Places: The Mysteries of Paris

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Les Mystères de Paris, 1842-1843 (English translation, 1843)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Melodrama

Time of work: 1838-1841

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Mysteries of Paris, TheCapital of France. In the worldview of the roman feuilleton, Paris is not a city but rather the city–the archetype of modern civilization. As well as providing a rich spectrum of individual settings for the plot, Paris is, in a sense, the main character in the story: both a human hive buzzing with progressive industry and a cauldron of corruption in which civilization is coming to the boil.

Mint

Mint. Network of narrow streets, profusely supplied with dens of vice, distributed between the Palais de Justice and Notre Dame Cathedral (the principal landmark of Paris-set popular fiction, thanks to Victor Hugo). It is here, in the “White Rabbit” in the rue aux Fèves, that Eugène Sue’s story begins with the symbolic meeting of several not-so-distinct worlds, represented by various exemplary characters whose fates are inextricably entangled. The heavy irony which Sue deploys in naming his characters (such as La Chouette–the Screech-Owl–and the Schoolmaster), drinking-dens featured (such as the Bleeding Heart and the Dredger’s Arms), and imaginary streets (such as the Allée des Veuves–Widows’ Alley–and Brasserie Passage) echoes a tacit irony in certain real Parisian place-names, which he gleefully appropriates, especially the Champs Élysées [Elysian Fields].

Bouqueval

Bouqueval (bew-kay-val). Village outside Paris, east of the woodlands surrounding the Château Ecouen. It functions within Sue’s scheme as the great city’s humble antithesis, a kind of rustic paradise. It is the site of the farm in which Rudolph establishes La Goualeuse after removing her from the power of the Ogress.

*Faubourg Saint-Germain

*Faubourg Saint-Germain (foh-bur san zhur-mayn). Prosperous Parisian suburb (now the heart of the Left Bank), where Rudolph’s mansion is located at the junction of the rue Plumet and the boulevard des Invalides. It is here that Rudolph lives the other half of his double life, dealing with aristocrats and diplomats. The Lucenays’ town house is not far away. The most prestigious residences, however, are on the other side of the river, in the city itself. The d’Harville town house, where Clémence lives surrounded by splendid décor and fine works of art, is in the rue Saint-Dominique, at the corner of the rue Belle Chasse. Viscount Saint-Rémy lives in the rue de Chaillot, close to the Champs Élysées.

Temple

Temple. Enormous marketplace–Sue terms it a bazaar–in the heart of the commercial district of Paris. It is in the rue du Temple that Rudolph acquires another home-away-from-home while searching for clues as to the whereabouts of François Germain. The house is home to the honest and industrious Mademoiselle Dimpleton and the unfortunate Morels, and it yields abundant evidence of visitors from higher and lower social strata, who have employed it as intermediate ground. The rue du Sentier, the location of the house of the crooked lawyer Jacques Ferrand, is not far away.

Saint Lazare

Saint Lazare (san lah-zahr). Women’s prison situated in the rue de Faubourg Saint Denis, which Clémence visits for charitable purposes, and where La Goualeuse is confined. The boulevard Saint Denis, where Germain resides before his imprisonment, is in the same neighborhood.

La Force

La Force. Nickname of the Conciergerie, the principal prison of Paris, where Germain is confined. Along with Saint Lazare, La Force figures prominently in the social protest element of Sue’s novel, which indicts the entire criminal justice system on the grounds of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. La Force is also the setting of a remarkable essay on the narrative politics of popular fiction surrounding the suspenseful story with which Pique-Vinaigre must distract his fellow inmates, in order to save Germain from assassination.

Gerolstein

Gerolstein. Grand Duchy to which Rudolph is heir: an imaginary element of the Germanic Confederation (Germany was not yet a nation-state in the early nineteenth century, and most of its fragments retained strong links with Paris by virtue of having been temporarily integrated into Napoleon Bonaparte’s short-lived empire). Rudolph met Sarah there before departing for Paris filled with romantic notions, and he returns there at the end of the story, accompanied by his long-lost daughter.

BibliographyAtkinson, Nora. Eugène Sue et le roman-feuilleton. Paris: A. Nizet & M. Bastard, 1929. In the absence of any in-depth study in English, this is perhaps the most useful French source.Chaunu, Pierre. Eugène Sue et la seconde république. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948. A compact study of Sue’s life and works.James, Louis. Fiction for the Working Man 1830-1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963. The Mysteries of Paris and other Sue works are discussed in chapter 8, “Fiction from America and France.”Palmer, Jerry. Thrillers: Genesis and Structure of a Popular Genre. London: Edward Arnold, 1978. The Mysteries of Paris is discussed in part 3, subsection 3, in “The Literary Origins of the Thriller.”
Categories: Places