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In 1842, a literary earthquake struck France, its aftershocks rippling across the globe. Eugène Sue’s roman-feuilleton ‘Les Mystères de Paris’ (‘The Mysteries of Paris’) was published in instalments until 1843 in the Journal des Débats, making it the most popular daily newspaper in the French capital.1

The contrasting tale of poverty and wealth emphasising social injustice established the pattern for the urban mystery genre.

Competition for readership amongst French journals was fierce. In 1843-44, Paul Féval and the Courrier Français responded to Sue’s bestseller with ‘Les Mystères de Londres’ (‘The Mysteries of London’). The precedent was set, novels were to reveal endless mysteries. In this context appeared Les Mystères de l’Inquisition (The Mysteries of the Inquisition), a curious historical novel set in sixteenth-century Spain. It was an instant success and remained in print for decades, with translations appearing across Europe, in America, and even in Turkey.

This electronic edition presents the French novel about the Spanish Inquisition alongside two contemporaneous and competing English translations. The first, published by George Peirce in weekly numbers, plainly follows the source text. The second is an unfaithful and devilishly crafty translation which appeared in the London Journal. Each text has been manipulated for differing artistic, propagandist, and editorial purposes, first by two co-authors, and then by a translator.

In the pages of the London Journal, the ‘The Mysteries of the Inquisition’ became an particularly effective romance, instead of a historical novel, at the cost of ironing out the sometimes lengthy footnotes peppered throughout the source text. The notes usefully point to intentional anachronisms in the text and comment upon contemporary early-nineteenth-century Spain, but also obscure the fictionality of an important component of the tale: the Garduña, a secret criminal society numbering the Inquisition amongst its clients.

The authors

Les Mystères de l’Inquisition was written by ‘V. de Féréal’, the pseudonym of a French Romantic poetess, Victorine Germillan, with historical notes and an introduction by Manuel de Cuendías. Hidden behind the collaboration is a love affair between Germillan and Cuendías, a Spanish liberal émigré which she must have met in Toulouse around 1840 while still being married to a Monsieur Subervic. Both had children with their lawful spouses.

Manuel Galo de Cuendías was born in 1800 in Madrid. The facts regarding Germillan’s birth are less certain but it must have taken place around 1810, probably in the Périgord region, near Bordeaux, in the South-West of France.

In July 1821, Cuendías was condemned to a six-month exile from Madrid for having produced a pamphlet on the rising prices of bread in the capital. His whereabouts are unknown until 1835, when he resurfaced in Toulouse, also in the South-West of France, close to the Spanish border. He alleged to have travelled to Calcutta, Philadelphia, and London, but the information cannot be verified.

Cuendías taught languages, and a great number of them: English, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, and Latin. By 1842, he and Germillan were collaborating in Toulouse on a periodical, titled the Babel méridionale in reference to the Parisian Babel to which renowned authors such as Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac contributed.

Late in 1843, Cuendías is granted leave and they move to Paris. Cuendías told his employer that he needed a change of clime to assuage his nerves, which had been damaged by hard work. However, this was a ruse to enable them to gravitate closer to the main literary scene to advance their careers as writers. They set to work on Les Mystères de l’Inquisition, which caused a sensation thanks to a heavy advertising campaign. Unfortunately, the revenues were insufficient to sustain their lifestyle. During their stay in Paris, they wrote repeatedly to request financial assistance from literary funds, but appear to have been successful only once.

Their Parisian adventure came to an end in 1848. The political turmoil kept them busy with a succession of short-lived periodical ventures initiated after the revolution in February. It instituted the Second Republic, which lasted only four years before it was brought down by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’état. Running parallel to the burst in the couple’s publishing, Cuendías’s attempt to gain a teaching position in Paris met a dead-end and he returned to Madrid via Barcelona around September 1848.

The pair’s love affair was not over, however. Combining her first name, her pseudonym, and his surname, Germillan published a French poem as ‘Victorina Fereal de Cuendías’ in Madrid in 1860. What she did during the preceding decade remains unclear, but she appears to have written an article in French in 1851 on France’s theatrical scene for Cuendías’s daily newspaper, El Precursor, which folded after less than a year.

The ageing lovers stayed in Brussels in 1868 and left presentation copies of works with the Belgian feminist novelist Caroline Gravière and her husband. The following year, back in Paris, Cuendías sought for work, but succeeded instead in securing 150 francs from the Ministry of Public Instruction in his capacity as a former state teacher in need. The elderly couple, she in her sixties and he in his seventies, moved to Marseille. Cuendías died in Oran, Algeria, in 1881: his presence in the French colony remains unexplained. Nothing is known of Germillan’s death.

