January 27, 2013

La Grande Therese by Hilary Spurling

On the book cover: Humbert mania swept the Paris press when the scandal eventually broke in 1902: Here Therese, with her elegant younger sister Maria, is greeted by the trial judge disguised as a cabaret host: "Well, Madame Humbert, have you any news of the good Monsieur Crawfraud?" (Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, all rights reserved; photo by Jean-Loup Charmet, Paris)

La Grande Therese: The Greatest Scandal Of The Century by Hilary Spurling. It was published on June 1, 2000. A Non-fiction, biography and history book that seems like a novella, but it's all facts. Therese Daurignac (her maiden name) was a peasant girl who lived in Languedoc, south of France. According to the author, there was nothing special about her except her power of imagination which led her to an elegant life later on but only lasted for years.

"When Therese was small, she invented palaces for her siblings to live in, and once she was grown up, her castles in the air came true." Raised as the eldest of six, she took in-charge of the family when everything fell apart. When their mother died, her father was sunk in fantasy but Therese took care of her siblings, begged and borrowed money for her family's daily living. She became the head of the family.

For years, Therese's tricks and imaginary money convinced almost every rich individuals that she was wealthy. She had escapades, excursions, flirtations, being pretty all the time. She also thrown some parties, picnics and musical evenings. She told the dressmakers, bootmakers, halters and hairdressers of Toulouse: "I'll pay you as soon as I get my inheritance."  When her debts mounted, she announced and wept that she must go to Bordeaux (southwest) because she's engaged to the son of a Bordeaux shipping mandate. The shopkeepers in Toulouse realized that they have been tricked. Therese was seventeen years old then. The Daurignacs left the place and never returned.

Therese's motto in life is "What I want, I will have" In French: Je veux, j'aurai.

Scanned through pages and, amazingly, my camera caught this illustration by Topham Picturepoint. This is Frederic Humbert as chef de cabinet in the Ministry of Justice: The sharp legal brain of Therese's shy and self-effacing husband smoothed her path behind the scenes.

She was not yet out of her twenties when she finally moved with her family into the castle of her dreams in 1885. She and her little sister got married to the Humberts. People were so puzzled as to why and how the Humberts fell in love with the Daurignacs. This castle that Therese's mansion was located in 65 avenue de la Grande Armee, Paris. They lived an elegant life yet full of lies.

"The number of dissatisfied, often dangerous, sometimes almost unhinged customers demanding their money back increased each year as the workings of the Humbert's scheme screwed down more and more tightly on its victims." With all the problems that the Humberts faced, they left Paris for a "vacation". Among all the big names whom the Humberts owed money, one of them shot himself after knowing that the Humberts disappeared. They owed nearly Two Million Francs. Scum. Cheats. Hypocrites.

The Humberts were finally caught and sentenced to five years' solitary confinement with hard labor. But nobody knew where they were after they got out from prison.

This is a funny event in the past because it was obvious that these people were easily fooled by the Humberts and even Therese's younger self. It must be interesting to be in her time; to see and hear another trickery she's made up. Not all people praised her maybe because they felt something is wrong knowing that Therese didn't have a good family background. Spurling did a great research about her life and how it affected the French society a century ago.


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog sweetie, the books look great you have read :) I am your newest follower :)

    Bee happy x

  2. lovely blog :)

  3. Wow - sounds like an amazing story! I might have to pick this one up!

    1. Amazing but sad. And it's a real-life story. Tsk.

  4. This is very interesting. Great post. Therese sounds like a character suffering in narcissism with a touch of HPD. Maybe I'm wrong, just an impression. I'd like to read the book to confirm my theory :)

    1. I actually think she was that kind of person. Read the book for more narcissism stuff! Hahaha :)

  5. How interesting. I don't mind reading a bit of non-fiction from time to time, i'll have to check this one out.


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