7. Your Money or Your Life
As the door slammed closed, Tom and Sarah awoke from their reverie. They rose and thanked Chourineur for the information he had given them, although their confidence in him was shaken by his sincere, but poorly expressed, admiration for Rodolphe. As Chourineur was leaving, the violence of the wind increased and a heavy rain began to fall. The Schoolmaster and the Owl, lurking in an alley just opposite the bar, watched as Chourineur walked down the street alongside a house that was being demolished. Soon, his steps, made heavy by the evening’s abundant libations, were lost in the howling wind and the splattering of the rain against the walls. Tom and Sarah left the tavern in spite of the storm and headed in the direction away from Chourineur.
“Now we’ve got ‘em,” whispered the Schoolmaster to the Owl. “Get your bottle of acid ready. Be careful!”
“Take off your shoes, that way they won’t hear us,” said the Owl.
“You’re right, Owl, you’re always right. I wouldn’t have thought of that. We’ll be as quiet as a couple of mice.”
The repulsive couple removed their shoes and slipped into the shadows along the walls of the houses. By means of this stratagem, the Owl and the Schoolmaster were able to follow Tom and Sarah until they were almost close enough to touch them without being heard.
“Fortunately, our carriage is at the end of the street,” said Tom. “But we’re about to get drenched by this rain. Are you cold, Sarah?”
“Maybe we can learn something from this smuggler, this Bras-Rouge,” Sarah said pensively without answering Tom’s question. Suddenly, Tom stopped. They were only a short distance from the spot where the Schoolmaster intended to carry out the crime.
“I took the wrong street,” said Tom. “We should have gone left upon leaving the bar. We should have passed a house that was being demolished on the way back to the carriage. Let’s turn around.”
The Schoolmaster and the Owl thrust themselves into a doorway to avoid being seen by Tom and Sarah, who were no more than an arms length away.
“Now that I think of it, it’s better if they walk by the ruins,” the Schoolmaster whispered. “If he puts up a fight, I know what to do.”
Tom and Sarah, having again passed before the tavern, arrived at a house in ruins. A large portion of the structure had been demolished and the exposed cellar formed a deep trench that ran along the length of the street. The Schoolmaster jumped with the vigor and suppleness of a tiger; with one of his large hands he grabbed Tom by the throat.
“Your money or I’ll throw you into that hole.”
He pushed Tom backward, causing him to loose his balance, and with his hand held him suspended above the dark pit. With his free hand he held Sarah’s arm in a vice-like grip. Before Tom could make a move, the Owl rifled their pockets with unexpected dexterity. Sarah didn’t scream, nor did she attempt to resist. In a calm voice she said, “Give them your purse, Tom.” And turning to the thief, “We won’t yell; there’s no need to harm us.”
The Owl, having carefully rummaged through the pockets of the two victims, said to Sarah: “Let’s see your hands. I want to see your rings. No?” said the old woman mumbling to herself. “No one to give you a ring? What a pity.”
Tom remained calm throughout the unforeseen ordeal, which lasted no more than a few moments.
“Listen, my wallet contains papers that are of no use to you. Bring them to me and tomorrow I’ll give you 25 louis,” said Tom to the Schoolmaster, whose hand relaxed its grip slightly.
“Yes, to lure us into a trap!” answered the thief. “Go on, get out of here. And don’t look back. You’re lucky you got off this easy.”
“A moment,” said the Owl. “If he plays his cards right, he can get his papers back.” Then, turning to Tom, “Do you know the Plaine Saint-Denis?”
“Do you know how to get to Saint-Ouen?”
“Opposite the village of Saint-Ouen, at the end of the road to La Révolte, the plain flattens out. You can see far across the fields. Come there tomorrow morning alone. Make certain you have the money. You’ll find me there with your bag. You give me the money; I give you the papers.”
“But you’ll get caught!”
“Don’t be so stupid. From that vantage point you can see in every direction. I may have only one eye, but it’s a good one. If monsieur brings someone with him, he’ll find himself alone. I’ll be long gone.”
