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The Wandering Jew
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The Wandering Jew

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Author: Eugène Sue
Publisher: Dedalus, 1990
Original English publication, 1903
Original French publication, 1844
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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Synopsis

"The Wandering Jew has got, as the form demands, everything: an heiress falsely accused of madness and incarcerated in a lunatic asylum; a destitute hunchbacked seamstress of the highest moral character hopelessly in love with a blacksmith... bloodthirsty panthers, telepathic twins, debauchery, murder, suicide, duels, supernatural manifestations, blazing passions, wild mobs, a plague of cholera, [and] scenes in Java and the Arctic." (Thomas M. Disch)

The story is entitled The Wandering Jew, but the figure of the Wandering Jew himself plays a minimal role. The prologue of the text describes two figures who cry out to each other across the Bering Straits. One is the Wandering Jew, the other his sister, Hérodiade. The Wandering Jew also represents the cholera epidemic-- wherever he goes, cholera follows in his wake.

The Wandering Jew and Hérodiade are condemned to wander the earth until the entire Rennepont family has disappeared from the earth. The connection is that the descendants of the sister are also the descendants of Marius de Rennepont, Huguenots persecuted under Louis XIV by the Jesuits. Sue never explains how a Huguenot family came to be descended from an immortal Jewish woman who never married or had children. The brother and sister are compelled to protect this very family from all harm. After this first introduction, the two appear only very rarely.

The Rennepont family is unaware that these protective éminences grises exist, but they benefit from their protection in various ways, be it by being saved from scalping by the Native Americans, or from languishing in prison.


Excerpt

The Arctic Ocean encircles with a belt of eternal ice the desert confines of Siberia and North America--the uttermost limits of the Old and New worlds, separated by the narrow, channel, known as Behring's Straits. The last days of September have arrived. The equinox has brought with it darkness and Northern storms, and night will quickly close the short and dismal polar day. The sky of a dull and leaden blue is faintly lighted by a sun without warmth, whose white disk, scarcely seen above the horizon, pales before the dazzling, brilliancy of the snow that covers, as far as the eyes can reach, the boundless steppes. To the North, this desert is bounded by a ragged coast, bristling with huge black rocks. At the base of this Titanic mass lied enchained the petrified ocean, whose spell-bound waves appear fired as vast ranges of ice mountains, their blue peaks fading away in the far-off frost smoke, or snow vapor. Between the twin-peaks of Cape East, the termination of Siberia, the sullen sea is seen to drive tall icebergs across a streak of dead green. There lies Behring's Straits. Opposite, and towering over the channel, rise the granite masses of Cape Prince of Wales, the headland of North America. These lonely latitudes do not belong to the habitable world; for the piercing cold shivers the stones, splits the trees, and causes the earth to burst asunder, which, throwing forth showers of icy spangles seems capable of enduring this solitude of frost and tempest, of famine and death. And yet, strange to say, footprints may be traced on the snow, covering these headlands on either side of Behring's Straits. On the American shore, the footprints are small and light, thus betraying the passage of a woman. She has been hastening up the rocky peak, whence the drifts of Siberia are visible. On the latter ground, footprints larger and deeper betoken the passing of a man. He also was on his way to the Straits. It would seem that this man and woman had arrived here from opposite directions, in hope of catching a glimpse of one another, across the arm of the sea dividing the two worlds--the Old and the New. More strange still! the man and the woman have crossed the solitudes during a terrific storm! Black pines, the growth of centuries, pointing their bent heads in different parts of the solitude like crosses in a churchyard, have been uprooted, rent, and hurled aside by the blasts!

Copyright © 1844 by Eugène Sue


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