The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror

The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror by John Merriman Read Free Book Online

Book: The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror by John Merriman Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Merriman
the Ego?" He had begun to dabble in Spiritism (the French name for the movement known in America as spiritualism), trying to contact the soul of his father. Indeed, his friend Charles Malato later claimed that Émile "lost his footing and fell into the abyss of Spiritism, even became [a medium] and wasted his health unhesitatingly in exhausting experiments, because he longed for knowledge."
    Given Émile's strong attachment to the memory of his deceased father, one can understand his desire to communicate with dead souls. Émile's flirtation with Spiritism was perfectly in tune with the fin-de-siecle bohemian idealism of many young intellectuals in Paris. The increased number of private and formally organized Spiritist groups reflected contemporary critiques of modernity in an age when scientific materialism seemed to triumph. Their quest drew upon tensions between faith and reason—and attempts to reconcile the two. New ideas about psychology, for example, emphasized hyponotic trances. Spiritists believed that they could provide proof of metaphysical concepts in the realm of philosophical speculation.
    Yet, rebelling against "the frauds," as he discovered them to be, Émile soon abandoned the quest, which lacked the certainty and precision of the science he had studied. Later he dismissed this period, suggesting that it had been extremely brief: "Me, a Spiritist! Well, it is true that ... a friend who was absorbed by occult science invited me to take part in a certain number of experiments. I saw right away that this was just another form of charlatanism and I did not continue with it. Mathematics gave me the taste for things both positive and precise."
    Émile's life became something of a mystery to Rose Henry. He had changed. Whenever he did appear in Brévannes, he was eager to return to the capital. Once his mother chastised him for how he looked, and he replied, "You know, Mother, that I love you dearly, but I can't escape my destiny, which is stronger than even my feelings for you. Let me do as I see fit." Books, which he had always loved, no longer interested him. No amusements could distract him. He appeared sad, pensive. And he had been overtaken, in her words, by "an unfortunate passion."
    In 1891, Émile fell in love with a woman named Élisa Gauthey. She was the wife of an anarchist who lived in eastern Paris on boulevard Voltaire. Émile's brother Fortuné, who had become an anarchist, was often present at the Gautheys' attic apartment. He introduced his younger brother to the couple. Élisa remembered "a quiet and shy boy, a dreamer who did not seem to see or hear anything that was going on around him."
    Élisa was a tall, striking woman with long curly hair, a "strong Byzantine nose," large black eyes, and a rounded mouth with "sensual lips" resting above a solid chin. Overall, her face offered "more strength than grace" but, at the same time, appeared both "reticent and teasing." This, along with the "amplitude of her bosom," gave the appearance, at least to Émile, of "a reposing creature of love."
    One day when the brothers were visiting, Élisa, on a "woman's whim," asked Fortuné, who had a reputation in anarchist circles for writing poetry, if he would write a couple of verses for her. Émile overheard this, and when they got up to leave later in the evening, asked if she also wanted
to write a poem for her. Surprised, she looked at him. He looked back, staring intently into her eyes. Élisa, stifling a burst of laughter, told him, "Well, why not? Go ahead, write me some verses!"
    And he did, for he was in love. One long, rambling poem reflected his Spiritist phase, suggesting cosmological vision. The concluding verse, with its idea of a "reign of attraction" and a spirit able to purify itself, reflects the influence of Allan Kardec (the pen name of the educator and philosopher H. Léon Rivail), who had created the Spiritist Society in Paris in 1869 and dominated the movement for many years.

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