Sarah suddenly had an idea and said to the Schoolmaster: “Do you want to make some money?”
“I recognize you now—did you see the man the coal porter was looking for in the bar?”
“Thin, with a mustache? I was about to take a bite out of his mug but he didn’t give me a chance. He hit me twice and knocked me backwards across a table. The first time that ever happened. But I’ll get my revenge.”
“It must be him,” said Sarah.
“Him?” replied the Schoolmaster. “Give me a thousand francs and I’ll murder him for you.”
“Sarah!” exclaimed Tom fearfully.
“You fool! We don’t want to have him killed,” said Sarah to the Schoolmaster.
“Then what do you want?”
“Come tomorrow to the Saint-Denis plain, where you’ll find my companion. Alone. He’ll explain what you must do. And I’ll give you not one thousand but two thousand francs—if you succeed.”
“Fourline,” the Owl whispered to the Schoolmaster, “there’s money to be made here. These fine folks have an enemy in mind and that enemy is the wretch you wanted to bring down. We have to do it. However, I’ll go in your place. Just think, two thousand francs! It’s worth the effort.”
“Very well, my wife will go,” said the Schoolmaster. “You can tell her what she needs to know and I’ll consider it.”
“Done. Tomorrow at one o’clock, then.”
“At the Saint-Denis plain.”
“At the Saint-Denis plain.”
“Between Saint-Ouen and the road to La Révolte, at the end of the road.”
“I’ll bring your wallet.”
“And you’ll have the 500 francs as promised and an advance on our other business if you’re reasonable.”
“Now, you turn right, we’ll go left. And don’t try to follow us, or else.” And the Schoolmaster and the Owl walked quickly away.
“The devil came to our assistance,” said Sarah. “That scoundrel might be useful.”
“Sarah, I’m worried,” said Tom.
“I’m not. On the contrary, I hope . . . Never mind. Come, I know where we are; the carriage can’t be far.”
And the two of them made their way at a quick pace to the parvis of Notre-Dame. An unseen witness had been present at this scene. It was Chourineur, who had hid in the ruins to get out of the rain. Sarah’s proposal to the thief concerning Rodolphe greatly interested Chourineur. Terrified by the danger threatening his new friend, he regretted his inability to protect him. His hatred of the Schoolmaster and the Owl may have played a part in his sentiment. Chourineur resolved to warn Rodolphe of the danger he was in, but how? He had forgotten the address of the so-called fan painter. If Rodolphe didn’t return to the bar, how would he find him? While considering the possibilities, Chourineur had unthinkingly followed Tom and Sarah. In front of Notre-Dame, he saw them climb into a waiting fiacre that was about to drive away.
Suddenly, Chourineur had an idea and climbed onto the back of the vehicle. At one a.m. it stopped along the Boulevard de l’Observatoire and Tom and Sarah disappeared among the small side streets that emptied into it. It was a dark night and Chourineur was unable to find any distinctive feature that might help him identify the spot the following day. Then, with the shrewdness of a savage, he pulled a knife from his pocket and made a deep incision in one of the trees to which the fiacre had been secured. He then made his way home, which was at a considerable distance. For the first time in a long while, Chourineur fell into a profound sleep, no longer disturbed by the horrid vision of the slaughterhouse of soldiers, as he often referred to it.
The following day a radiant autumn sun shone brilliantly in an unblemished sky. The previous night’s torments were over. Although darkened by the tall houses, the unsightly quarter where the reader has followed us appeared less horrifying in the bright sunlight of the new day. Rodolphe, who no longer feared an encounter with the two individuals he had avoided the previous evening, or perhaps out of boldness, entered the Rue aux Fèves around 11 a.m. and headed for the Abbess’s tavern.
