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