GILLES DE RAIS by Jean Benedetti


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Spoiled like Sade in his youth, Gilles de Rais was a vastly rich lord, a Marshal of France at 25, having helped raise the army of Joan of Arc; with the advent of peace he turned to sadistic perversions and murdered dozens of children, mostly hapless peasants. He was executed but this biography does not clarify whether the state was after him for his crimes of blood or for the crimes he committed trying to stave off bankruptcy after years of extravagance. As for his psyche, the book concedes that ""we know nothing of his mental processes,"" but warms up to various speculations about his sadism: a quest for punishment, an outlet for lack of battles, etc. Benedetti also theorizes that Joan belonged to a famous witch cult, and gives rather a good sense of the corruption, anarchy, mysticism and opulence of 15th-century France. But what is the point? As Agee said, there is enough backstairs sadism in all of us without pandering to it, and otherwise the book lacks historiographic interest. Scholars can consult the primary and secondary sources in French.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1972
Publisher: Stein & Day