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Monday, April 23, 2012

Who Was L'Inconnue de la Seine?

And, do you recognize her?

My daughter, the artist, recently posted this photo and link to an article on her Facebook page.  These are the things that make my writer’s brain ask who and why, what is the story and I went digging.  I love to go digging J.

According to Wikipedia (where I always start), in the late 1880s or possibly 1900 (depending on which source you are reading) the body of a young woman was pulled out of the Seine River in Paris.  It was a suspected suicide because there were no signs of violence to the body (they didn’t have CSI and NCIS back then to evaluate trace evidence and such.) And being such a fan of NCIS, I wonder what Ducky would have found had he been doing the autopsy. 

Her age has been estimated to be no more than 16 based on the firmness of the skin.  A morgue pathologist “was so taken by her beauty that he had a molder make a plaster cast death mask of her face”.  However, also according to Wiki, the ask also may been “taken from the daughter of a mask manufacturer in Germany.”  Nobody knows for sure and this bugs me.

We may have never learned of this young woman and the mask had numerous copies not been produced over the years.  They became fashionable fixtures in the Parisian Bohemian society and hung on many walls.  Seems a bit morbid to me, by the way.  For decades people have speculated about this beautiful girl with the happy expression frozen in time. I want to know who she was and was death so welcoming that she smiled when it was achieved.  If the girl was sixteen, why the need for such a drastic action?  What horrific things were happening in her life that she felt this was the only answer?

Or, maybe it wasn’t suicide at all.  Maybe she simply fell from a bridge and had not intended to take her own life.  Perhaps she was on a boat traveling to an adventure and went over the side.  Maybe she was simply taking a walk along the river, enjoying what may have been a beautiful day and slipped into the water, or accidentally pushed in by a bunch of rowdy street urchins.  It doesn't seem fair to me that they concluded it was suicide simply because there were no marks on her body.

I read a number of articles and blogs but nobody knows who this beautiful young woman was and we will never know. There is only speculation as to her class based on clothing and hairstyle. Did she have a family and did they wonder what happened to their daughter?

Even though we don’t know her, a number of us may have been up close and personal with her likeness. That is, if you ever took a CPR class.  Who learned CPR on Rescue Annie?  Yep, that is who Rescue Annie is modeled after and developed by a Norwegian to maker, Asmund Laerdal. There have been many CPR dolls that have come and gone since the design in 1958 and first used in 1960, but L'Inconnue de la Seine (the unknown woman of the Seine) was the first.  So, in a roundabout way, by losing her life, L’Inconnue de la Seine has saved hundreds.

Still, I want to know her story, don’t you?  But since we will never know, let’s imagine. What story would you like to give this young woman?

Amy De Trempe
Duchess of Decency


  1. Amy,
    What an interesting post! I have a hard time believing this was the girl who drown, though. For one thing, I doubt she looked beautiful after being pulled from the river unless it was immediately afterwards. And I feel certain she wouldn't have been smiling. It seems more likely she is the German mask manufacturer's daughter.

    However, it's still an interesting story and makes me wonder what happened to the young woman, too.

    1. It is hard to believe she looked that good, but to me it is much more interesting thinking of her as a mystery instead of the daughter of a mask manufacturer. I found all kinds of info on the girl drowning in the Seine, but just a few blurbs that reference a mask maker. Of course, all stories basically repeated the same story so there is very little information. There are other pictures of the mask, I picked the prettiest. But, if it has been copied over time, I wonder how much it has changed from the original. Again, things we will never know.

    2. I have a copy of the death mask which is an original made by the Lorenzi family (origins are Italy) who are now based in France. The picture you posted resembles it very well. The Lorenzi family still make the masks today!!

  2. So sad...and creepy! Not something I would use in my decor!

    I'm not sure about a story, but I wish the poor girl peace...

    1. I am with you, Deb. I can't imagine ever wanting to have death masks hanging in my home as a decoration. Seems a bit morbid to me.

  3. Amy,
    What an interesting and creepy story! A death mask seems creepy and weird!

  4. Amy, this is supremely creepy! LOL! But I think I'm with Samantha -- either she's the mask-maker's daughter, or some kind of other worldy creature. lol.

  5. Amy ~ I can spin a million different reasons why she was in the Seine, but none of them would leave her with a smile. So I'm completely stumped. (And creeped out.)

    BUT for centuries old mysteries... I watch every new Jack the Ripper show that comes on. I'm easily swayed, because each time I'm convinced that THIS time they've figured it out. (This has happened probably 20 times.)

  6. Amy- I read the post this morning before I started driving. I didn't know what to write, so I decided to think about it as I drove. Like Ava all my ideas were really sad or gruesome. It's a shame that she had to die so young

  7. Hi Amy

    we are a team of artists and musicians who have just spent 3 years recreating the story of L'Inconnue de la Seine. We now have 18 spectacular paintings and 18 songs which deal every aspect of her life. Soon to premiere in 2012 with an amazing show an experience in music,art and dance!! Take a look

    regards Lesley


  8. Lesley,

    Thanks for the link. Love the website.

  9. What a fascinating story, Amy. I like the link the death mask shares to Rescue Annie. Thank you for enlightening us!