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The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue
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The Mysteries of Paris

by Eugène Sue

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… I won’t let the last leg of this affect my mark (it was awful soap, and I’m disappointed in him that he cannot let his ex-prostitute marry happily. He has been so radical, and so feminist among other things). Obviously this ‘book’ was a live thing in its maker’s hands, that changed shape as he wrote the serial instalments, and listened to his public, and changed himself. Along the way he began to call himself a socialist, as he got a speedy education through a project he had started as just another potboiler. This is a fascinating novel, not least for how it was composed. I’d like to get hold of the study that examines it as the first crowd-written fiction, ‘by the people for the people’: For the People by the People? Eugene Sue's Les Mysteres de Paris--A Hypothesis in the Sociology of Literature. People communicated with him who weren’t literate, and had their experiences incorporated.

It caught on because it’s a thriller, sensational, but at the same time a scandalously realist social document. With a plot faster than Monte Cristo, and an exploration of society’s underworlds more intrepid than Les Miserables, it influenced both. These more famous authors took from Sue and made him more polite. Yes, that’s a reason to read this extraordinary book.

Feminist? There’s an abortionist in these pages (I couldn’t remember abortionists in other 19thC lit – remind me), and crucially, the women who visit him are not wicked, they are unfortunate. There’s an argument against husbands’ sudden rights to sex upon marriage, when girls have been brought up to be queasy. It’s a fine piece of understanding a woman’s psychology, may I say.

Radical? He proposes a Bank for the Poor, with interest-free loans to unemployed workers. And so on. Sue either suggests or illustrates new endeavours and ideas to tackle inequality on the streets of Paris.

His position? This is of the tribe of ‘Utopian Socialist’ literature, pre-Marxism, and which, as the Penguin introduction tells us, Marx scorned as unscientific. It was the tribe Dostoyevsky belonged to when he was a young revolutionary, for these French Utopian Socialist writers were a big fashion in Russia. The school is sentimentalist and not afraid to lean on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Let me avow myself: give me pre-scientific socialism any day.

But before I go on too much about its social interest, I’d better repeat, it’s a thriller. He takes us to the seamy side for shock and horror, as well as a big dose of social concern. I won’t accept that he can only write stereotypes. His declared belief that people are good at bottom is evident in the salvation of several villains. His Bruce Wayne-Batman German prince in disguise helps the virtuous and punishes the vicious – but he is a Dark Knight Batman, with his hatred of evil presented as obsessive and ugly. Let me mention the She-Wolf and Rigolette. Splendid young women each in her own way, and not usual types at all in 19thC fiction. ( )
  Jakujin | Mar 1, 2017 |
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Un tapis-franc, en argot de vol et de meurtre, signifie un estaminet ou un cabaret du plus bas étage.
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