Friday, May 22, 2015

Bluebeard: Brave Warrior, Brutal Psychopath

Summary:  Joan of Arc’s close companion on the battlefield, one of the wealthiest and most respected men in France, became a notorious serial killer, nicknamed Bluebeard, who performed bizarre sexual rituals, brutal mutilations and murders on hundreds of children.  How could this happen to Baron Gilles de Rais, a Marshal of France, a renowned intellectual, a paragon of the high medieval prince, almost Renaissance in his talents and accomplishments?

There is no clear explanation. There is only speculation. Yet historic evidence indicates strongly de Rais, a returning soldier, suffered from severe PTSD, which perhaps triggered his latent psychopathic personality. His extreme depravity, his shocking fall from grace and explosive end, add fuel to the precept that the barbarity of war turned this celebrated hero into a monster. (Summary and image from I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  My entire knowledge of Bluebeard has typically been fairy-tale based. I knew the story of Bluebeard's wives, but I never thought more about it until I listened to a podcast about the real man. Not a week later, I received a review request, and, my interest piqued, I requested it. I've always had a weak spot for the "man behind the curtain", especially with fairy take characters. 

Ogden is a meticulous researcher and an academic writer. She has done an exceptional job researching fifteenth century France, its customs and quirks, superstitions, politics, beliefs, and battle strategies. As her area of focus was a Marshall of France, she disects the battle strategies and history of the wars with the English, specifically the rise and fall of Joan of Arc. To my surprise, Ogden makes a strong case for de Rais' downfall being strongly linked to the loss of Joan of Arc, who had fought alongside and commanded de Rais in battle. To hear her research so clearly presented was gripping. She posits that his downfall, partially due to his childhood andl lack of moral upbringing, is also closely linked to severe PTSD.  And she makes quite a case.

Her thorough research, however, has a drawback.  No detail is spared in the recounting of his crimes.  Although it takes up a mere chapter in the book, I was left quite literally ill and couldn't even fathom tackling this review for days.  It disturbed me. It disgusted me.  In my opinion, it was wholly unnecessary to recount the atrocities in such vivid, disturbing detail.  I was simply umprepared for how truly evil de Rais was. I don't tolerate violence toward children well, and children were de Rais' preferred victims.  History will never know how many acutal victims perished or suffered at his hands, but estimates are upwards of 140.  

I don't know how I was able to continue reading after that fateful chapter, but I suspect it was because I was determined to see what punishment de Rais would suffer.  The details of his trial, conviction, and sentencing were fascinating.  What sickened me further, however, was that de Rais still considered himself a faithful, heaven-bound Catholic.  Just, no.  However, the differences between Church and State trials were unbeknownst to me and I enjoyed reading the implications of both.

This was a hard book to shake.  There was so much good information in it, but I felt like a little more sensitivity and tact could have been judiciously applied in that one terrible chapter.  Ogden's writing skills are good enough that I feel she could have clearly indicated how evil and how disturbed de Rais was without the sickening and unnecessary detail she divulged.

Rating:  Three stars (I averaged writing style and content.)

For the Sensitive Reader:  Bloody battles, brutal sexual and physical violence toward children, various devient sexual acts ... stay away.  For those who are a little less sensitive, I would still recommend skipping that chapter.  You'll know it when you get to it.  

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