The Underworld

Joseph Lesurques: Hung by Association.

Representations

The System

Famous Crime

 

 

 

 

"Even the man of faith may justly wonder what dim and monstrous purpose can have been served, when happy righteous Joseph Lesurques was torn from the loving embrace of his wife and children... to die a murderer's shameful death for a crime he never committed."


(Ashton-Wolfe, 35)

 


(Picture from Wolfe, 46)

 
The above image portrays "The last moments of Lesurques at the guillotine," by Hilair le Dru. In the image, Lesurques (dressed in white) kneels before the guillotine, casts his eyes towards the sky and says: "Let the Lord forgive my cruel judges, as I do."

This plea of an innocent man about to be executed presents a martyr figure to those French influencials --Victor Hugo (and perhaps Hilair le Dru, the painter of the original image) included-- who urged reform in the penal and judicial systems of France.

As to the particulars of Joseph Lesurques' case; in April of 1796, a mail coach traveling from Paris to Lyons was robbed, with it's attendants brutally slashed to death. An anonymous tip led to the arrest of some suspects, and the confiscation of their property.

Joseph's friend had lent some papers to one of the suspects and was trying to get them back from the police. As he and Joseph sat in the magistrate's waiting-room, two servant women declared that Lesurques was one of the bandits. (Convictions on such meager evidence were common, one of the reasons Hugo's Marius chose to flee his tenement rather than fraternize further with the criminal Jondrette's.)

He was immediately arrested, and kept from providing himself an alibi. In an astonishing fashion, witness after witness "accused him," much like the Salem witch phenomenon, and Lesurques was beheaded. This tragedy was commemorated by the painter le Dru, a friend of Lesurques.