He was still dressed as a laborer, but one noted a certain refinement in his clothing. His new smock, open at the chest, revealed a shirt of red wool, fastened with several silver buttons. The collar of another shift of heavy white cotton was folded over a black silk tie, carelessly knotted around his neck. From his cap of sky-blue corduroy, with its varnished peak, a few curls of chestnut hair escaped. Carefully shined boots, which replaced the previous night’s hobnail shoes, emphasized the contours of a handsome foot, made to appear even smaller by the broad hem of a pair of olive corduroy trousers. His attire in no way diminished the elegance of Rodolphe’s figure, a rare mix of grace, suppleness, and strength. Our dress is generally so unappealing that we can only gain by abandoning it, even for the most common articles of clothing.
The Abbess was standing importantly in the doorway of the tavern when Rodolphe appeared.
“At your service, young man! No doubt you’ve returned for the change from your twenty francs?” she said somewhat deferentially, not daring to overlook the fact that the night before the man who had beaten Chourineur had thrown a louis down on the counter. “You’ve got 17 francs 10 sous coming to you. And that’s not all. Somebody came looking for you last night. A tall man, all bundled up, with boots that ran all the way up to his chest, like a drum-major in civilian dress, and on his arm a pretty young woman disguised as a man. They drank some of our bottled wine with Chourineur.
“Ahh! They had a drink with Chourineur, did they. And what did they say to him?”
“When I said they had a drink, I was mistaken, they barely wet their lips.”
“I asked you what they said to Chourineur.”
“Mostly chit-chat and other things, Bras-Rouge, the weather.”
“They know Bras-Rouge?”
“Not at all. Chourineur told them who he was and what you did to him.”
“That’s fine if that’s all he said.”
“Yes. And I intend to take Goualeuse out to spend a day in the country.”
“Oh, impossible, my boy.”
“Because she may never come back. Her togs are mine, not to mention the 220 francs she still owes me for her room and board since she’s been here. If she wasn’t so honest, I wouldn’t let her stray further than the corner.”
“She owes you 220 francs?”
“Two hundred twenty francs and ten sous. But what’s it to you, my boy? Don’t tell me you’re going to pay it? Please do, Milord!”
“Here,” Rodolphe said as he tossed eleven louis onto the counter. “Now, how much for the rags you rent to her?”
The surprised old woman examined the coins one by one with an expression of doubt and defiance.
“You think it’s counterfeit? Send someone to change the gold and let’s be done with it. How much for the rags you rent to the unfortunate creature?”
The abbess, divided between the desire to conclude a favorable bargain, her astonishment at seeing a worker with so much money, the fear of being duped, and the hope of making even more, remained silent for a moment. Then she resumed, “Her stuff is worth at least—at least a hundred francs.”
“Those rags? You can’t be serious. You can keep the change from last night and I’ll give you an additional louis, nothing more. Letting myself be swindled by you is as good as stealing from the poor; at least the poor have a right to charity.”
“Very well; I’ll keep my clothes. Goualeuse will stay right here. I’m free to sell my property to anyone I choose.”
“You deserve to burn in hell! Here’s your money. Go get her.”
The abbess pocketed the gold, thinking that Rodolphe had stolen the money or received an inheritance. She said to him, with a knowing smirk: “Why don’t you go up and get her yourself? It’ll make her happy. Yesterday—and you can take my word for it—she was giving you the once over!”
“Go up and get her and tell her I’m taking her out for a ride and nothing more. And don’t tell her I paid her debt.”
“What business is it of yours?”
“It’s all the same to me but I’d prefer it if she continued to believe she was in my debt.”
“Shut your mouth and get upstairs!”
“There’s no need to be disagreeable. I’d hate to be on your bad side. Take it easy. I’m going, I’m going.”
And the Abbess climbed the stairs. A few minutes later she returned.
“She refused to believe me. She turned beet red when I told her you were here. But when I explained that she would be spending the day in the country, I thought she had lost her mind. She tried to throw her arms around my neck.”
“She was just happy to get away from you.”
At that moment Fleur-de-Marie appeared, attired as she was the night before in a dress of brown alepine; an orange shawl tied behind her back, a red check kerchief beneath which two large braids of blonde hair appeared. She blushed when she saw Rodolphe and lowered her eyes in confusion.
