Back from Eternity

So who would you wed: a penniless journalist or a prosperous banker?

Perhaps you are a thoroughly modern type, and would not give a stuff how much your proposed consort owned.

Or perhaps, like a Parisian beauty once chronicled by Edgar Allan Poe, you might build your whole life on marrying the money.

Your whole life, and half a death.

I speak of Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, a young woman of arresting appearance and gentle wit, of august lineage, whose quiet intelligence attracted the attention of an up and coming journalist of the city, Julien Bossuet.

And of course, this being Paris, they fell deeply, irrevocably in love, in the early days of the 19th century.

Enter, The Banker, who in my imagination has a black handlebar moustache, top hat and black cloak. His name was Monsieur Renelle. He wooed Victorine with his wealth, and that and his status won. She married him.

Poe hints darkly that Renelle  did not treat his wife at all well. And after a number of years passed in this unsatisfactory state of affairs she fell ill: and appeared to die.

And so they interred her in a grave in the churchyard in the village in which she had been born.

Bossuet heard of her death and burial and was half crazed with grief. He resolved that he must see her once more,  and cut a lock of her hair.

One doesn’t just go around digging up graves. But love lends determination to a spade at midnight, and he succeeded in removing the earth covering her casket, taking away the lid, and gazing for one more precious time upon her face.

At which point, her eyes fluttered open.

There was nothing for it but to get her to his lodgings in the village without anyone seeing her. How he did this in a tight-knit community I will never know: but he did, and plied her with restoratives, and she revived nicely.

The pair resolved that she remain dead to her husband: and they fled to America.

The strange story does not end there, for the homeland beckoned 20 years later, and the pair felt sure they could not possibly be recognised inParis after so long.

But they did come face to face with Renelle, who recognised his wife immediately and demanded her return. The whole thing went to judicial tribunal: and Victorine won.

And the Lady and the journalist lived happily ever after.

The tale is one of a handful of cases related by Poe in an upbeat story entitled “The Premature Burial.”

It is typical of the time: understandably, what with cholera which could induce a state where vital signs were undetectable, no-one wanted to end up in a  coffin without having fulfilled that primary criteria for its occupation: namely, being deceased.

And so the fashion for ‘safety coffins’ was born; coffins with bells, air vents and windows and other means of contacting the outside world.

They have a long and bizarre history, these things; detailed and burgeoning with showmanship. My favourite anecdote is the safety coffin inventor who had himself buried alive for demonstration purposes only. Dr Adolf Gutsmuth not only stayed under the earth for several hours: he also had a meal of sausage, soup and beer through tubes while he was down there.

But this elaborate paraphernalia may not be necessary; all it seems one needs, if a news story this week is to be believed, is a pair of stout teeth.

It was the quote of the week from a bloke from Wantage, Dave Eyley:“He’s a plucky little soul and seems unaffected by being dead and buried.”

Dave’s hamster died, he thought. No vital signs, stiff, you know the way it goes. So he put it in a plastic box and buried it two feet beneath the earth’s surface.

The next day the neighbour called. Your hamster’s escaped again, they told him tetchily.

No, Dave said, it can’t be ours. Ours is dead. And buried.

But it was. The little rodent had chewed its way through the box and burrowed out into the fresh air. Hibernaton had set in with the cold weather and the little chap’s system had shut down. But a little insulation in a plastic tub and he was ready to play again.

For a chosen few, there has been life beyond the grave.

Victorine and a little Wantage hamster are but two of the strange tales of resurrection which drift unsettlingly over the surface of our planet.

For those few: it is good to be back, at least for a while, from eternity.

Article from The Sun here

Picture source here


37 thoughts on “Back from Eternity

  1. the pic of hamster had me even before reading the post. And as I read it, it became even better.. For mortals like us, a second shot at life is truly for the chosen few.

  2. Is there a new moon, a sliver just enough to inspire Kate’s tales from the grave?

    I must send a friend here, she has Tenrecs (Madagascan hedgehogs) who hibernate and she mourns and misses them as though they were dead, until they emerge again in spring

    1. I must check the moon. On April 12th a hamster got itself stuck to its cage because it tucked a small magnet in its pouch. Whole rodent world’s going to blazes. maybe the moon’s to blame…

  3. I love the fact that this story, reported int eh Oxford Times, recounts that the hampster has been renamed Jesus after this episode. 🙂

  4. Read that first line and thought it was Kate’s choice between Phil and and Fred Whatsisface…which reminds me of something that has bothered me for years: do you think Demi Moore would have agreed to being sold by Woody Harrelson to Robert Redford if Robert Redford had been Danny De Vito?

    Goldfish are routinely flushed down the toilet when they are merely constipated – find a goldfish floating on its side and leave it there, but pop in a pea or a green bean. Wait a day or two to see if it recovers.

