‘It was a dark and stormy night...’ with these words Edward Bulwer-Lytton began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. ‘Le 13 décembre 1838, par une soirée pluvieuse et froid’ are the words with which Eugène Sue begins his novel The Mysteries of Paris, its narrative following a ‘conceptual’ introductory address to the reader. There are many more features connecting these two popular literary pieces of the Romantic period. In-between, a new genre emerged – the melodramatic social(ist) novel – together with new means of communication, i.e. the novel feuilleton that was printed in daily newspapers. This subtle form of censorship suggests that a genre believed to be melodramatically mediocre had an excessive aestheticopolitical attractiveness. Eugène Sue was a star writer of nineteenth century bestsellers novels–feuilletons during the period between the two revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Afterwards he practically fell into oblivion and was barely mentioned in the company of ‘serious’ writers like Balzac and Hugo or Dickens and Thackeray, all of whom, however, took his allegedly mediocre melodramatic and popular narratives as cases to be followed. His temporary fame was confirmed by the response of Bruno Bauer’s group of young Hegelians, who found in Sue’s literary attractiveness a philosophical solution for all the mysteries and conflicts of the period. Marx’s criticism of their philosophical and political position in The Sacred Family includes a lengthy and thorough criticism of their ‘philosophical’ readings of the novel, of the novel itself, and of their and Sue’s understanding of the new bourgeois reality. Among other points, Sue’s alleged socialism is described with the help of a comparison between the police and the moral police. Can we, along with a re-establishment of the context of The Mysteries of Paris, leave behind the critique of ideology and the literary critique of popular and mass culture in order to bring back into the aesthetic field this melodramatic narrative of class society and to re-establish the politics of its aesthetics?
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2017
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