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Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Parisby Steven Levingston
Synopses & Reviews
A delicious account of a murder most gallic — think CSI Paris meets Georges Simenon — whose lurid combination of sex, brutality, forensics, and hypnotism riveted first a nation and then the world.
Little Demon in the City of Light is the thrilling — and so wonderfully French — story of a gruesome 1889 murder of a lascivious court official at the hands of a ruthless con man and his pliant mistress and the international manhunt, sensational trial, and an inquiry into the limits of hypnotic power that ensued.
In France at the end of the nineteenth century a great debate raged over the question of whether someone could be hypnotically compelled to commit a crime in violation of his or her moral convictions. When Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé entered 3, rue Tronson du Coudray, he expected nothing but a delightful assignation with the comely young Gabrielle Bompard. Instead, he was murdered — hanged! — by her and her companion Michel Eyraud. The body was then stuffed in a trunk and dumped on a riverbank near Lyon.
As the inquiry into the guilt or innocence of the woman the French tabloids dubbed the "Little Demon" escalated, the most respected minds in France debated whether Gabrielle Bompard was the pawn of her mesmerizing lover or simply a coldly calculating murderess. And, at the burning center of it all: Could hypnosis force people to commit crimes against their will?
"The titular figure in this lively popular history is Gabrielle Bompard, a young woman who became infamous as the accomplice in a garish and notorious murder in 1889 Paris. Mistress of the con man Michel Eyraud, Bompard and her tragic story became a historical footnote; her case at trial rested on a precedent-setting hypnotism defense. In seeking to absolve her of responsibility, the reference to hypnotic suggestion (then an intensely researched subject in the medical community) brought into the spotlight opposing scientific camps, represented by Jules Liégeois — a law professor from Nancy who argued that the hypnotized criminal was not morally culpable — and the eminent Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, onetime mentor of Freud, who insisted the hypnotist could not override an individual's moral makeup. Before reaching the spectacular trial, however, journalist Levingston (coauthor of The Whiz Kid of Wall Street's Investment Guide) spends the first two-thirds of the book meticulously recounting the crime, principal characters, and relevant cultural context. Though limited as a cultural history, the book is lovingly constructed from available sources, including newspapers, memoirs, and secondary histories, and immerses the reader in a period whose newfound obsessions — science and pseudo-science of the mind, criminal forensics, mass media, the macabre, and fame — have a seminal connection to our own time. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writer's House." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Levingston's smartly chipper prose and fine attention to detail...add an entertaining and authentic sensibility to this re-creation of a culture, a crime, and "the first time an accused murderer had put forward a hypnotism defense." Booklist
“What a hypnotic read! Steven Levingston has used an extraordinary French murder case to conjure up an unforgettable picture of Belle Époque Paris and its sexual, cultural and supernatural obsessions. Like Erik Larsen’s The Devil in the White City, Levingston uses his “Little Demon” to illuminate a historical period and the strange issues that animated it. Meticulously researched and well written, this is truly a book that will take you to another time and place — contemplating bizarre characters and issues you never imagined.” David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and author of the forthcoming novel, The Director
“This is an amazing tale of sex and hypnosis and murder in Paris, and it’s all true. Levingston has produced both a ‘mesmerizing’ crime story and also a fascinating look at science and society in the late 19th century.” Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs
The thrilling — and so wonderfully French — story of a gruesome 1889 murder of a lascivious court official by a ruthless con man and his pliant mistress, an international manhunt, a sensational trial, and an inquiry into the limits of hypnotic power.
In France at the end of the nineteenth century a great debate raged over the question of whether someone could be hypnotically compelled to commit a crime in violation of his or her moral convictions. When Alexandre-Toussaint Gouffé entered a Parisian building at 3 rue Tronson Ducoudray for what he thought would be a delightful assignation with the comely young Gabrielle Bompard, only to be murdered — hanged! — by her and her ruthless companion Michel Eyraud, stuffed in a trunk, and dumped on a riverbank near Lyon, that question became the burning center of an inquiry into the guilt or innocence of a woman the French tabloids dubbed "The Little Demon."
About the Author
A veteran international journalist who has worked in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Paris, along with assignments in New York, Chicago, and Washington, STEVEN LEVINGSTON is the nonfiction book editor of The Washington Post. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and two children.
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