The French socialite who was locked in the attic for 25 years

In 9Honey’s new series Women Who Survived, we look at the remarkable lives of women who have faced extraordinary adversity.

Then 25-year-old French socialite Blanche Monnier fell in love with an elderly man who had very little money to his name, her aristocratic mother Louise was shocked.

She begged her daughter to end the relationship immediately, claiming that their marriage would cast a shadow on the entire family.

It was 1878 and Blanche had her mind set on marrying the elderly lawyer she loved. She had finally met a man she knew would make her happy and she didn’t care that he was broke.

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Blanche Monnier
Blanche Monnier was in love with an older man in 1878. (Facebook)

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Louise forbade Blanche to ever see the man again, but Blanche held out.

Why would she end her love affair just because her mother didn’t approve of the union?

The Monnier family lived in the affluent suburb of Poitiers. Louise lived with her two children; Blanche and her son Marcel, a law graduate and former administrative officer with the municipality of Puget-Théniers.

Louise’s late husband Emile had a long, esteemed career and had been in charge of a local art faculty. Louise was also highly regarded in the community and she had won an award for her generous contributions to the city

Louise simply refused to let her daughter marry a man she believed was “below her.”

The family had a good reputation that had to be upheld at all times. The quarrels continued for days, with both women refusing to back down.

I speak of a spinster locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half-starved, and living on a rotting nest

But when she realized her daughter wouldn’t listen to her, Louise did something shocking and unforgivable: she forced Blanche into a small room where she was imprisoned for 25 long years.

At first, Louise told Blanche not to leave the tiny attic room until she agreed to break up and instead look for a more suitable man to marry.

Blanche would surely see her mother’s reasoning, come to his senses, and break up with the unfit man. But Blanche didn’t give in.

Surviving the leftovers from family meals, Blanche remained in that room where she was held captive. Days, weeks and months passed.

Then the years went by as Blanche literally withered; a shadow of the woman she once was.

Blanche Monnier
A newspaper clipping from when Monnier was found. (YouTube)

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Meanwhile, her family went on with their lives, and no one in their circle of friends knew that Blanche was locked up in a small prison in the family home.

Louise told people that Blanche had “gone away” or is traveling the world. Many people assumed that Blanche had moved abroad for good and soon stopped asking about her.

Little did they know that Blanche was slowly losing her mind and on the brink of death.

As Blanche languished, her lover died in 1885, not knowing what happened to the beautiful young woman he had hoped to marry.

But then, in May 1901, there was a breakthrough. Police received a handwritten letter describing a horrific situation taking place in a house in Poitiers.

The anonymous letter alleged that a woman had been held captive in her own home, 21 rue de la Visitation, for 25 years.

The letter read: “Monsieur Prosecutor General: I have the honor to inform you of an extremely serious event. I am speaking of a spinster who has been locked up in Mrs. Monnier’s house, half starving, and for the past twenty years on a rotting nest has lived five years—in a word, in her own filth.”

Police were skeptical of the letter’s allegations. And yet a police officer recalled that the family had been devastated 25 years ago when their daughter Blanche disappeared – ostensibly abroad.

The letter could just be a hoax. But they decided to investigate in case the allegation was true.

When police arrived at 21 rue de la Visitation, the front door was locked and no one appeared to be home.

Blanche Monnier
Police took a photo of Monnier when they found her in the attic. (Getty)

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So they forced open the door and were immediately hit by a terrible smell. They went upstairs and found an attic door where the smell was strongest. On entering the attic and found a small window covered with heavy curtains and a shutter.

When they pry open the hatch, the officers were startled by what they saw; covered with a dirty old blanket, was a skeletal woman – Blanche Monnier.

She was naked and lying on a straw mattress. She was horribly malnourished and weighed only 55 pounds.

Louise Monnier was immediately arrested where she confessed to kidnapping her own daughter. Louise died in prison just two weeks after her arrest.

She had been ill for a long time, and the stress of seeing journalists along with crowds of angry people outside her home made her illness even worse.

Blanche’s brother Marcel was also arrested and on trial for helping his mother imprison Blanche.

Although Marcel did not live with his mother and sister, he did live across the street and spent much of his time in the family home. People in France were shocked to read in newspapers that he had known that his sister was being held captive and that he was doing nothing to help her.

Marcel was sentenced to just 15 months in prison, but he was eventually cleared of claims that his sister could have left at any time, but chose not to. To the horror of everyone in the courtroom, Marcel was a free man.

Blanche Monnier letter
The anonymous letter that saved Monnier. (wikipedia)

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Blanche was taken to a hospital and although she was filthy and thin, it was her mental health that was of the greatest concern, as she had endured so many years in isolation. She was described, in the words used at the time, as ‘crazy’.

Blanche’s sad story made headlines across France, accompanied by the shocking photos of her skeletal body. It was considered a miracle that she survived; despite the barbaric treatment she had undergone.

Blanche stayed in a psychiatric hospital in Blois and although she was well cared for, she was never able to overcome her mental illness. Both Blanche and Marcel died in 1913.

The saddest part of Blanche’s story was that so many people abandoned her. It was eventually revealed that several people were aware of her situation, including her hired caretakers and a doctor, but they chose to remain silent.

It has never been discovered exactly who wrote the letter to the police and pointed them to Blanche’s situation. But it’s clear that without that letter, Blanche probably would have died in her tiny prison.

André Gide used Blanche’s story as the basis for his novel ‘La Séquestrée de Poitiers’. In his book, published in 1930, a young woman is held captive by her mother for disapproving of her daughter’s lover.

If there’s a happy ending to this story, it’s just that Blanche was eventually rescued and able to live the rest of her life in peace and comfort.

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