(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Eugène Sue’s most famous novels, Les Mystères de Paris (1842-1843; The Mysteries of Paris, 1843-1846), was the first novel to present a realistic portrait of the criminal underworld of Paris. Modeled on members of a Parisian criminal gang on trial for murder, Sue’s characters spoke the slang and displayed the callous attitudes of hardened criminals. Criminal activity was linked to social and economic conditions; Sue argued that many virtuous people became criminals as a result of their unfortunate circumstances. Sue also portrayed crime in more conventional terms, however, because some of his characters were morally vicious while the most virtuous could never be tempted into crime, no matter how desperate their circumstances. Sue’s hero, Prince Rodolphe of Gerolstein, displayed characteristics common to latter-day detective heroes. Standing out in sharp contrast to his setting, he roamed the streets of Paris seeking to alleviate the misery that might cause the virtuous poor to fall.