Urban mysteries in the 19th century: circulations, transfers, appropriations. Literature, History, and Media.

Annonce publiée le 18 janvier 2013

Organised by the research centre RIRRA 21, Université Montpellier III

in collaboration with

Centre d'histoire du XIXe siècle, Universités Paris 1/Paris 4

and Medias 19

November 14th and 15th (Montpellier), November 16th (Paris) 2013


Between the 19th of June 1842 and the 15th of October 1843, the publication of Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of Paris in the Journal des débats was a mediatic blast in France. Théophile Gautier's famous jest gives us an idea of its success: « Sick people waited to die until the end of The Mysteries of Paris; the magic words “la suite à demain” kept them along from day to day, and Death itself understood that they would not rest on the other side unless they knew the ending to this strange tale.” Taken by the number of letters he received and by the success of his oeuvre, the author develops his narrative of the urban underworld and its criminals to include a social and political reflection. The novel is published in several editions, adapted to the stage and declined into various by-products. This first literary mass-success, however, was not only the most important media phenomenon that France had ever seen; it was also the first example of cultural globalisation. In the months following the French publication, the novel was translated in several languages and gained international success from southern Europe to North America, from northern Europe to Latin America, in Russia, throughout the Commonwealth, and, finally, at the turn of the century, even in Japan and China. These translations are often already adaptations. More importantly, Les Mystères de Paris set off the writing of hundreds of novels worldwide with considerable local variation. Examples are Reynolds' Mysteries of London (1844-1848), Juan Martínez Villergas' Los misteríos de Madrid (1844), Ned Buntline's The mysteries and miseries of New York (1848), Edouard Rivière's Antonino y Anita ó los nuevos mysterios de Mexico (1851), Camilo Castelo Branco's Os Mistéros de Lisboa (1854), B. Del Vecchio's I Misteri di Roma contemporanea (1851-1853), and several Mystères de Montréal like Hector Berthelot's from 1892 …. In addition to the repetition of the title, in each of these countries there is a myriad of novels on the urban question, the representation of crime, and social exploration. These novels also contribute to the democratisation of literature in that they are generally distributed on cheap materials (newspapers, penny blood, dime novels...), thus enabling the development of truly national cultures. A number of these novels, by means of adapting Sue's initial model of the situation in each country and hybridising it with the generic traditions of the local literature contribute to a reflection on the national question.



The congress planned in Montpellier on November 14th and 15th and in Paris on November 16th 2013 aims to study this first large phenomenon of media globalisation and follows up a series of seminars organised in Montpellier, Mexico City (2011), Quebec (2012)... Thus, our aim is not to explore these archives through a series of monographs again, but to shed new light on them from a transversal and transdisciplinary point of view. Highlighting the circulation, transfers, and transformations of objects, papers on the following subjects are particularly welcome:


- Papers on hitherto unstudied archives, especially those of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America... The French and Canadian archives have already been treated by the organisers and papers will appear shortly on, whilst a fair amount of scholarship already exists on their counterparts in Britain, USA, and Spain. In this category, papers on a single text or simple presentations of the current state of research in a single country are to be avoided.


-  papers analysing these texts from a non-literary point of view. Contributions from historians, sociologists, translation specialists, and linguists are especially welcome.


-  papers on the contextualisation of the phenomenon, for example linking the production of the genre to the detective novel, the emergence of social statistics, panorama literature, or to general reflections on the City, poverty, social underworlds, and to the reportage.


- papers taking into account the dimension of cultural transfer and the circulation of material objects. In what way did the texts circulate? What is the profile of the cultural go- betweens in charge of the translation and edition of the urban mysteries ?


-papers on methodological questions related to what already appears to be a form of world literature or to the treatment of the question of the definition of genre on a global or local scale.


-transversal papers aiming to compare and evaluate the different archives and to show the circulation, transformation, and appropriation of urban, criminal, sexual, political, social, and/or racial motives or the hybridisation of generic models.


-Papers on the adaptations of 19th century urban mysteries in film, television, and comics taking into account the transmodality of the urban stories founding our modern media culture.


A page on (« actualités ») will provide interested scholars with a series of resources.


We welcome papers in French or English (with a written translation provided by the author). Papers in other languages might be considered.


The conference will cover costs for accommodation and meals for all participants with accepted papers. Due to limited funds, participants must seek funding for transportation from their host institutions. The organising committee may be able to help with alternative solutions if necessary.


Proposals for papers (200 word abstract + short CV) are to be sent by February 15th 2013 to the following addresses: and




Comitee : Paul Aron (FNRS, Université libre de Bruxelles), Georgia Gotsi (Université de Patras, Grèce), Micheline Cambron (Université de Montréal), Dominique Kalifa (université de Paris I-Sorbonne), Mathieu Letourneux (Université de Paris Ouest-Nanterre), Catherine Nesci (Université de Californie, Santa Barbara), Guillaume Pinson (université Laval, Québec), Corinne Saminadayar-Perrin (Université de Montpellier III), Laura Suarez de la Torre (Instituto Mora, Mexico), Marie-Ève Thérenty (Université de Montpellier III), Anne-Marie Thiesse (CNRS), Alain Vaillant (Université de Paris Ouest-Nanterre), Yoan Vérilhac (Université de Nîmes), Helle Waahlberg (Université de Montpellier III).