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1480. Its purpose was to ensure that Jews and Muslims who had converted to Catholicism in the course of the Reconquista did not threaten religious orthodoxy. To do so, it resorted to torture, burnt the condemned alive, and confiscated their wealth.

More than half of Cuendías’s notes in Les Mystères de l’Inquisition refer to Histoire abrégée de l’Inquisition d’Espagne (1823), an abridgement of Juan Antonio Llorente’s colossal four-volume Histoire critique de l’Inquisition d’Espagne [ Critical history of the Spanish Inquisition] (1818). Llorente argues, as does Germillan and Cuendías’s work, that the clergy imposed the Spanish Inquisition, which never gained the Spanish monarchs’ heartfelt approval. This historiographical stance is tied into nineteenth-century progressive politics in Spain. Llorente’s very precise death tolls are at least five times higher than more recent estimates. For more on Llorente’s place in the Spanish Inquisition’s historiography, see Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1998, 305-320.

Spain fell to Napoleon in 1808, regaining its full independence at the end of the Peninsula War in 1814. Llorente, a liberal afrancesado, or francophile, sided with the occupier and fled to France as soon as Bonaparte’s defeat appeared inevitable. When the Spanish king Ferdinand VII returned to the throne, he abolished the very liberal constitution that had been written in 1812. The constitution was reinstated early in 1820 after an anti-absolutist revolt, inaugurating the Trienio Liberal, an uneasy three years of liberal government in Spain.

French troops restored absolutism in Spain in 1823 on the strength of the Holy Alliance. The subsequent Ominous Decade lasted until Ferdinand VII’s death in 1833. The following year the Spanish Inquisition was officially abolished. Thereafter, Llorente’s historiographical view — that the clergy inflicted the Inquisition upon the Spanish people against their will — blossomed, as in Les Mystères de l’Inquisition.

The hoax

Les Mystères de l’Inquisition as a whole denounces the Spanish Inquisition as fanatical and corrupt. Many of the characters and situations in Les Mystères have a factual basis, and Cuendías’s notes point out when they are anachronistic or fictional. He demonstrates such intellectual honesty that the autobiographical account of his capture of the Garduña’s captain appears true.

Cuendías claims that all the secret society’s records, which he amply quotes in his footnotes, were still in Seville’s municipal archives in 1823, but a fire in 1916 makes it impossible to verify his claim. However, since the Garduña brotherhood left no other trace of itself apart from direct or indirect references to Les Mystères de l’Inquisition, it feels safe to assume that it is either a figment of his imagination or an extrapolation of the deeds of a local gang rather than a nation-wide network.

The occult power of the fictional Garduña both amplifies the institutional power of the Spanish Inquisition — it appears far more evil than official statistics could ever record, since crimes were subcontracted to the brotherhood — and quenches the readership’s thirst for revelations of the criminal underworld. Indeed, Paul Féval’s fictional “Grande Famille” (“Big Family”) in Les Mystères de Londres federates outlaws from all across Great Britain, exposing a vast underground force controlling the entire kingdom’s destiny.

The serials

In both France and England seriality was a popular publication scheme, though formats differed in the two countries. Eugène Sue’s seminal “Mystères de Paris” appeared in the bottom portion —the feuilleton— of a low-cost daily newspaper, the Journal des Débats. Nearing the end of their serialization, romans-feuilletons were released in book form.

Another form of serial publication, which predates the serial-in-periodical form, consists in a book being sliced up and sold in instalments, or livraisons. Boizard published Les Mystères de l’Inquisition in this format, with weekly instalments costing 30 cents for either 16 pages or 8 pages accompanied by an engraving. Publication began 2 November 1844 and concluded in the following April.

Two concurrent English translations were produced in London’s cheapest serial form: penny numbers. One appeared in the pages of the London Journal, a penny weekly magazine that ran until 1928. It was authored by George William MacArthur Reynolds, little known today, but an important figure of British popular literature and Chartism. A different translation was published by George Peirce in stand-alone penny numbers which, once assembled, produced a book.

