French intellectuals on the Papin sisters
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Papin sisters brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, on February 2, 1933. This incident had a significant influence on French intellectuals Genet, Sartre and Lacan, who sought to understand it and it was thought of as symbolic of class struggle.
- “I've seen the photos of these two pretty girls, these servants who killed and battered their mistresses. I've seen the photos before and after. ‘Before’, their faces hovered like two docile flowers above their lace collars. They radiated clean living and appetizing honesty. A discreet curling iron had crimped their hair in a similar manner. And, even more reassuring than their waved hair, their collars and their air of being on a visit to the photographer, was their resemblance as sisters, the self-righteous resemblance that immediately brought blood ties and the natural roots of the family group to the fore. ‘After’, their faces glowed like a blaze. They had the bare necks of the future beheaded. Wrinkles everywhere, horrible wrinkles of fear and hatred, folds, holes in the flesh as if a clawed beast had roamed round and round on their faces. And those eyes, those same big, dark and bottomless eyes... And yet, they no longer looked alike. Each, in her own way, bore the memory of their common crime...” --"Le Mur" by Sartre
Simone de Beauvoir
- “In its broad outline, the tragedy of the Papin sisters was immediately clear to us. In Rouen, as in Le Mans, and perhaps even among the mothers of my pupils, there were no doubt women who deducted the cost of a broken plate from their maid's wages, who put on white gloves to find forgotten specks of dust on the furniture: in our eyes, they deserved death a hundred times over. With their wavy hair and their white collars, how sensible Christine and Léa Papin seem in the old photo that some papers published! How had they become those haggard furies offered up to public condemnation in the photos taken after the drama? One must accuse their childhood orphanage, their serfdom, the whole hideous system set up by decent people for the production of madmen, assassins and monsters. The horror of this all-consuming machine could only be rightfully denounced by an exemplary act of horror: the two sisters had made themselves the instruments and martyrs of a sombre form of justice... For two bourgeois women hacked to pieces, a bloody atonement was required. The killer wasn't judged. He acted as a scapegoat...” Simone de Beauvoir in "La Force de l'âge", 1960
- “I must specify one thing: this is not a petition for the case of servants. I suppose that there is a union for household employees - that is none of our concern. During the first production of this play, a theatre critic made the remark that real maids don't speak like the ones in my play. What does he know? I claim the contrary, for if I were a maid, I'd speak like they do. Some evenings. For maids only speak like this on some evenings: you have to catch them unawares, either in their loneliness or in that experienced by everyone on earth...” --Taken from "Comment jouer les bonnes" by Jean Genet
- "Madame likes us like she likes her armchairs. And maybe not that much! Like the pink china of her lavatory. Like her bidet. And we are not allowed to love each other... Madame can call me Mademoiselle Solange. Precisely. It's because of what I've done...” --"Les Bonnes"
Louis Le Guillant
- “As a psychiatrist says: ‘I'm asked to cure human beings but, three-quarters of the time, I'm totally ineffective. I would need to cure their lives too.’ It was all but impossible to ‘cure the lives’ of the Papin sisters...” --Louis Le Guillant in "L'affaire des soeurs Papin"
Paul Éluard and Benjamin Peret
- “The Papin sisters were raised in a convent at Le Mans. Then their mother placed them in a 'bourgeois' home in the town. For six years, in total submission, they put up with remarks, demands and insults. Fear, exhaustion and humiliation slowly nourished the hatred within them, this sweet liquor that secretly consoles with its promise of blending violence with physical force sooner or later. When the day came, Léa and Christine Papin paid evil back in its own coin, a coin struck with a red-hot iron. They literally massacred their employers, tearing out their eyes and smashing their skulls. Then they went to bed. The lightning had struck, the wood had burned and the sun had gone out for good...” Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution no. 5" by Paul Éluard and Benjamin Péret
- “Christine and Léa were genuine Siamese souls. Between them, the two sisters couldn't even find the distance needed to wound each other...
- “Christine must have gone through such torture before the desperate experience of crime tore her from her other self and allowed her, after the first hallucinatory fit in which she thought she saw her sister dead, to cry the words of blatant passion: ‘Yes, say yes!’”