While I'm in France later this month, I'm going on a small group tour of Vaux-le-Vicomte. I'm not much of a tour person, mainly because tours require that I engage my nemesis, Small Talk. I only signed up because a van will pick me up and drop me off at my hotel thus saving me the terrifying prospect of taking public transportation out of the city, alone, and conceivably ending up in Siberia. Tour van enables me to avoid another nemesis: Metro Map
In preparation for my visit, I reread "A Crime of Passion" by Stanley Loomis because, although it wasn't the scene of the crime, Vaux-le-Vicomte was the family home of the principals of the crime, the Duc and Duchesse de Praslin - and their nine children. For six years, the château was also home to Mademoiselle Henriette Deluzy (an illegitimate, orphaned, and for the most part, friendless and poor governess) who also figured in the drama.
Early on, the Duc and Duchesse de Praslin had enjoyed a marriage based on love, rather than on alliance or financial considerations, as did most of their contemporaries, but somewhere along the way, they became estranged. The Duchesse was emotional, the Duc cool and distant. Maybe she was emotional, bordering on unbalanced-seeming, because he was cool and distant. Maybe he was cool and distant, because she was emotional and unbalanced-seeming. The more emotional and desperate his wife became, the colder he became. First, he cut her off sexually, despite her pleading letters, then he claimed that her increasingly desperate behavior and unannounced visits to the children's domain in the château were upsetting to them and he refused to allow her to see them.
I'm going to try not going to indulge my inner psychotherapist too much in today's post, but if you're interested, A Crime of Passion is available on Amazon and Loomis indulges his inner psychotherapist in it and every other of his books. That's why he's my fav. It's a fascinating story and Stanley Loomis tells it well. You can read an earlier post on the Praslin case here.
Eventually the Duc slaughters (excuse the indelicate phrasing, but it's a fact) the Duchesse in her bedchamber. I don't know if he was a good man finally driven to murder by his wife's behavior, or a psychopath, or desperate to rid himself of her for some other motive - love for the governess, fear of divorce and scandal, or any number of possibilities, but in the early morning hours of August 18, 1847, the Duc murdered the Duchesse, then threw back a dose of arsenic, thus setting himself on the path to an excruciating death a week later.
The case was not only a huge scandal, the backlash had political repercussions because the Duc was a Peer of France and he and his wife belonged to the inner circle of the court of Louis-Philippe.
Author Stanley Loomis had the privilege of inspecting the evidence from the case that is (was?) stored in the French National Archives. Aside from the more sordid souvenirs like the bell pull that the Duchesse yanked from the ceiling in a panic and the Duc's bloodstained dressing gown, there's a voluminous amount of letters that the Duchesse de Praslin wrote her husband. She was a prolific writer whose words poured forth, at all hours of the day and night, to be delivered to the Duc by a servant. The Duc rarely responded. It must've driven the poor woman to distraction. Loomis seems to be more sympathetic towards the husband and my sympathies lie (and did even before he killed her) with the wife. Poor thing. Maybe she just wanted someone to listen!
Her first letter is dated January 28, 1838, after an argument.