The Wandering Jew is an enormous novel. It touches several continents and the worlds of religion, economics, the supernatural, politics, medicine, and social protest. There are hundreds of characters on this vast stage and dozens of plots, subplots, and plots within subplots. The novel is in that tradition of French literary Romanticism that mixes the supernatural with politics and social commentary. Its vast scale, reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862; English translation, 1862), also is mindful of the large social tapestry of eighteenth century novels. Further, Eugène Sue loves melodrama. He attempts, at every juncture, to induce the extremes of horror, anticipation, and suspense in his readers through a variety of well-tested literary techniques. The novel is also of interest for the study of genre: It is a precursor of the mystery-detective novel as well as being an example of the Romantic novel.
It must be said that The Wandering Jew is not a successful novel. In terms of theme, action, character, and style, it must be classified as a magnificent, towering failure. Central to the novel’s difficulties is Sue’s inability to connect and unify the vast and complicated action of the work. The intrigues and schemes of the Jesuits and the problem of the legacy, although convenient, simply cannot sustain the ambitious weight of this novel. The world of The Wandering Jew is overflowing, without...
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