Violette Noziere: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris

Overview

On an August evening in 1933, in a quiet, working-class neighborhood in Paris, eighteen-year-old Violette Nozière gave her mother and father glasses of barbiturate-laced “medication,” which she told them had been prescribed by the family doctor; one of her parents died, the other barely survived. Almost immediately Violette’s act of “double parricide” became the most sensational private crime of the French interwar era—discussed and debated so passionately that it was compared to the Dreyfus Affair. Why would the...

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Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris

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Overview

On an August evening in 1933, in a quiet, working-class neighborhood in Paris, eighteen-year-old Violette Nozière gave her mother and father glasses of barbiturate-laced “medication,” which she told them had been prescribed by the family doctor; one of her parents died, the other barely survived. Almost immediately Violette’s act of “double parricide” became the most sensational private crime of the French interwar era—discussed and debated so passionately that it was compared to the Dreyfus Affair. Why would the beloved only child of respectable parents do such a thing? To understand the motives behind this crime and the reasons for its extraordinary impact, Sarah Maza delves into the abundant case records, re-creating the daily existence of Parisians whose lives were touched by the affair. This compulsively readable book brilliantly evokes the texture of life in 1930s Paris. It also makes an important argument about French society and culture while proposing new understandings of crime and social class in the years before World War II.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Maza explains brilliantly how and why Violette's story--or a culturally acceptable version of her story--grew from being a mere fait divers, or miscellaneous news item, into a nationally staged drama that bound France in schadenfreude-laced fascination near the end of the turbulent and divisive Third Republic. Combining a neatly suspenseful account of Violette's crime and its consequences with a richly layered cultural history . . . she skillfully analyzes Violette's transformation from wretched schoolgirl to cultural icon."--New York Times Book Review

"Grittily cinematic."--Vogue

"An academic history with a pulpy noir heart."--Publishers Weekly

"The story itself is so fascinating that general readers interested in crime and mystery will be enthralled."--Library Journal

"Excellent. . . . Maza gorgeously weaves together social history, crime culture, gender theory, and thorough research."--New Books In Biography

Vogue - Megan O'Grady
“Grittily cinematic.”
Judith Warner
Maza explains brilliantly how and why Violette's story…grew from being a mere fait divers, or miscellaneous news item, into a nationally staged drama that bound France in schadenfreude-laced fascination near the end of the turbulent and divisive Third Republic. Combining a neatly suspenseful account of Violette's crime and its consequences with a richly layered cultural history (told via interrogation records, trial notes, an expert psychological report and an exhaustive reading of the popular press), she skillfully analyzes Violette's transformation from wretched schoolgirl to cultural icon.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
An academic history with a pulpy noir heart, Maza's account of Violette Nozière, who at age 19 poisoned her parents and whose case captured Paris's imagination, is also the story of a socially unsettled interwar France. Maza, a professor of history at Northwestern (The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie: An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750–1850), uses the Nozière affair to examine social mobility; working-class Paris neighborhoods like the Nozières'; department-store fashion that allowed an upwardly aspiring girl like Violette to dress fashionably; crime journalism; surrealism (André Breton sympathized with Violette during her trial). Yet the story of the depressed, angry Violette—whose father likely molested her, and whose "drama-prone, overbearing" mother survived the poisoning to become her daughter's most vocal opponent—keeps the book beating in time. Reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial, the Nozière affair reflected the anxieties of its society: the horror of parricide paired with later accusations of incest presented a "troubling ambiguity" that the public struggled to disentangle. Fluently written and thoroughly researched, Maza contains "a whole constellation of contemporary experience" in the wrenching story of the Nozières. Photos. (June)
New York Times Book Review - Judith Warner
“Maza explains brilliantly how and why Violette’s story—or a culturally acceptable version of her story—grew from being a mere fait divers, or miscellaneous news item, into a nationally staged drama that bound France in schadenfreude-laced fascination near the end of the turbulent and divisive Third Republic. Combining a neatly suspenseful account of Violette’s crime and its consequences with a richly layered cultural history . . . she skillfully analyzes Violette’s transformation from wretched schoolgirl to cultural icon.”
New Books In Biography - Oline Eaton
“[An] excellent new biography. . . . Maza gorgeously weaves together social history, crime culture, gender theory, and thorough research.”
T: The New York Times Style Magazine - David Kennedy Jones
“A true-life detective tale set not amid the glamour and romance of a well-touristed Paris but in a secret city that runs thick with the lives of the forgotten and the abandoned.”
Journal Of Modern History - Robert A. Nye
“Compelling. . . . A brief review cannot convey the elegance and persuasiveness of Maza’s version of this famous case.”
Chico News & Review - Jaime O'Neill
A well-researched and thoroughly readable account of French culture as revealed in a generally forgotten murder case.”
Dan's Hamptons - Eric Feil
“The trial captivated France, and readers will be just as captivated by Maza’s study of Noziere and the culture of interwar France.”
Vogue - Megan O’Grady
“Grittily cinematic.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520272729
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 858,153
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Maza is Jane Long Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is the author of many books including award winners Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (UC Press) and The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie: An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750-1850.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments


Introduction

1. A Neighborhood in Paris
2.
Interwar Girlhoods
3. Violette’s Family Romance
4. A Crime in Late Summer
5. The Accusation
6. Letters to the Judge
7. A Culture of Crime
8. A Water Lily on a Heap of Coal
9. The Trial
10. Afterlives

Conclusion

Notes

Index

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