Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Époque Paris

Steven Levingston. Doubleday, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-53603-5
The titular figure in this lively popular history is Gabrielle Bompard, a young woman who became infamous as the accomplice in a garish and notorious murder in 1889 Paris. Mistress of the con man Michel Eyraud, Bompard and her tragic story became a historical footnote; her case at trial rested on a precedent-setting hypnotism defense. In seeking to absolve her of responsibility, the reference to hypnotic suggestion (then an intensely researched subject in the medical community) brought into the spotlight opposing scientific camps, represented by Jules Liégeois—a law professor from Nancy who argued that the hypnotized criminal was not morally culpable—and the eminent Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, onetime mentor of Freud, who insisted the hypnotist could not override an individual’s moral makeup. Before reaching the spectacular trial, however, journalist Levingston (coauthor of The Whiz Kid of Wall Street’s Investment Guide) spends the first two-thirds of the book meticulously recounting the crime, principal characters, and relevant cultural context. Though limited as a cultural history, the book is lovingly constructed from available sources, including newspapers, memoirs, and secondary histories, and immerses the reader in a period whose newfound obsessions—science and pseudo-science of the mind, criminal forensics, mass media, the macabre, and fame—have a seminal connection to our own time. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writer’s House. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/16/2013
Release date: 02/25/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-385-53604-2
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-307-95030-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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