Sarah Maza


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

Cover Interview of July 18, 2011


Why should the story of Violette Nozière matter to us?

First of all, it’s a great story, both a mystery with many surprising characters and twists (including the story of what finally happened to Violette) and a “tale of the city” about Paris in 1933.

It should matter because it loomed so large to Parisians at the time that they sometimes compared its impact (with some exaggeration, to be sure) to that of the Dreyfus case.

I argue that the case grabbed people’s attention in part because incest and parricide are mythical themes: for contemporaries the story evoked the French fairy tale “Donkey Skin” in which a beautiful princess runs away from home under the skin of an ass, and then dons various disguises to escape the father who wants to marry her.

At the same time, it is a case rooted in the particulars of time and place—the sort of story that allows readers to get a very concrete and detailed sense of what life was like for Parisians of different classes in the 1930s.

I hope my book reveals many aspects of Paris in the thirties that have been obscured by our retrospective obsession with the origins of World War II, the stories of ordinary people struggling to get by on the margins in the City of Light.

© 2011 Sarah Maza