“Would you like to go for a drive with me, my child?” Rodolphe asked.
“Oh yes, Monsieur Rodolphe, if Madame allows.”
“It’s fine with me my little cat. You’ve been so good. You’re the pride of my establishment. Come, give me a kiss.”
And the old shrew offered her blotchy cheek to Fleur-de-Marie. The unfortunate young woman overcame her repugnance and offered her forehead to the old woman’s lips, but with his elbow, Rodolphe shoved the old woman back toward the countertop, took Fleur-de-Marie’s arm and walked out of the tavern followed by a stream of invective from Mother Ponisse.
“Be careful, Monsieur Rodolphe, the Abbess is going to throw something at your head. She’s very mean.”
“Rest easy, my child. But what’s the matter, you look embarrassed, sad. Are you annoyed that I asked you to join me?”
“Quite the contrary. But you offered me your arm.”
“What if someone were to tell your boss you were seen with me? I don’t wish to cause you trouble at work. Employers don’t like it when their workers are distracted.”
And La Goualeuse gently removed her arm from Rodolphe’s, adding: “Go on ahead. I’ll follow up to the outer boulevards. Once we’re in the fields, I’ll join you.”
“Have no fear,” Rodolphe responded, touched by her thoughtfulness and taking Fleur-de-Marie’s arm once more. “My boss doesn’t live in the area and we can get a carriage by the flower stalls.
“As you wish, Monsieur Rodolphe. I don’t wish to cause you any trouble.”
“I believe you and I’m grateful. But tell me, is there any special place you’d like to visit?”
“It’s all the same to me, Monsieur, as long as it’s the countryside. And it’s such a beautiful day. It will be good to get out into the open air. You know, for the past five months I haven’t been further than the flower market? And the only reason the Abbess lets me leave the neighborhood is because she trusts me.”
“You came to the market to buy flowers?”
“Oh no. I didn’t have any money. I just came to look at them, smell them. For the half-hour the Abbess let me go to the quay on market days, I was so happy I forgot everything.”
“And when you returned—back to these filthy streets?”
“I was sadder than when I had left, but I held back my tears so I wouldn’t get beaten. At the market I was so jealous of the young working girls, spanking clean, coming and going happy as larks, with a lovely pot of flowers in their arms.”
“I’m sure that even a flower pot on your windowsill would have kept you company.”
“That’s for sure, Monsieur Rodolphe. Imagine, one day the Abbess, in a good mood and knowing my tastes, had given me a small rose bush. If you knew how happy that made me. I wasn’t bored at all. I spent my time looking at my roses. I would amuse myself by counting the leaves, the flowers. Unfortunately, the air around here is so bad that after two days it began to turn yellow. But you’re going to make fun of me, Monsieur Rodolphe.”
“No, no. Go on.”
“Well, I asked the Abbess for permission to take my rose bush out for a walk, the same way I would have taken a child. I brought it to the quay. I thought that if it were with the other plants, in the good, fresh air sweet with the scent of flowers, it would do it good. I dipped its poor, withered leaves in the fountain’s clear water and then, to dry it, I let it sit in the sun a good quarter hour. Poor little rose bush; it never saw the sunlight in La Cité. On our street the sun never descends below the roof. And then I went back. You know, Monsieur Rodolphe, because of my excursions I’m certain my roses lived ten more days than they would have without them.”
“I believe you. But it must have been a big loss when it died.”
“I cried. I was so sad. And, Monsieur, since you understand how easy it is to love flowers, I can tell you this: I was very grateful to my rose bush. This time I know you’re going to make fun of me.”
“No, not at all. I adore flowers. I fully understand the extravagances they inspire in us.”
La Goualeuse lowered her head and turned purple with shame.
“Poor child! You’ve had a great deal on your mind. You must often have thought of . . .”
“Of wanting to put an end to it all, isn’t that it, Monsieur Rodolphe?” she said, interrupting her companion. “Yes, I would often look down into the Seine from the parapet above. But then I would look around at the flowers, the sunshine, and say to myself ‘the river will always be there. I’m only seventeen. Who knows?’”
