The Dangerous Classes

Eugène Sue

"Master of the Serial Thriller"

 
  •  Eugène Sue was one of the most widely read authors in France in the mid-nineteenth century.
  • Sue's vehicle for fame and fortune was the feuilleton, the serial novel which was a feature of the French periodical press in the 1840's.
  • He was made famous by his novel, Les Mystères de Paris. The novel was written in installments for Le Constitutionnel in 1842 and 1843.
  •  Les Mystères de Paris
Les Mystères de Paris was a melodramaic epic set in the slums adjoining the Notre Dame Cathedral. The story boasted a cast made up of primarily lower class Parisians, the "dangerous classes" that roamed the streets including petty thieves, drifters, prostitutes, and vicious criminals. A ray of light in the shadows of the slums, the beautiful Fleur-de-Marie played the heroine by resisting the pressures of corruption that had driven her to prostitution. Fleur-de-Marie was rescued by the hero Rodolphe, a German prince disguised as a working man. (Sue, v.1, 52) Rodolphe also conspired with the police, a reference to the bandit-turned-policeman Eugène Vidocq. (Wright, 1989, p. 20) This connection with the police, however, took a backseat to his superhuman strength coupled with charisma that made Roldophe the spokesman for righteousness in the series. The forces of evil were personified in the lustful notary Jacques Ferrand, as well as others who sought to corrupt Fleur-de-Marie and the other characters representing "good". In this respect, Sue's characters were two-dimensional, extremes in evil and virtue. For a while, the setting of the series was shifted to a farm outside of Paris in order to contrast the urban jungle of the faubourgs. After many hair-raising adventures and narrow escapes, Fleur-de-Marie was saved by Rodolphe from those who sought to exploit her, restored to a life of virtue, and in an unexpected plot twist, was discovered to be Rodophe's long-lost daughter. (Sue, v.3, 161)

 

Image taken from 1848 edition of Les Mystères de Paris

 

Image taken from 1848 edition of Les Mystères de Paris

  •  An Armchair Tour of Unknown Paris
This series offered bourgeois Parisians a glimpse at a mysterious, new world that was located not on a distant continent but only a few streets away. Sue spent some time roaming the Parisian slums dressed in workingmans' clothing. While this gave him a base that set the scene for Les Mystères de Paris, the plot that ensued suggests that Sue scoured the lowerclass neighborhoods looking primarily for atmosphere and local color rather than realistic detail. Still, the lower classes, who often gathered to hear one of ther literate peers read the latest chapter, heard their very own miseries exposed in a tone of sympathy and hope. (Wright, 1989, p. 22) From time to time, the plot was interrupted with a passage that lectured the reader on the need for a socialist form of humanitarianism. As the series stretched on, Sue became more of a social reformer and committed himself to exposing and challenging social injustice.