Workers and Wives as Legible Types in Eugène Sue's Les Mystères de Paris

Eugène Sue's Les Mystères de Paris (1842-43) guides readers through the lower-class and criminal sectors of Paris using the conventions of character typology popularized by the urban guides and tableaux of the 1830s and 40s. While these texts, exemplified by the physiologies, maintained that social distinctions could be made visible and could thus be "read" by the knowing observer, Sue demonstrates the extent to which deceit and disguise complicate this system of legibility. Working women—such as grisettes—were particularly constrained by the perception of them as types and, in a city where characters could adopt new identities as they inhabited new spaces, these women found themselves unable to move beyond their limited roles. Transforming workers into wives so that they might transcend their status as types, I argue that Sue ultimately carves out a safe (if circumscribed) space for women in the city.

Elizabeth Erbeznik
Volume 2012 (41.1-2)