“And when you said that, were you hoping for something?”
“What was that?”
“I don’t know. I was hoping, I was hoping that almost in spite of myself . . . During those moments, it seemed that I didn’t deserve my fate; I felt there was something good inside me. I said to myself, ‘In spite of all they’ve done to me, I’ve never hurt anyone. Had there been someone to advise me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’ That made me somewhat less unhappy. But afterward, those same thoughts returned, especially after the loss of my rose bush,” she added with a solemn expression that made Rodolphe smile.
“Always such great sorrow.”
La Goualeuse took from her pocket a small bundle of neatly trimmed twigs held together with a pink ribbon.
“Did you save this?”
“Most certainly. It’s all I have in the world.”
“How’s that? Don’t you have anything of your own?”
“But this coral necklace?”
“It belongs to the Abbess.”
“What do you mean? Don’t you own any old clothes, a hat, a handkerchief?”
“No, nothing . . . nothing other than the dried branches of my poor rose bush. That’s why I’m so attached to it.”
With every word Rodolphe’s astonishment increased. He was unable to comprehend the awful slavery, the horrible barter of body and soul for a filthy room, a few rags, and inedible food.*
Rodolphe and La Goualeuse arrived at the Flower Market along the quay, where a carriage was waiting for them. Rodolphe helped La Goualeuse into the carriage and climbed in after her, instructing the coachman: “To Saint-Denis; I’ll tell you which road to follow when we get there.”
The carriage drove off. It was a day of radiant sunshine with not a cloud in the sky, and the cold air stung, sharp and fresh, as it entered the open windows.
“Look! A woman’s coat!” cried La Goualeuse, as she realized that she was sitting on a coat she had at first failed to notice.
“It’s for you, child. I brought it in case you got cold. Cover yourself.”
Unaccustomed to such concern, the poor girl looked at Rodolphe with surprise. Her sense of intimidation increased further, together with a vague sadness, which she was unable to account for.
“Heavens! Monsieur, you’re very kind. I feel ashamed.”
“Because I’m kind?”
“No. You don’t sound the way you did yesterday. You seem to be quite different.”
“Let’s see, Fleur-de-Marie, which do you prefer: the Rodolphe of yesterday or the Rodolphe of today?”
“I prefer you much more as you are now. But, yesterday, I felt I was more your equal.”
Then, catching herself and fearing she had humiliated Rodolphe, she added: “When I say ‘your equal,’ Monsieur, I know that can never be so.”
“There’s something I find astonishing about you, Fleur-de-Marie.”
“What’s that, Monsieur?”
“You seem to have forgotten what the Owl told you yesterday about your parents—that she knew your mother.”
“Oh! I haven’t forgotten. I thought about it all night long. I cried and cried. But I’m sure it’s not true. The old cyclops must have invented the story to hurt me.”
“It’s possible she knows more than you suspect. If it is true, it would give you great happiness to find your mother would it not?”
“But Monsieur, if my mother never loved me, what good would it be to find her? She would simply refuse to see me. And had she loved me, think of her shame upon seeing me. It could be the death of her.”
“If your mother loved you, Fleur-de-Marie, she would feel pity for you, she would forgive you, she would love you again. If she did abandon you, seeing the terrible fate to which her abandonment has reduced you, her shame would be your recompense.”
“What good is revenge? If I were to get my revenge, it seems to me I would no longer have the right to feel such sorrow. And that is often my only consolation.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Let’s not discuss it any longer.”
At that moment the carriage was approaching Saint-Ouen, near the spot where the road to Saint-Denis and the Chemin de la Révolte join. In spite of the monotony of the landscape, Fleur-de-Marie was so happy to see the fields, as she said she would be, that she forgot the sadness the Owl’s memory had awakened in her, and her face beamed with joy. She leaned out the window and, clapping her hands, cried out, “Monsieur Rodolphe, how lovely! The grass, the fields! If you’ll allow me to climb down—it’s such a lovely day. I would so like to run through the meadow.”
