Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Arsenic and Lace

A Love Story




Real Life

 "The Ville-d'Affair," Le Petit Parisien, 1890: Perrot.
Like Lafarge, Euphemie Verges was also a member of the bourgeois; however she was born to a different segment of the class--lower provincial bourgeois. Born in the southwestern department of Gers, France, in 1819, Euphemie was the daughter of two small landowners. When she was just a young girl, Euphemie's parents received an offer to marry their daughter from her uncle who was three times her elder. Henri Lacoste, a retired shopkeeper, stood to inherit a considerable amount of money and land after the death of his older brother, who owned vineyards in the department neighboring Gers, in a village called Riguepeu. Seeing this as an opportunity to provide well for their daughter and to ensure their own future security, Euphemie's parents accepted the proposal and offered Lacoste a dowry worth 20,000 francs. Lacoste in return, offered to pay for their daughter's education at a convent in Tarbes, France. Euphemie learned of her marriage to the intended only a few short months before the ceremony occurred. However, this was common for the time. In fact, Euphemie did not oppose her parent's decision. In May, 1841 Euphemie Verges became the wife of Henri Lacoste. (Hartman 13).

Henri was very happy with his new bride. He claimed that she was utter perfection. Euphemie was a dutiful wife, for she attended to her husband in every way--"she shaved him, washed his feet, and even cleaned his fingernails" (Hartman, 14).

Despite the couple's apparent happiness, Henri and Euphemie were miserable after two years. Henri complained of his wife's failure to become pregnant, while Euphemie complained that her domestic life had become increasingly more difficult by the demands set forth by her husband. Euphemie reported being confined to their home because of Henri's jealousy; in fact, he refused to allow her to visit her friends or to attend church without him, only he never attended church. (Hartman, 14).

In May 1843, only three years after the couple were married, Henri took ill. He reported feeling ill after a meal of beans, onions, and garlic prepared by his wife. Because of his distrust for doctors, Henri refused any and all medical attention and decided to wait it out. However, after three days, when his condition worsened, he had his wife summon a doctor. Henri died a few days later, even after receiving medical attention. (Hartman, 14).

Rumors had it that Euphemie was not unduly troubled over the death of her husband. In fact, after shedding a few tears, she fled to look for the will. Local gossips talked about her extravagant new purchases, and of her frequent rendezvous with young men in the middle of the night. This was considered improper for the times, especially in the provinces, where widows were expected to remain two years alone to mourn. (Hartman, 14).

"The growing rumors that Henri had died of unnatural causes finally reached the public prosecutor" (Hartman, 15). His family had the body exhumed and examined. Although traces of arsenic were discovered in the dead man's body, the evidence against Euphemie was not permissible in court. Experts who testified disagreed about the source of poison as well as about the quantity discovered in the body. (Hartman, 15).

While it cannot be known for sure whether these two women actually poisoned their husbands, one can infer from their circumstances that they were rightfully accused.