People

L’Inconnue de la Seine

L'lnconnue de la Seine

It seemed to attract people between the two world wars in much the same way as drugs call them now: to opt out before they start, to give up a struggle that frightens them in a world they find distasteful, and to slide away into a deep inner dream.

Death by drowning and blowing your mind with drugs amount, in fantasy, to the same thing: the sweetness, shadow and easy release of a successful regression. So the cult of the Inconnue flourished in the absence of all facts, perhaps it even flourished because there were no facts.

Like a Rorscharch blot, her dead face was the receptacle for any feelings the onlookers wanted to project into it. And like the Sphinx and Mona Lisa, the power of the Inconnue was in her smile—subtle, oblivious, promising peace.

Not only was she out of it all, beyond troubles, beyond responsibilities, she had also remained beautiful; she had retained the quality the young most fear to lose—their youth. Although Sitwell credits to her influence an epidemic of suicide among the young people of Évreux, I suspect she may have saved more lives than she destroyed: to know that it can be done, that the option really exists and is even becoming, is usually enough to relieve a mildly suicidal anxiety.

Alvarez, A. The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971. 116. Print.

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