March 18, 2004

A Master of Crime

Posted by Ed

I won't have much time to blog today, but here's a quick link to tide you over until tomorrow: in The London Review of Books, Graham Robb discusses a new edition of the memoirs of Eugène-François Vidocq, everyone's favorite criminal-turned-detective. Here's a fun excerpt that touches on attitudes toward the police in 19th-century France:

Despite Vidocq's unusually methodical approach, the real foundation of his prestige was superstition rather than reason. When he first went forth with pliers and crowbar, belief in wizardry was still widespread. As late as 1835 a witch was burned to death with the collusion of local officials at Beaumont-en-Cambrésis, a day's walk from Vidocq's home town. The judicial system was perceived as an evil intrusion, even by victims of crime: a common prayer asked for deliverance from Satan and Justice; the trickster with supernatural powers was the hero of many folk-tales. Vidocq was the archetypal will-o'-the-wisp with fists of steel, the man who could walk through walls and make fools of the authorities. Once, he was told by an unsuspecting policeman's daughter that the great Vidocq could turn himself into 'a truss of hay'. 'A truss of hay! How?' 'Yes, monsieur. One day my father followed him, and just as he was going to put his hand on his collar, he grasped only a wisp of hay. That's not all talk, the whole brigade saw the hay, which was burned.'

Vidocq is a fascinating guy, and this article is a decent introduction to his life and career.

Until tomorrow, I have more important things to do than blog. (Happy Birthday, Susan!)

Posted by Ed at March 18, 2004 03:43 PM
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