Plik et Plok, 1831
Latréaumont, 1838 (English translation, 1845)
Jean Cavalier, 1840 (The Protestant Leader, 1849)
Les Mystères de Paris, 1842-1843 (The Mysteries of Paris, 1843)
Le Juif errant, 1844-1845 (The Wandering Jew, 1868)
Les Sept Péchés capitaux, 1848-1852
Born in Paris on January 20, 1804, Eugène Sue (sew), whose real name was Marie Joseph Sue, was the son of a distinguished surgeon who had served with Napoleon’s armies. At his baptism, Sue’s sponsors were Prince Eugène Beauharnais and the Empress Joséphine; it was his godfather’s name that Sue adopted as part of his pseudonym. Educated at private schools in Paris, Sue later studied medicine and became a surgeon. From 1823 to 1829 he served aboard ships of the French navy as a naval surgeon, taking part in the French campaign against Spain in 1823 and in the battle of Navarino in 1828. At his father’s death, Sue inherited a large fortune and retired from the navy. Returning to Paris, he became a fashionable young man-about-town, but the life bored him, and he turned to writing as an outlet for his energies.
Sue is reputed to have become a novelist by accident when an editor outlined a novel of the sea and suggested that Sue was the man to write the book because of his experience in the navy. Plik et Plok was the first of a series of sea novels that brought him critical praise as “the French James Fenimore Cooper.” Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the eminent French critic, claimed that Sue was the first Frenchman to exploit the sea for French literature and the first author to make use of the Mediterranean Sea for literature. Eager to become a serious man of letters, Sue turned to writing historical works, including a history of the French navy (1837) in five volumes. He then wrote historical romances, the two best-known being Jean Cavalier and Latréaumont.
His most famous novels, The Mysteries of Paris and The Wandering Jew, resulted from his interest in social problems. The former, taking the reader through episodes of lower-class and underworld Paris, presented the social misery Sue saw in his city; his attempts at reform were comparable to those of Charles Dickens in England at the time. In The Wandering Jew, Sue used the wretched man doomed to wander for centuries as an allegory for the long, weary journey of humanity in its search for just social structures. Although both novels are long and rambling, they illustrate the writer’s ability to combine dramatic episodes with moral earnestness. Extremely popular in France, the books were also circulated widely in translation. A later work of moral earnestness, although never popular, was Les Sept Péchés capitaux (the seven capital sins), a series of stories that illustrated each of the sins.
After the revolution of 1848, Sue stood for a seat in the French assembly representing Paris. He served in that chamber until the coup d’état of 1851 aroused his opposition, whereupon he went to live in exile in Haute-Savoie, dying six years later.