In 9Honey’s new Women Who Survived series, we examine the remarkable lives of women who have faced extraordinary adversity.
When a 25-year-old Frenchman socialite socialite Blanche Monnier fell in love with an older man who had very little money to his name, his aristocratic mother Louise was horrified.
She pleaded with her daughter to end the relationship immediately, saying their marriage would cast a shadow over the whole family.
It was 1878 and Blanche had her heart set on marrying the older lawyer she loved. She had finally met a man she knew would make her happy and she didn’t care if he was broke.
Louise forbade Blanche to see the man again, but Blanche held firm.
Why should she end her romance just because her mother didn’t approve of the union?
The Monnier family lived in the well-to-do suburb of Poitiers. Louise lived with her two children; Blanche and her son Marcel, a law graduate and former administrative officer of the commune of Puget-Théniers.
Louise’s late husband, Emile, had a long and esteemed career and had been in charge of a local arts faculty. Louise was also well-liked in the community and had won an award for her generous contributions to the city.
Louise simply refused to let her daughter marry a man she believed was “below her”.
The family had a good reputation which had to be maintained at all times. The arguments continued for days, with both women refusing to back down.
I’m talking about an old maid who is locked up at Madame Monnier’s house, half-starved, and living on a putrid litter.
But, once she realized her daughter wasn’t going to listen to her, Louise did something shocking and unforgivable – she forced Blanche into a small room where she was held captive for 25 long years. .
At first, Louise told Blanche that she would not be allowed out of the small attic room until she agreed to break off the relationship and instead look for a more suitable man to marry.
Surely, Blanche would see her mother’s reasoning, come to her senses and break up with the man who didn’t suit her. But Blanche does not give in.
Surviving the remains of family meals, Blanche remained in this room where she was held prisoner. Days, weeks and months passed.
Then the years passed and Blanche literally wasted away; the shadow of the woman she once was.
Meanwhile, her family went on with their lives, and no one in her circle of friends knew that Blanche was locked up in a tiny prison in the family home.
Louise told people that Blanche was “gone” or traveling the world. A lot of people assumed that Blanche had moved overseas for good and they quickly stopped asking about her.
Little did they know that Blanche was slowly losing her mind and was on the verge of death.
As Blanche wasted away, her lover died in 1885, not knowing what had become of the lovely young woman he hoped to marry.
But then, in May 1901, there was a breakthrough. Police received a handwritten letter describing a horrific situation unfolding in a house in Poitiers.
The anonymous letter claimed that a woman had been held prisoner in her own home at 21 rue de la Visitation for 25 years.
The letter read: “Mr. Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of a fact of exceptional gravity. I’m talking about an old spinster who’s been locked up at Madame Monnier’s, half-starved, and living on a putrid litter for twenty-five years. five years, in a word, in his own filth.
The police were skeptical of the claims in the letter. And yet a policeman recalled 25 years ago the family was devastated when their daughter Blanche went missing – supposedly missing overseas.
The letter could just be a hoax. But, they decided to investigate just in case the accusation is true.
When the police arrived at 21 rue de la Visitation, the front door was locked and no one appeared to be home.
So they forced the door and were immediately hit by a terrible smell. They went upstairs and found an attic door where the smell was strongest. Upon entering the attic and found a small window covered by heavy curtains and a shutter.
When they pushed the shutter, the officers were horrified by what they saw; Covered in a dirty old blanket was a skeletal woman – Blanche Monnier.
She was naked and lying on a mattress. She was terribly malnourished and weighed only 55 pounds.
Louise Monnier was immediately arrested where she confessed to kidnapping her own daughter. Louise died in prison just two weeks after her arrest.
She had been ill for a long time and the stress of seeing reporters, as well as crowds of angry people outside her home, made her illness worse.
Blanche’s brother, Marcel, was also arrested and tried for helping his mother imprison Blanche.
Although Marcel does not live with his mother and sister, he lives across the road and spends much of his time in the family home. The French were horrified to read in the newspapers that he knew his sister was being held prisoner and did nothing to help her.
Marcel was sentenced to just 15 months in prison, but he was eventually acquitted of allegations that his sister could have left at any time, but chose not to. To everyone’s shock in the courtroom, Marcel was a free man.
Blanche was taken to hospital and while she was dirty and scrawny, it was her mental health that was of most concern, after enduring so many years of isolation. She was described, in the terms used at the time, as “crazy”.
Blanche’s sad story has made headlines across France, along with the shocking photos of her skeletal body. It was considered a miracle that she survived; despite the barbaric treatment she had suffered.
Blanche remained in a psychiatric hospital in Blois and, although she was well cared for, she was never able to overcome her mental illness. Blanche and Marcel died in 1913.
The saddest part of Blanche’s story is that so many people let her down. It was eventually revealed that several people were aware of his situation, including his orderlies and a doctor – but they chose to remain silent.
It was never discovered exactly who wrote the letter to the police, alerting them to Blanche’s situation. But it is clear that, without this letter, Blanche would probably have died in her tiny prison.
André Gide used Blanche’s story as the basis for his novel ‘La Séquestrée de Poitiers’. In his book, published in 1930, a young woman is held captive by her mother because she did not approve of her daughter’s lover.
If there’s a happy ending to this story, it’s simply that Blanche was eventually rescued and was able to live out the rest of her life in peace and comfort.
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