Paris Horribilis

Legendes Urbaines

May 7, 2014By Heidi EllisonBooks

The dark side of the City of Light is a subject of never-ending fascination. A new book, Paris Horribilis, by Marie-Agnès Moller (Le Texte Vivant, €17) treats readers to a few dozen entertaining legends about the macabre underside of Paris. Did you know, for example, that the city may have provided the inspiration for Sweeney Todd, “the demon barber of Fleet Street”? In the 14th century, a barber on the Rue des Marmoussets (now the Rue des Chanoinesses) on the Ile de la Cité is said to have taken advantage of the fact that most of his customers were foreign students to butcher them and sell their flesh to the baker next door for his meat pies. The story came out when one “disappeared” student’s dog refused to stop howling. Other tales recount the haunting of what is now the stately Luxembourg Garden, the vampire of Montparnesse, sightings of the ghost of Jim Morrison in Père Lachaise Cemetery, the Russian countess who left her fortune to any individual who would live day and night in her tomb for a year (those who tried died or went mad), and so on. Drawbacks: the book (in French) is written in a breathless style, uses the annoying device of narrating the stories in the voice of Quasimodo, and sometimes plays fast and loose with facts. It’s the stories that count, however, and the grislier the better.


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