic of the two, and thus Hugo is the better historical literary source.

This page was created by M. Childs