Question summed up: Can anyone help me find the part of Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of the People wherein a sinister Jesuit plot is unveiled, which may have, through a game of 'telephone' by plagiarism, inspired parts of the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

In one of the essays in his Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, Umberto Eco mentions that the French writer Eugène Sue's last novel Les Mystères du peuple (in English The Mysteries of the People) includes the revelation of a "Jesuit world conspiracy." Eco claims that this was more or less plagiarized by the French writer Maurice Joly in his Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, wherein the plot is transferred to Machiavelli (who is a stand-in for Napoleon III). Joly's book was then, in turn, a major source plagiarized for the infamous anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Still following?

Being interested in how conspiracy theories evolve, "borrow," and converge, I wanted to read the original bit in The Mysteries of the People. My issue is that The Mysteries of the People is actually a series of 19 novels and novellas, and Eco doesn't indicate in his essay in which book this passage appears. Rather than read the whole thing, I was hoping somebody might know, or advise how to narrow it down.

Here's what I know:

  1. An important distinction is that the series in question is The Mysteries of the People, not The Mystery of Paris, another, much more famous, book by Sue. Nor is it The Wandering Jew, another more famous book of his that includes Jesuit villains.
  2. The primary English translation of The Mysteries of the People is by Daniel De Leon.
  3. 18 of the 19 English translations (as well as some, maybe all, in the original French) are available on Project Gutenberg; the odd one out is available from Google Books.
  4. Eco includes a lengthy quote in his essay (see Google Books, pp 134-135 - if the link just takes you to the book, rather than the pages, use the Search Inside This Book function and look for 'Rodin'). Googling that quote or parts of it only leads you back to the Eco book. So either Eco made it up, or he's not using the De Leon translation (actually fairly likely, since Eco translated books from French himself).
  5. Even doing a text search in the Gutenberg books for some of the most key words in the quote doesn't turn up an obvious candidate.
  6. Eco mentions that this part in the book involves (in a further complicating development) a Monsieur Rodin (a character from Sue's The Wandering Jew), a Rodolphe of Gerolstein (a character from his The Mystery of Paris), and a Father Roothaan (a real historical figure). I searched all three names in the text, with hits that seemed to be part of what Eco described ('Rodin' and 'Gerolstein' (but not Rodolphe) occur, but they might be referred to by other titles elsewhere in the text; Roothaan doesn't appear at all, but he was Superior-General of the Jesuits at the time, and there are references that seem to be to a Jesuit Superior-General - but again, none that seem to include the revelation of a plot).
  7. Eco claims he identified "no less than seven pages" of Joly's book that appear to be lifted from Sue's. So the source material in Sue isn't just some passing sentence, it must be several pages worth of narrative.

That the Protocols were stolen liberally from Joly is well-documented. However, any mention of Joly stealing from Sue always points back to the Eco essay. It seems unlikely to me that he would make something like that up with so bold a claim as having found 7 pages worth of cribbing. (Don't be confused, though, he also talks about this connection his fictional novel Foucault's Pendulum, which just complicates things more).

I'm not holding out much hope that anyone has actually read The Mysteries of the People and can point me straight to the right book, but I was thinking maybe somebody who knows French lit, or knows how an Italian might translate French into English, might think of something I haven't and can give me a new clue to pursue.


1 Answer 1


Back in the day, I read the Russian translation of "The Mysteries of the People", which was very abridged and only covering the first three or four books. It was not until recently I had found out that it was a very large series, covering the period from the ancient Rome to the French revolution.

So I did some research, and it turns out the original French version of "The Mysteries of the People" ends in a cliffhanger of sorts:

— La question, que veut bien nous adresser le lecteur, trouvera sa solution dans l’œuvre qui devait être la suite des Mystères du Peuple, et qu’un jour nous écrirons peut-être en d’autres temps, sous ce titre:


which apparently translates as

The question, which the reader wants to ask us, will find its solution in the work which was to be the continuation of the Mysteries of the People, and which one day we will write perhaps in other times, under this title:


Turns out Mr. Sue (or, maybe, his secretary Pierre Vesinier) did get to writing "The Mysteries of the World" after all, which was published posthumously in 1861 in Berlin. It is available on Google Books and in digital libraries.

Here's a passage from the book:

Vous verrez, mon cher Lebrenn, comme cette trame infernale est bien ourdie, quels épouvantables malheurs, quelle affreuse domination, quelle despotime effroyable elle réserve à l'Europe et au monde, si mal-heureusement elle réussit; veuillez me prêter toute votre attention, je vais vous; lire ce document, car je n'ai encore pu le parcourir que rapidement de l'ayant que depuis hier.

which translates to:

You will see, my dear Lebrenn, how well this infernal plot is woven, what dreadful evils, what awful domination, what frightful despotism it reserves to Europe and to the world, if unfortunately it succeeds; please give me all your attention, I am going to read you this document, because I was still able to go through it only quickly having it only since yesterday.

Then the text of the document goes. From whatever little French I can understand, it's a letter from Father Rothaan (sic) to Father Rodin, and it describes a Jesuit plot to stage a coup and install Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, a devout servant of the Society of Jesus, as a French leader and, then, an Emperor.

It mentions things like la domination universeille and "the ends justify the means", and all that jazz. It goes on for about 15 pages and ends in a sanguine prediction:

It will not be half a century later, that by these salutary and effective measures, men will no longer be recognizable; they will have become as humble, as submissive, as pious, as they are now proud, rebellious and irreverent.

  • In the French text you have quoted, it's malheurs, not *malbeurs. I understand French and your interpretation is perfectly correct.
    – Charo
    Jul 28, 2022 at 9:54
  • @Charo: all French in this post is copy-pasted from digitized books and its interpretation is the one of machine translation services. If you see any typos, please feel free to correct them. Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 28, 2022 at 11:08
  • That must be what Eco was citing. It's curious that he mis-identifies it as The Mysteries of the People, although the version linked says 'Suite des Mysteries du Peuple' as a subtitle, which I see translated as "Following the Mysteries of the People." Another wrinkle is that also on the title page it says "continuée par P. Vésinier," translated to "continued by P. Vésinier," which means the passages in question may not have been from Sue at all.
    – Sven3B
    Jul 31, 2022 at 19:13
  • @Sven3B: you might be on to something. Apparently, he was Mr. Sue's secretary, and French editions of "The Mysteries of the People" list him as a "creator". In this work of his: babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/… he calls himself Continuateur des Mystères du Peuple, d'EUGÈNE SUE.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 31, 2022 at 20:35

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