Eugène Marie-Joseph Sue was born Marie-Joseph Sue on January 20, 1804, in Paris, the son of Jean-Joseph Sue, an eminent medical practitioner, and Marie Sophie Derilly. He was named for his godmother, Josephine Bonaparte, but soon adopted the name of his godfather, Josephine’s son, Eugène de Beauharnais. The Sue family was a dynasty of eminent and wealthy physicians. Sue, one of four children, rebelled early in his life against the expectation that he would become a doctor and his father’s colleague. He was a miserable student; when apprenticed to his father’s hospital in Paris, he devoted much of his time to playing practical jokes. Sue’s father found him more distant posts in a hospital in Toulon during a military campaign and in the royal navy for six years. Sue drew on the exotic locales he visited in writing his earliest works.
In 1825, Sue—who did not consider himself a serious writer—wrote his first work, a play, to gain the attention of an attractive actress. Returning to Paris in 1829, he began writing adventure stories for the popular press. After his father’s death in 1830, Sue, a confirmed bachelor, lived extravagantly, dissipating his inheritance until he was financially ruined in 1836.
That year marked a turning point in his life, for his friends interested him in the problems of social reform. The publication of The Mysteries of Paris made him a best-selling novelist and a hero of the working classes. After the Revolution of 1848, Sue, then a Fourierist, was elected to the National Assembly. He attended conscientiously but spent most of his time writing and correcting the work that totally absorbed him in his last years, Les Mystères du peuple: Ou, Histoire d’une famille de prolétaires à travers les âges (1849-1857; The Mysteries of the People, 185?, 1867). Arrested in 1851 and released in 1852, Sue went into political exile in Savoy, leaving his property behind and refusing to support the new regime, which continued to harass him.
Sue died on August 3, 1857, in Annecy, Savoy, of nervous disorders exacerbated by stress and fatigue, leaving behind an enormous corpus of fiction, drama, and political essays.