The success of Reynolds’s translation is evidenced by the faith of a concurrent translation published by George Peirce in 16 stand-alone penny numbers. While the competing translation follows the French text closely, by its eleventh number chapters are combined and heavily abridged, and 14 of the original French novel’s 50 chapters are removed completely. This quick wrap-up of the narrative suggests that it was not selling as well as Reynolds’s version in the London Journal.

The London Journal translator

While the authors of Les Mystères de l’Inquisition are incredibly obscure, Reynolds was cited in his obituary as the most popular author of his time, outselling even Charles Dickens. Born in Kent in 1814, he crossed the Channel at age 16, having inherited his father’s fortune. France was then in the aftermath of a revolution.

Reynolds joined both French literary circles and expatriate social circles in Paris. Between 1835 and 1836, he published his first novel, The Youthful Imposter, as well as his first translation (Victor Hugo’s Songs of Twilight), edited the Paris Literary Gazette, opened an anglophone library, and launched a newspaper in the French journalistic style, The Paris Advertiser. Most importantly, he discovered in the French press the power of a literary-political discourse and cross-class culture.

When The Paris Advertiser collapsed, he declared bankruptcy, and returned to London in 1837 with his wife Susannah Frances, also a writer, whom he met and married in France. Their collaboration was not as symbiotic as Victorine and Manuel’s, but she did contribute columns, e.g. recipes, to his periodicals.

Upon his return to Britain, Reynolds found a job as editor of the Monthly Magazine, in which he serialized three of his own novels. The managers however were offended by the raciness of his ‘Pickwick Abroad’ (1837-1838), a parodic continuation of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and terminated his contract the following year.

In 1839, Reynolds became foreign editor for the working-class radical Weekly Dispatch. The next year, he launched a temperance periodical, The Teetotaller, in which he continued to write serial fiction. It ran little more than a year. Besides his commitments to weekly periodicals, he continued to publish books in volume form, including translations of Victor Hugo’s The Last Day of a Condemned as well as bestselling Paul de Kock’s Sister Anne, both in 1840.

In October 1844 Reynolds began serialising The Mysteries of London, which would prove to be his most renowned work. As in ‘Les Mystères de Paris’, an upper-class protagonist leads the reader through the city’s slums to illustrate that criminality is not the consequence of individual immorality but of structural poverty.

The first series was followed by a second and, though a quarrel with the publisher led to a third and a fourth being brought out by two other authors, Reynolds continued his encyclopaedic series in The Mysteries of the Court of London until 1856. While engaged with this apparently never-ending narrative, he found time to write multiple other serials in addition to editing a magazine and a newspaper.

Indeed, Reynolds had been recruited in March 1845 as editor of the new London Journal. In its eighth number, dated 19 April, a harrowing engraving of a torture scene commenced the London Journal’s first serial: ‘The Mysteries of the Inquisition’. It was followed by his novel ‘Faust’. In 1846 he launched his own periodical, Reynolds’s Miscellany, which contained the sequel to ‘Faust’, ‘Wagner: the wehr-wolf’. Hence, Reynolds did not confine himself to politically-inclined social realism, but also explored the possibilities of supernatural Gothic fiction. The setting of ‘The Mysteries of the Inquisition’ might have encouraged him to write of more distant lands and times than he had previously.

Reynolds’s political and literary careers continued intertwined. In 1848, he was recruited as keynote speaker for Chartist rallies. In addition to frequently including political content in his literary miscellany, he edited his own Reynolds’s Newspaper from 1849. He died in London in 1879.

The London Journal translation

Reynolds’s personal touch transforms his translation of Les Mystères de l'Inquisition throughout. Having published A Sequel to Don Juan two years earlier, he chose to Byronise the characters’ names, exchanging ‘s’ for ‘z’ at the end of Arbues and Dolores and duplicating the ‘n’ in Juana, thereby evoking the poem’s own Donna Inez (which is spelt ‘Inés’ in Spanish) and Juanna. The orthographies retained in Peirce’s edition were actually more common in English in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Reynolds astutely brought “The Torture by Water” chapter into the first instalment, attracting readers with the accompanying illustration on the front page. Throughout the serial, the illustrations are closely related to the narrative. Both translations copied most of them from the French book. Reynolds takes the care to adds paragraphs to introduce four engravings absent in the source text.

Other deviations from the French text can be explained by the serial-in-periodical format in which instalments tend to consist of complete chapters. Occasionally chapters were divided in two because they overran the prescribed length of the instalment, or because the instalment would otherwise have contained only a single chapter.