“Run, my child. Driver, stop the carriage.”
“What, you too, Monsieur Rodolphe?”
“Me too. I’m celebrating.”
“How wonderful, Monsieur!”
And Rodolphe and La Goualeuse joined hands and ran until they were out of breath across a broad tract of late flowering hay that had been recently scythed. It would be impossible to describe the girl’s delight, her joyful cry, as she skipped over the grass. Poor gazelle, a prisoner for so long, she gulped down the open air with drunken abandon. Back and forth she ran, stopping only to race off again with renewed delight. Upon seeing several bunches of daisies and a handful of buttercups spared by the early frost, the young woman was unable to hold back new exclamations of joy. She refused to leave a single flower behind and stripped the entire field.
But she soon tired for she had lost the habit of exercise. La Goualeuse stopped to catch her breath and sat down on a fallen tree trunk beside a deep ditch. Her complexion, clear and fair, ordinarily somewhat pale, took on new color. Her large blue eyes shone softly; her vermillion lips, breathing heavily, revealed two rows of damp pearls; her breast rose and fell beneath her small, threadbare orange shawl. She placed one of her hands on her heart to quell its beating and with the other she offered Rodolphe the bouquet of wildflowers she had gathered. What greater charm than the expression of pure and innocent joy that shone upon that candid face. When Fleur-de-Marie was finally able to speak, she said to Rodolphe, with a note of profound happiness and an almost religious sense of appreciation, “How good is God to have given us such a fine day as this!”
A tear came to Rodolphe’s eye when he heard the poor, abandoned creature, despised, lost, homeless and hungry, express such happiness and ineffable gratitude toward the Creator at the sight of a ray of sunshine and an open field. But an unforeseen accident woke Rodolphe from his reverie.
* If we were allowed to enter into details before which we recoil, we would find that this type of servitude exists, that the laws are constructed in such a way that an unfortunate creature, frequently sold by her family and cast into an abyss of infamy, is, in so many words, condemned to remain there; her repentance and remorse will be in vain, and it is materially nearly impossible for her to escape her vile condition. (See the precious work by Doctor [Alexandre] Parent-Duchâtelet, [De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris, considérée sous le rapport de l’hygiène publique, de la morale et de l’administration (2 vol.)], the work of a philosopher and a great, good man.) — E.S.
Eugène Sue, a French author (1804 – 1857), was born near the city of Cannes in southern France and came from a distinguished family of doctors. His father, a renowned surgeon, had been head physician to the Imperial Guard under Napoléon I. Following in his father’s footsteps, Sue also studied medicine. He began his career as a naval doctor but retired in 1829 to write. His life as a writer began with a series of novels based on his experiences at sea. Although the books were moderately successful, they brought him no lasting fame.
Much of Sue’s early life was spent in dissipating the family fortune and living the life of a dandy in Paris. He maintained a well-known courtisane, developed a passion for race horses, and was one of the fifteen founding members of the illustrious Jockey Club. But by 1836 Sue had run through most of his wealth and literature became a necessity rather than an avocation. Sue decided to leave Paris and retire to the countryside, where he led a quieter but no less elegant life. He returned to Paris in 1838 with Arthur, an autobiographical novel of youthful disillusion. The book was published as a feuilleton in La Presse, a new, daily paper.
Although not unusual in its subject matter, Arthur breaks with tradition by introducing its hero to the seamier side of life on the streets of nighttime Paris. Eschewing the hôtels particuliers of the beau monde, its hero wanders the dark, dank streets of working-class Paris, where he encounters the poor, the homeless, and the sick. Arthur’s fears were in keeping with the social temperament of the time. Cholera had struck Paris in 1832 and there had been increased awareness of poverty and pauperism as contributing factors to its spread. Connections were discovered between the working class and the criminal underground, “les classes dangereuses.” Middle-class anxiety increased.