    And NEVER put a goldfish bowl near a window or you’ll come home to fried fish and weeping Tory Boy.

    1. Tilly, you are a mine of goldfish first aid information. Not dead, but constipated. What a twist in a tale.

      And Demi and Danny? The mind boggles. I wonder if Woody would have agreed, either?

  5. I regularly dream that my mother woke up from the dead, luckily before she got buried. in the dream we tease her about the inconvenience of the dead time- since there was a death certificate, the revived her doesn’t officially exist. She seems to have woken up well; the tricks one’s mind plays 😉

  6. Wow. Great post.
    I love Edgar Allen Poe. Introduced him to my son when he was about 15 and home sick from school for a few days. He became a huge fan also. I am looking forward to the release of The Raven, a movie supposedly based on EAP’s inspiration for said story. I’m thinking I should pull out my old compiled works of and have another read.

  7. Great post, Kate. Debra over at breathlighter just recently posted about their pet turtle, Darwin, being lost, then found, having found comfort and warmth under a pile of leaves.

    My grandmother recounted, many times, a story of woman who was buried in their village in Greece. Sounds were heard from the cemetery, the whole village turned out as the woman was unearthed, alive.

    . . . and just one more thing, have you read Bill Bryson’s At Home? I’m listening to it on audio, which means I’m in the car a great deal, and just “read” the chapter on grave robbers and coffins and ways to get out of the box. If you haven’t read At Home, you might want to get a copy as it is an interesting tome about the home that wanders into all sorts of information you might appreciate, Kate.

    1. I followed The Adventures Of Darwin avidly, Penny 🙂 What a lovely creature, and Debra’s regard for him is wonderful.

      Your Greek story: how amazing! The interred must have been making enough noise to wake the dead….and no, I have never read ‘At Home’ and I adore Bill Bryson. I shall pop that at the top of my list! Thanks!

  8. I had a hamster that chewed through its plastic ball that I had placed it in so it couldn’t make noise at night while I slept in my college dorm room. One morning I awoke to it sitting on my chest looking me in the eye. It didn’t have to crawl through 2 feet of dirt though – that is a great story. So funny that it immediately went over and pestered the neighbors.

    1. I can just see that little hamster now: “Morning, Patti!” with his little bright eyes 😀 Lovely scene…here in the UK there is a fine for releasing a hamster into the wild. They are such prolific breeders…so the neighbours were probably not best pleased…

  9. I’m laughing out loud. You so wrap me in these stories that I start envisioning “ahead” of where you’re going. I was at the point where you mention that “all one needs is a pair of stout teeth,” and I immediately flashed to someone gnawing their way out. I wasn’t even thinking animal and I was quite horrified. You got me! The buried alive thought is one of my nightmares…I think when I was quite young I heard stories of kidnapping victims who were buried alive and it has stayed with me as a horror all these years. They even pipe in music to the burial plot…that may be going a step too far! Debra

    1. Debra, the things that have gone on in the name of preventing premature burials are so odd you couldn’t make them up! One chap built a series of two-layer coffins with little window portals, and the idea was that you employed people to check the body really was decomposing before pulling a lever which would take away the floor and deposit the contents in a lower chamber.

      What a gothic palaver.

  10. Kate, EA Poe was once stationed at Fort Moultrie near me. The Goldbug story was supposedly penned there. (Goldbug Island is nearby.)

    On a more somber note, my mother grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, still one of the poorest areas of the United States. She actually knew a woman who was buried alive. When they were dressing her for burial, one of my great aunts swore the woman squeezed her hand. It haunted her for several weeks, and she was so insistent that they dug her up. It was too late, for she was truly dead by then, though she had obviously not been dead when she was buried. She had torn out clumps of her hair, etc. One of the most horrifying things that could happen to a person, I’d imagine. I never want to know.

    1. Nor me, Andra, what a chilling tale!

      Poe was stationed near you! Of course! I am envious. I read the most wonderful tale by Andrew Taylor- a murder mystery- in which Poe was recruited by a detective to help solve the whodunit. He was a strange soul and perfect for a tale, it was beautifully done and conjured up your part of America so well.

  11. Fascinating tales from below today.. I was thinking to myself that perhaps she feigned her death to escape that evil man.. and her lover rescued her.. as planned:) We’ll never know… but I’m happy the little hamster made his way out!

  12. So who would you wed: a penniless journalist or a prosperous banker?

    At the moment, this “penniless journalist” might choose a “prosperous banker” . . . but only because the Vet bills are looming large. 😆

  13. Classic tale, delightfully told, thank you Kate! Your turn of phrase is just the best, like “love lends determination to a spade at midnight”…love it 😀 And good for the hamster!

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