For the People, by the People? Eugène Sue’s ‘Les Mystères de Paris’
A Hypothesis in the Sociology of Literature
Research Monographs in French Studies 16
Legenda: Oxford, 2003
Eugène Sue (1804-57), like his contemporary Alexandre Dumas père, was one of the most successful writers of his time. Les Mystères de Paris, the novel for which he is most remembered, became a publishing sensation. In its serial form, it took the public by storm — readers fought for copies of the next instalment — and in book form its print-run reached an unprecedented 60,000. Christopher Prendergast’s study engages with the problematic of emerging forms of popular literature on the basis of a specific hypothesis: that Les Mystères de Paris, written and published in serial form, was, through the pressure of Sue’s reader-correspondents (many of them barely literate), a collective production, ‘written by the people for the people’. Prendergast examines the phenomenon of popular literature and reader response in the nineteenth century to illuminate larger issues in the sociology of literature.
Christopher Prendergast is Emeritus Professor of Modern French Literature at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of King’s College and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has published on nineteenth-century literature, art history and cultural theory.