The first instalment is especially enticing because it quickly introduces a variety of subplots. Firstly, Dolorez is presented to the reader through the lustful gaze of a congregation of licentious clergymen in the first chapter. Secondly, Francesca, the Abbess of the Carmelites, also mentioned at the orgy, is encountered in the prisons of the Inquisition in the second chapter. Finally, the combination of Joseph’s description as a ‘a young priest who was as beautiful as a charming girl’ in the first chapter and the mention of his ‘years of dissimulation’ in the second foreshadows the chute. Both phrases appear in the French text, but later on in the narrative.

Reynolds’s most interesting innovation consists in turning the French text’s striking eroticism into full-fledged sadism. Word choice, additions, and chronological restructuring transform the leading antagonist into an arch-villain. According to Reynolds, Arbuez’s laugh is ‘satanic’, though Germillan had been more descriptive: ‘icy, shrill, metallic, a laugh which sounded like a knell of agony’ (Philadelphia edition, p. 157).

The restructuring of the narrative in the first instalment allows Reynolds to recast Arbuez’s temptation in the second instalment. When he visits Dolorez’s sleeping chamber unannounced, Reynolds adds that his ‘passions were kindled with the reminiscence of the naked charms which he had seen stretched but a few hours previously upon the wooden horse in the terrible chamber of torture’. Whereas in the French text, this scene takes place in the evening, after ‘Pierre Arbues had spent the evening in the parlour of the governor’ (p. 25), Reynolds sets the impromptu visit in the morning immediately following the orgy (‘the fumes of wine still influenced his brain,’) and the torture by water, both of which happen much later in the original.

Thus Reynolds meticulously restructured the narrative not only to have a torture scene illustrated on the cover of the first instalment, but to prompt new interpretations of the text. Other notable differences from the original appear in the notes provided by the editor.

Further reading

In English


Atal, Maha Rafi. ‘Anglo-French Relations and Radical Politics: The Case of G.W.M. Reynolds, 1835-53,’ Honors thesis, Brown University, 2008.

Humpherys, Anne and Louis James. G.W.M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008.


Arsenal, León and Hipólito Sanchiz. Una historia de las sociedades secretas españolas, Barcelona, Zenith / Planeta, 2006.

Nineteenth-century Spain

Muñoz, Daniel. “The Abolition of the Inquisition and the Creation of a Historical Myth”, Hispanic Research Journal, Vol. 11 No. 1, February, 2010, p. 71-81.

Early Modern Spain

Perry, Mary Elizabeth. Crime and Society in Early Modern Seville, Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1980, <>.

In French

Early Modern Spain

Boeglin, Michel. L'Inquisition espagnole au lendemain du concile de Trente. Le tribunal du Saint-Office de Séville (1560-1700), Montpellier, Presses de l'Université, 2003.

In Spanish

Nineteenth-century Spain

Muñoz, Daniel. La Inquisición española como tema literario : pólitica, historia y ficción en la crisis del antiguo régimen, Rochester, New York, Tamesis, 2008.

Early Modern Spain

Boeglin, Michel. Inquisición y Contrarreforma. El tribunal del Santo Oficio de Sevilla (1560-1700), Sevilla, ICAS-Renacimiento, 2007.

González de Caldas, Victoria. El poder y su imagen: la Inquisición Real, Sevilla, Universidad de Sevilla, Secretariado de Publicaciones, 2001.

Mena, José María de, Historia de Sevilla, Barcelona, Plaza y Janés, 1991.

Note on the texts

Typos have been corrected, but obsolete forms and inconsistent spelling have been retained.

In the London Journal text, I have inserted many of the footnotes provided by Manuel de Cuendías, as translated in The Young Dominican, or life in the Inquisition; and revelations of the secret societies of Spain (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & co., 1853). When I refer to a passage from the French removed from the London Journal, the translation provided is also from this American edition unless otherwise noted.


  1. I will be using quotation marks for the titles of serials in periodicals, since they are a smaller unit within a greater whole (the periodical itself, the title of which I italicise). This editorial choice follows the practice of inserting poem titles between quotation marks, the title of the collection from which they are extracted being italicised.

    For circulation figures, see Irene Collins, ‘The Government and the Press in France during the Reign of Louis-Philippe’, The English Historical Review, 69 (1954): 267; and The Government and the Newspaper Press in France, 1814-1881, Oxford Historical Series (London: Oxford U.P, 1959), 90.

    Return to text.