Ever feel a little bit claustrophobic from sitting in the office too long? The lack of stimulus alone is enough for someone to want to develop a smoking habit just to have an excuse to leave.
Now, imagine you were confined to a room smaller than your cubicle for 25 years. There is no light, no central heating or air conditioning. The only food you eat are scraps from someone else’s table and your only friends, the rats who scavenge what little crumbs that fall to the stony floor. Mademoiselle Blanche Monnier experienced this for a quarter of a century. The most shocking thing about this? It was Blanche’s mother who imprisoned her.
On May 23, 1901, the Paris Attorney General received the following letter, which read: “Monsieur Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence. I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half starved, and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years – in a word, in her own filth.”
Madame Monnier was a 75-year-old widow who lived in her upper-class estate with her lawyer son, Marcel. At one time, she had a daughter, but the girl disappeared when she was 25. Their’s was a well respected family. Before he died, Madame Monnier had won an award from the Committee of Good Works, for his generous contributions to the city.
Although conscious of the Monnier family’s sterling reputation, police decided to investigate the estate anyways. In an upper room of the house, the police noticed a padlocked door. When they removed the lock and flung it open, a horrifying stench filled their noses. Piles of feces and vomit blanketed the floor. On the bed was an extremely malnourished woman on a rotting straw mattress squinting through the light which she hadn’t seen in 25 years.
They immediately brought her to the hospital and after she received food and a bath she was revealed to be Madame Monnier’s daughter, Blanche. The once beautiful girl was now 49-years-old, but weighed only 55 pounds. Breathing the clean air while tucked in her hospital bed, Blanche sighed cheerfully, “How lovely it is.”
Blanche told authorities that her mother had locked her up when she insisted on marrying a relatively unsuccessful lawyer Madame Monnier was not particularly fond of. Her mother planned to lock her up in her room until she agreed to break off this romance. The lawyer died in 1885 and still Blanche Monnier was kept in her room another 15 years, completely forgotten.
Madame Monnier was arrested the next day. An outraged crowd gathered around her cell and their admonishment triggered in her a heart attack. She died in the infirmary 15 days later. Charges were dropped against Blanche’s lawyer brother, Marcel, as he never technically exercised any violence against her. Blanche spent the rest of her life under psychiatric care, dying in 1913.
It’s not certain who sent the attorney general the anonymous letter, alerting them to Blanche Monnier’s imprisonment. Some suspect it was Marcel Monnier, knowing that his mother would soon die and he would be named Blanche’s caretaker. (He could then possibly be charged with abuse.) There is also the possibility that a soldier who was a lover of one of the housemaids wrote the letter, seeing her condition and having no loyalty to the family. Whoever it was, they saved the life of Madmoiselle Blanche Monnier.