Pierre François Lacenaire  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pierre François Lacenaire (20 December 1803 – 9 January 1836) was a French poet and murderer.


Lacenaire was born in Lyon. Upon finishing his education with excellent results, he joined the army, eventually deserting in 1829 at the time of the expedition to the Morea. He became a crook and was in and out of prison, which was, as he called it, his "criminal university". Whilst in prison, Lacenaire recruited two henchmen, Victor Avril and François Martin, and wrote a song, "Petition of a Thief to a King his Neighbor", as well as "The Prisons and the Penal Regime" for a journal.

In the months between the beginning of his trial for a double murder and his execution, he wrote Memoirs, Revelations and Poems, and during the trial he fiercely defended his crime as a valid protest against social injustices, turning the judicial proceedings into a theatrical event and his cell into a salon. He made a lasting impression on the age and on several writers such as Balzac and Dostoevsky. He was executed in Paris, at the age of 32.

In literature and film

  • Baudelaire called Lacenaire "one of the heroes of modern life". [Actually that is not true. A volume known as Curiosités esthétiques, a posthumous compilation of previously unpublished writings on the arts, contains a chapter titled De l'héroïsme de la vie moderne (On the Heroism of Modern Life) in which Baudelaire alludes to Lacenaire only obliquely, accusing him of "mournful boastings" but seemingly impressed that his "ferocious gallantry did not bow its head before the supreme machine," which is to say, the guillotine.]
  • Dostoyevsky read about Lacenaire's case and it inspired him to write Crime and Punishment, in which Raskolnikov's crime was a copy of Lacenaire's almost down to the last detail. In another of his novels, The Idiot, the character Yevgeny Pavlovitch mentions Lacenaire when discussing Hippolite's failed suicide attempt with the prince.
  • He is depicted in the French film Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis, 1945), directed by Marcel Carné from a script by Jacques Prévert. where his stance as a loner and a rebel is stressed. In the film, Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) refers to himself as a bold criminal and a social rebel, but his most of actual criminal activities mostly stay outside the film's narrative.
  • Philosopher Michel Foucault believed Lacenaire's notoriety among Parisians marked the birth of a new kind of lionized outlaw (as opposed to the older folk hero), the bourgeois romantic criminal, and eventually to the detective and true crime genres of literature.
  • There is a French film called Lacenaire (1990) starring Daniel Auteuil.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pierre François Lacenaire" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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