The Mysteries of Paris, Volume 1 of 6

The Mysteries of Paris, Volume 1 of 6 - Eugène Sue Our story so far….

Amongst the sinks and dens of the Paris backstreets a mysterious figure lurks. The criminals whisper in hushed tones. There is a dark avenger on the streets. Even the great amongst the fallen are subject to his heavy hand and rough justice. Those who see the errors of their ways, those who are victims dragged down to the gutter and yet still retain their hope, those who have not given up on their fellow man, these may see the fair face of mercy and be given a new chance at life, but those who remain immured in their sin, wallowing in their own filth and degrading those around them, these will feel the iron hand and swift justice of the avenger.

In public he is Rodolph, Grand Duke of Gerolstein in Paris for the purposes of amusement and the fulfillment of his diplomatic obligations. In reality he is a man haunted by his own past and convinced of his mission of atonement: to punish the wicked as the very hand of God and equally to reward the just who are oppressed. His enemies are legion, yet his allies are also numerous: the noble Sir William Murphy, mentor, right-hand man and courageous bodyguard, David the former slave from the Americas and now medical doctor and aide to the Grand Duke’s plans, Madame Georges the keeper of sanctuary and victim of a tragic past. Thrill as Rodolph faces le Chourineur and must either awaken his better nature or fell this giant with his fists! Cheer as Rodolph rescues the beautiful la Goualeuse, a prostitute with a heart of gold! Gasp as Rodolph metes out rough justice to the frightful and deformed master villain the Schoolmaster! Be confounded as we hear the debased story of the Schoolmaster’s twisted one-eyed lover la Chouette! But wait! Our hero’s adventures have only begun. How will he weather the storm when his haunted past meets his dangerous present? Shrink as we hear of the depravity of the duplicitous Doctor César Polidori! Gasp at the audacity of the venal Sarah Seyton of Halsbury and her brother Thomas! Wonder at the mysterious sorrow of the beautiful Marquise d'Harville! What lies in store for Rodolph’s uncertain future?

Yup, that’s really not much of an overstatement of this book so far. Eugene Sue, a former physician and sailor, took up the pen at the same time as Dumas, Stendhal, Balzac and Hugo. Unlike these eminent confrères he is largely forgotten today, though in his own day he was enormously popular and _The Mysteries of Paris_ has apparently even been given some credit in laying the groundwork for the 1848 revolution (this fact comes from wikipedia, so I cannot speak to its veracity). It’s a great potboiler of a tale, reminiscent in some ways of elements of Dumas (esp. some aspects of The Count of Monte Cristo) and I imagine it may have been an influence on later writers who created such figures as Batman, the Shadow, and Doc Savage…though there are obvious differences. The justice Rodolph dispenses is definitely a very harsh one when viewed with modern eyes, and while it is likely to come across as little more than revenge it appears that Sue actually considered it a valid way in which to encourage repentance and rehabilitation (no spoilers!)The novel even spawned its own genre: the “City Mystery”, a species of crime fiction which depicted the seedy underbellies of great cities and was continued by such writers as George W. M. Reynolds, Émile Zola, Paul Féval, and others.

It’s very pulpy and very fun and it’s interesting to see the roots of some of the elements of later genres at their birth. If you like 19th century serial fiction this is a good bet. There are a few unfortunate examples of info-dump chapters that come across (or did to me) as a bit heavy-handed in technique, and one bizarre example of Sue spoilering a mystery with an authorial aside that seemed completely unnecessary to me. I’m reading the series in a six volume set and while I am not planning to continue immediately I do look forward to following the further adventures of Rodolph in the streets of Paris.

Stay tuned! Same bat-time! Same bat-channel!