À linconnue (To the Unknown)
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The Paris Morgue was a famous institution during its time, and attracted thousands of visitors every day until it closed in Its administrators regarded the morgue as a Paris attraction. Whether the unknown young woman was publicly exhibited at the morgue is not part of the story, though: however it was said that her smile was so compelling to a medical assistant at the morgue that he took an impression of her face, and the great numbers of plaster casts produced and sold came from this unknown young woman's death mask.
The poet Jules Supervielle , born in Montevideo to French parents, also owned a mask, according to his daughter Pinet, and wrote a rather fantastic story "L'Inconnue de la Seine," from the viewpoint of the year-old drowned woman as she is moved by the Seine's current towards the sea:.
Other famous writers were associated with the mask. He describes it as. Blanchot also mentions Giacometti being enchanted by the mask. The face of the young drowned woman, a cast of which was taken in the Morgue because it was beautiful, because it smiled, smiled so deceptively, as though it knew," Apparently the first literary text about the smiling death mask is a short novella by a popular British writer Richard le Gallienne , who owned a copy of the mask Phillips, , written in and published in He comes under the malevolent influence of the famous death mask: when, from the Covent Garden shop owner who sold him the cast, he brings home to his wife Beatrice and his four-year-old daughter Wonder the story " that the sculptor who moulded [the mask] had fallen so in love with the dead girl that he went mad and drowned himself in the Seine also.
Even though the shock of her death brings him back to his wife briefly "You are an evil dream that has stolen from me the truth of life" he tells the mask , he soon comes under Silencieux's spell again and Beatrice drowns herself in a river.
The Creepiest Thing Ever: L'Inconnue de la Seine | Mental Floss
It must be wonderful to die like that. And then again he said: 'She is strangely like Silencieux. He had lost Wonder, but she lived again in his songs. He had lost Beatrice, but he had her image -- did she not live for ever in Silencieux? So he went up into the wood, whistling softly to himself -- but lo!
The eyes of Silencieux were wide open, and from her lips hung a dark moth with the face of death between his wings. The Inconnue had a haunting effect on the imagination of many authors. The first factual report on the mask and a photo of it came far later, in , in Das ewige Antlitz , a book of death masks published by Ernst Benkard.
Her Face Well-known, Her Identity Unknown
In his description of this mask he lapses into a highly poetic tone uncharacteristic of his comments about the other masks:. By the book had gone through 19 printings and had been translated into English and other languages Johnson, There it is claimed that the index of the Paris Morgue lists her under the name l'Inconnue de la Seine.
In the The Savage God. A Study of Suicide Al Alvarez writes: "I am told that a whole generation of German girls modelled their looks on her," to add in a note: "I owe this information to Hans Hesse of the University of Sussex. He suggested that the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the s. He thinks that German actresses like Elisabeth Bergner modeled themselves on her.
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She was finally displaced as a paradigm by Greta Garbo. A German book "did more than anything else to spread the Inconnue's fame" Phillips, : Reinhold Conrad Muschler 's "sickly, though much translated best-seller" Alvarez, and tear jerker Die Unbekannte , English translation as One Unknown. The short novella reads like a very long caption to the famous death mask, an over-sentimental attempt at explaining its mystery. The story, which was also made into a film soon after its publication , Frank Wisbar was the Love Story of its day: on her way from Portuis to fabulous Paris, Madeleine Lavin, an innocent young enthusiastic poor provincial orphan of totally pure heart falls in love with Lord Thomas Vernon Bentick, a rich urbane and handsome British diplomat.
Her face had a transfigured smile when she was found.
Those last sentences give a good impression of the novella's predominating tone. But millions loved it and already the otherwise nauseated nameless reviewer from the Times Literary Supplement mentions a sale of over , copies for the first German edition. Johnson believes that "Muschler's tale was almost certainly the immediate pretext for Nabokov 's poem "L'Inconnue de la Seine," written in June in Berlin, two month after Muschler's book was published.
He sets out in his essay to show that "the figure of the drowned woman occurs throughout Nabokov's work. The introduction of these three images very approximately coincides with the three stages of Nabokov's creative life: the rusalka with the Russian period; the l'inconnue with the Continental stage; and Ophelia with the Anglo-American" Hertha Pauli writes in her book of memories Pauli, In the play the Unknown seems to appear from nowhere, a strange and unusual woman of "an impulsive spontaneity and quirkish teasing humour" Balme, like the elemental spirits of the fairy tales, an outsider in the world of Albert, former officer in a shipping agency, who embezzled money and, having used it all, is now planning with two others to rob a sum of from the shop of a clockmaker, unintentionally killing him but finding no money after all.
At the end of the play Albert and Irene, now married and with a son, see the death-mask of the unknown woman in the shop window of a bookshop and buy it for their bedroom.
There was a dreamlike smile on her face, vague, unreal, following an interior image," Later he also senses a similarity when looking at the mask and his reaction parallels the one just described. For the very first time," What kind of happiness could resist this vertigo, this ever-restoring demand?
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The critical machinery of the sentiments, this malicious power of doubt, attacks all that makes existence tolerable, that makes the heart a happy one," His attempts to win her back are in vain; she will eventually return to her husband and he does what he never wanted to do, take on a job in the factory of his brother-in-law. Aragon added an epilogue set 20 years later during the Second World War. German troops are advancing.
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During a nightly trip she is killed by a bullet. In death she wears the Inconnue's smile. The rest is history. How to be a Presentationalist.
The Unknown Woman of the Seine
History of Medicine. Human Factors. Medical Education. Presentation Skills. Public Health. About Me. My Medium Page. Paris in the s showing the beginnings of the Eiffel Tower. Thanks for reading - Jamie.