Suzanne Voilquin, “Suicide of Claire Démar and Perret Desessarts” (1855)


of Claire Démar and Perret Desessarts.

My soul painfully gripped by the dismal drama that has just played out before our eyes, I can, today, only deplore the loss of these two victims of the social and religious anarchy of the century, and share the reflections that this sad event has engendered in me. But, above all, I must seek to destroy a calumny that all the newspapers have been pleased to repeat. All have made known, coldly citing the event, that intimate relations existed between Claire and Desessarts. For those who have sounded the depths of the human heart, this act remains unbelievable. If they had loved, if love, that creative fire, had animated their souls, they would have had faith in one another, and they would still be among us. For isn’t love, taken in its most noble, most elevated, most extended expression, a belief? Isn’t it a religion? Isn’t it life? And it is, on the contrary, because they no longer lover, because the sweet and invigorating sentiments no longer circulated in their hearts, which were as if petrified by struggle and doubt, that they were discouraged by the cold and colorless existence, and would employ the rest of their energy to finalize the association of the tomb…. It was during the night August 4, in the year [185]5 that they would execute that deadly resolution; that double suicide displays a group of arrangements that proclaim an extraordinary sang-froid and vigorous strength. Perret Désessarts, age 25, had recently left Grenoble, the city of his birth. Already haunted by an obsession with suicide, he came to Paris around the beginning of that year; it was also at that time that he saw, for the first time, Claire Démar. That woman, still young, with an agreeable exterior and a strongly tempered soul, had the courage to accept poverty, and to cast far away a position that was comfortable, but suspect and without respect, glory to her! By that act, she had climbed back to the rank of woman, since that determination was free and spontaneous. It is then that she saw Désessarts. Both loved and sought glory; they understood each other. The analogy that existed between their characters made them friends. Since, in that capacity, they often met and associated their efforts of propagation. Some very interesting letters that they have written as a final farewell (which will probably be made public), only affirm that simple liaison. So let doubt not be raised before the assertion statement of the casket!

These unfortunate victims of skepticism needed, in order to accept life as it is, and not consider it a great foolishness without any solution, they need, I say, for poetry, for religion to come and revive their souls. They looked around them: everything, in these great ruins of Christendom, morals, cult, dogma, everything seemed to them lackluster, dead. This society of the nineteenth century, so cold, so selfish, only cast over their enthusiasm a frosting of mockery and disdain.

Their understanding darkened by doubt, they came then to demand of the new religion the guiding thread of life, the truth. But, wounded and fatigued by the struggle they had to maintain with the world, they could not look without fright at the numberless obstacles that selfishness, that profound evil that gnaws at the heart of all of society, brought to bear against their efforts. Despairing of easing so many sorrows, they fell into the most absolute despondency, doubted themselves and renounced their mission. It was thus that they would reproduce the drama of the young [Victor] Escousse and his friend; like them, they would demand of death the poetry of a beautiful departure; taking one another’s hands, they would fall together, finding a sort of horrible delight in this fraternity of the tomb. The young man wrote to some of his friends, a few moments before his death: “I wish you, my friend, in order to die with calm and happiness, to find, as I have, a friend to accompany you to the place where doubt is no longer possible.”

To die, failing to find your place in life!… What an energetic protest against that which exists. To die exhausted by the struggle! What despair is as great as the one that proves itself by death? Unfortunate Claire! Poor Desessarts! Would that you could be reborn in more harmonious times! When the great, beautiful religion that we proclaim, and that is now still only a faint point on the horizon, will have grown enough to shine in the eyes of all and serve as a flambeau to all of humanity, oh! then, the cold poison of skepticism will no longer freeze your young hearts from your childhood. You believe in God, for you feel the harmony, your place, which you have not been able to find now, will be for you; for then there will be a social and maternal providence that will ensure your individual development.

Journalists, people of the world, a woman and a man who, in the prime of life, die from lack of belief, are not pallid individualities of whom we may speak lightly; respect, then, these two caskets

As for us, who should not only limit ourselves to recording this fatal event, but who must see in it the indication of a great progress to be accomplished, this misfortune will bring us closer together; we will feel the need to mutually sustain each other, to join ourselves more and more by the link of a religious fraternity, and to make it so that the women who, in order to adopt more completely the new faith, break with the old world, are not led, by isolation and the lack of support they find among us, to despondency and death.

Believe it well: for that to happen it is not enough to call women to liberty, and to leave them then to struggle alone with this selfish world, which has money as its sole regulator and only God; this cold, immature world that laughs with pity at any enthusiasm, for apart from the religious sentiment that the new faith seeks to establish in minds, to what anchor of salvation could the women who sense the future attach themselves? Is it liberty, so poorly understood by all those who desire it? But we still only have the right to pronounce this magic word, which makes so many hearts resonate, in this French society, the most advanced of all societies, under the patronage of men and on their behalf; the most intelligent of the republicans still has yet to include woman in it, or to feel that justice, that right, that God is equally in our cause.

If, turning our gaze on ourselves, I ask myself: Is there in our belle France a woman capable, by her position, of lending support to all the others? Who can represent the unity of our rights? Can those most elevated in dignity, like that placed on the dernier echelon? What are they? Legally speaking, they are nothing; all are sheltered behind a name, a place, a social position that they received passively at the good pleasure of another. Alas! The French have one queen, but women have no mother!

With thoughts oppressed by ideas of the future, ideas as immense as the world, since they tend to encircle it, what are the means of propagation left to women in order to attempt to cultivate or bring closer that future? Whatever their moral strength, what can they do alone? Wear themselves out in useless attempts, and then…, think of Claire Démar

Therefore, our hope of emancipation rests entirely on that family of men dispersed almost everywhere throughout the world, preaching our rights, our equality. But it is especially when the propagation of these ideas could be combining and made by group, by complete family, that they will gain force and activity; it is not advice that I hazard; I even believe that it would still be premature to try that attempt: the thought, the desire that has long dominated me, and that I naively express today, could also have troubled other hearts; it is good that we reflect on it….. But before that link can be formed, new believers, think about what duties your faith commits you to, all you who call yourself the apostles, the companions of woman; by the privileges attached to your sex, you are still in possession of the immense power to direct opinion; let the moral support that springs from it be lavished on all, and principally on those who have the courage to descend into the arena and take an active part in the action. Strong man, devoted as far as the sublime! Say to all those who hear you and who love you that the essential notion, the accomplishment of which has been confided to the religious men of our era, is the elevation of woman, it is her place, acknowledged, and finally her complete liberty and her rights assured to her by the whole world.

Oh! Doubtless it is useful and just that the devotion of men be brought to light, and I applaud with my whole heart every work that aims at this result; but before the world worships and recognizes in the divinity the attributes of a God that is both good and bonne, father and mother of the human family, and does not reclassify itself according to that divine thought, it is still more just and more useful, that transitorily the action of man be regarded as secondary to that of woman. Thus, to contribute with enthusiasm to facilitate any work that would glorify man alone would be, in my opinion, to take the detail for the whole, to put the accessory in relief and the principal in shadow. So, courage! The most beautiful crown is for those who reach the goal!

August 11, 1855.


[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur.]

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.