Following the success of Arthur, Sue returned to Paris again, moving in to an elegantly furnished apartment on Rue de la Pépinière. Here, he wrote several more novels, most of which were historical in nature. However, in 1842 he began writing Les Mystères de Paris, a novel in parts published in Le Journal des Débats. It was the first time in a novel that readers had been exposed to the social agitation and mixing of classes experienced in the bars and cabarets of Paris’s dense core on Ile de la Cité. With its hovels and dive bars, its depiction of the prison of Saint-Lazare, which housed prostitutes and female thieves, it portrayed a world rarely described in the literature of the time.
Although immensely popular, the book was not without its critics. Several accused Sue of venal exploitation, claiming he had used poverty and vice merely to enrich himself. Moreover, the book caused considerable scandal, for it portrayed many of its characters — prostitutes, criminals, and an avenging prince disguised as a worker — openly and favorably. Of course, the socialist press saw things differently; they viewed the book as a denunciation of poverty and a plea in favor of the people of Paris, a call to arms and reform. The wealthy bourgeoisie applauded Sue for his instincts as a reformer but cast a skeptical eye on the book’s inflammatory subject matter. The public, however, adored the novel, and copies of it flew off the newsstands before the ink was dry. Copies were stolen from cafés by those too poor to buy the paper, and for those who could not read, daily installments were read aloud in informal gatherings.
Most critics view Les Mystères de Paris as the turning point in Sue’s embrace of socialism. He became a shareholder in two socialist papers La Phalange and La Démocratie pacifique, assuming his literary fame would be sufficient to help spread their influence and their ideals.
In 1844 Le Juif errant was published in Le Constitutionnel, also in serial form. The book combined a virulent anticlericalism with a far more radical social commitment. With Le Juif errant Sue had become a “political” writer, a representative of the people — at least in his writing. In that same year Sue again left Paris for the countryside, establishing himself in the town of Bordes. Here, he wrote several more novels, including Les Mystères du peuple, a history of the proletariat throughout the ages.
Sue welcomed the revolution of 1848 and supported the effort toward democracy and socialism by editing a paper devoted to republican propagandizing, Le Républicain des campagnes. This was followed by a brochure, Le Berger de Kravan. Distributed by the Fourierists, it sought to convince the rural populace of the dangers of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s candidacy for the presidency. After Louis-Napoléon’s election, the left proposed Sue as a candidate for a vacant seat in the assembly as deputy from the Seine. Although Sue himself wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about becoming a politician, he agreed and, on the strength of his name, was easily elected. Sue, however, made no lasting mark on French politics and proved to be a feckless and fairly incompetent politician, remaining mostly silent throughout the duration of his tenure.
After Louis-Napoléon’s coup d’état of 1851, Sue was forced into exile along with other elected officials after refusing to dissolve the parliament. He withdrew to Annecy in the Savoy, where he continued to write. Depressed and exhausted, he died there in 1857.
His complete works, depending on the edition, run to 78 volumes.
French author, Eugène Sue (1804 – 1857) was born near the city of Cannes in southern France and came from a distinguished family of doctors. Like his father, Sue also studied medicine. He began his career as a naval doctor but retired in 1829 to write.
In 1842 he began writing Les Mystères de Paris, a novel in parts published serially in Le Journal des Débats. It was the first time in a novel that readers had been exposed to the social agitation and mixing of classes experienced in the bars and cabarets of Paris’s dense core on Ile de la Cité.
His complete works, depending on the edition, run to 78 volumes.
ROBERT BONONNO is credited with the translation of over two dozen full-length works of fiction and nonfiction and numerous shorter pieces. These include René Crevel’s My Body and I—a finalist for the 2005 French-American Foundation Prize—Hervé Guibert’s Ghost Image, and Henri Raczymo’s Swan’s Way. In 2002 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to complete a translation of the non-fiction work of Isabelle Eberhardt and in 2010 he received an NEA grant for the retranslation of Eugène Sue’s classic crime novel, The Mysteries of Paris. Mr. Bononno’s latest translation, Pascal Kramer’s Autopsy of a Father, was recently published by Bellevue Literary Press.