Re: RARA-AVIS: Eugene Sue

From: Jess Nevins (
Date: 22 Nov 2007

-----Original Message-----
>From: Juri Nummelin <>
>I've read THE WANDERING JEW, but it was an old and abridged Finnish edition
>from the fifties. Interesting nevertheless, but I don't really see how he's
>important to the genre - I haven't as yet read Jess's essay (which I know is
>wonderful). I'll post later if anything comes to mind afterwards.

It's not, really, important to the genre--I mention Sue in the context of 1840s social critique fiction.

Sue is dated, of course--most work from that long ago is--and dependent on a good translator, but if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, and accept that the prose style isn't very good (by modern standards), you can find a great deal that is enjoyable and even excellent in his work, especially THE MYSTERIES OF PARIS and THE WANDERING JEW. The latter work in particular is enormously fun in an outrageous, over-the-top fashion. Thomas Disch put it well:

"The Wandering Jew has got, as the form demands, everything: an heiress falsely accused of madness and incarcerated in a lunatic asylum; a destitute hunchbacked seamstress of the highest moral character hopelessly in love with a blacksmith (who is a patriotic poet on the side); bloodthirsty panthers, telepathic twins, debauchery, murder, suicide, duels, supernatural manifestations, blazing passions, wild mobs, a plague of cholera, scenes in Java and the Arctic, the _two_ best Reading-of-the-Will scenes that ever were, _and_ towering over all these attractions, the nastiest crew of villains ever brought together in one book, presided over by the fiendish, the insidious, the wholly diabolic Jesuit priest and arch-hypocrite, Pere Rodin, who is hell-bent on becoming the next Pope."

Sue more than many writers embodies a certain critical law: too much is too much, but way too much is just enough.


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