The Underworld

Lacenaire: A Truly Debonair Criminal


The System

Famous Crime





"Lacenaire, poet and assassin, was convicted of a sordid double murder and a bungled attempt at a third. While in prison awaiting trial, he became an instant celebrity... he was swamped with messages and gifts from ladies of the best society..."

(Wright, 31)


  "What crawls in the third sub-stage is no longer the stifled demand for the absolute, it is the protest of matter. Man there becomes dragon. Hunger and thirst are the points of departure: Satan is the point of arrival. From this cave comes Lacenaire."

(Hugo, 623)

(Picture from Wolfe)

Though you're not likely to find his name in any mainstream history book, Lacenaire's crimes and trial were the talk of the times in the mid-1830's. This flashy criminal (he claimed to be inspired by Vidocq) "electrified the courtroom with an hour-long improvised speech that outshone the arguments of all the lawyers." (Wright, 32) He was cool and calm til the very end of his head's bodily acquaintance:

"His uninterrupted show of bravado, his obvious intelligence, his absolute cynicism combined to make him seem a unique phenomenon, and to some, a tragic hero. Literate, articulate, gracious, he was seen as the totally alienated intellectual who had declared his own personal war to the death on society." (Wright, 34)

Lacenaire captured all attention, and seized on the opportunity to write memoirs of his own, modeled after the tall tales of Vidocq, which were interspersed with poetry and published. His striking charm is reflected in Hugo's character Montparnasse of Les Miserables. But was Lacenaire's popularity a passing trend?

• On the one hand, Lacenaire is still a sensational figure, brought to life in books and films like Crime and Punishment, Les Enfants du Paradis, and the Hollywood film Lacenaire.

• On the other hand, his actual proficiency at criminal behavior was questionable. All his crime were ill-planned and poorly executed. Lacenaire never even temporarily gained from his crimes.