Sarah Maza


On her book Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris

Cover Interview of July 17, 2011

In a nutshell

Violette Nozière tells the story of a high-profile criminal case that took place in Paris in 1933-34.

An eighteen-year-old girl, the only child of a striving lower-middle-class couple, carefully devised and carried out a plan to poison her parents.  Her father died but her mother survived.  The case immediately became a sensation, and continued to hold its grip on the public as new details of the affair came out.

Germaine and Jean-Baptiste Nozière were considered a model couple: he had a good job with the railways, she was a housewife; they were ambitious for their daughter Violette and sent her to the best possible schools.

Violette was beautiful and stylish but in other ways a disappointment to her parents: she dropped out of a series of schools, slept with students and businessmen, stole her parents’ money to go clothes shopping, and went around telling tall tales about her allegedly glamorous social background.

One evening she came home with a forged note from the family doctor and instructed her parents to mix “medicine from the doctor” into their water glasses and to drink up.  After they collapsed, Violette went shopping and partying, and when she returned tried to stage their “suicide” by turning on the gas.

Violette was soon under suspicion but escaped from the police and hid in Paris for several days.  After her arrest she dropped a bombshell:  she said that she had intended for her mother to survive, and wanted only to get rid of her father who had been forcing her to have sex with her one or more times a week since she was twelve years old.

This was only the first in a series of surprising turns the case would take.  Violette Nozière was probably the most famous woman in France at the time, and certainly the most hated.  In September of 1933, when the Nuremberg Rally was taking place in Germany, a French cartoon showed Hitler angrily shaking a newspaper and complaining: “That Violette, it’s all about her!”

My book is the story of Violette’s crime and the subsequent investigation and also a social history of Paris in the early 1930s.  I reconstruct what she did and try to explain why her contemporaries were so obsessed with her.