Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend

Shannon Quinn - November 30, 2018

During the 1800s, love and marriage were very different than they are today, especially for members of the upper class. Courtship was almost like a business arrangement, and people often had to get their parent’s permission before they could be in a relationship. In modern times, we read a lot of romance novels from the 1800s about two lovebirds riding on a horse off into the sunset, or a passionate speech convincing a parent that love should matter more than status. In reality, though, this almost never happened. And when it did, there were dire consequences, and Blanche Monnier is just one example of how a secret affair could go terribly wrong.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
Blanche Monnier was gorgeous when she was in her 20’s. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Blanche Monnier Was In a Forbidden Relationship

The year is 1876. Poitier is a wealthy town in Western France, and the Monnier family lived in a mansion on 21 Rue de la Visitation. Madame Louise Monnier’s husband, Emilie Monnier, passed away. He had been the director of an arts faculty in town, and he had accumulated a fortune, so after he died, it was enough for Madame Monnier and their children to live on. Their daughter was named Blanche, and she was very popular in town. She was a happy, bubbly and beautiful girl with huge eyes and thick brown hair. Her brother Marcel became a lawyer, and they both lived together with their mother into their 20’s.

Blanche’s mother, Madame Monnier, was a perfect example of someone who only did nice things to appear to be a good person. She got an award from the Committee of Good Works for all of her charity projects around the city, and yet she was a monster in her own home. Marcel and Blanche had a very difficult time finding someone who wanted to date them, because their mother was incredibly snobby, and had high expectations about who her children should be allowed to marry.

At age 25, Blanche was getting close to “old maid” status (by the standards in the 1800s) and she knew that she had better hurry find a husband and move out of the home before it was too late. She met a lawyer who was slightly older than her, and she completely fell in love with him. He wasn’t rich or successful, but Blanche loved him as a person, and they became inseparable. Blanche kept their relationship a secret from her mother, because she knew she would disapprove. Nearly every night, she waited for her mother and brother to go to sleep, and she would quietly sneak down the stairs to see her lover after dark.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
Photo of the Monnier house, 21 Rue de la Visitation. Credit:

At that time, the term scandalous didn’t even touch the situation. In the 1800s, love had very little to do with marriage, and parents were heavily involved with who their child courted. This was especially true for members of the aristocracy, like the Monnier family. Usually, dates were supervised, and both families would meet one another and come to an agreement that they meshed well together. Marriage was a team effort, more than two people would decide who fell in love and if it’s a well-suited match.

Romance novels reached peak popularity at the time, and Blanche’s reputation for being a bibliophile preceded her. It’s very possible these fictional couples fighting for love against all odds inspired her. She clearly disagreed with the expectations society expected of her. Even though Blanche tried to keep her relationship a secret from her mother, there were plenty of witnesses around town who saw her with her boyfriend, and yet no announcement of an engagement. They also steered clear of one another in the daytime, making it obvious for anyone paying attention that this was a secret affair.

The townspeople could not understand why they would keep their relationship a secret, so they started a rumor that Blanche must be pregnant. When her mom found out about the secret relationship, she was absolutely furious. Madame Monnier forbade Blanche from seeing her boyfriend ever again. The two would get into huge arguments, and Blanche would sneak out to see him anyway. Surely, she had hoped that he would propose to her, and that she could escape her mother’s house soon enough, anyway. She could have never imagined what would happen to her next.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
The Monnier family lived in the city of Poitier. Credit: FranceTVInfo.FR

The Monnier Family Plots To Stop Blanche’s Affair

Madame Monnier told her son Marcel about Blanche’s relationship. He was very obedient and loyal to his mother, and he fully believed in the traditional ideas of society, as well. He was shocked at how angry and vicious the fights between his sister and mother were getting, and he thought that Blanche was out of control. They both agreed that they did not want Blanche to be with this man, and they wanted to teach her a lesson.

In the middle of the night, Blanche returned home from seeing her lover. Madame Monnier and Marcel were hiding at the top of the stairs, and their arms reached out to grab Blanche in the darkness. They shut her into the attic, which had a straw mattress laying on the floor waiting for her. Blanche must have been screaming at them, and her mother told her through the door that if she wanted to come out, she would have to promise that she would break up with her boyfriend.

The shutters had been nailed shut to the windows, and heavy curtains hung over those shutters, which made the room completely black, even in the daytime. Blanche would have had to feel around the room to figure out where everything was. Bugs and mice crawled through the attic, as well. Her mother would not even open up the door to give her food or let her use the bathroom. Instead, she would slip whatever scraps of food could slip underneath the space in the doorway.

These were even worse conditions than someone being held in solitary confinement. Being alone and in the dark for so long is known for driving people insane, no matter how mentally capable they were beforehand. Blanche was actually very strong, and clearly very stubborn because she refused to give in to her mother’s demands.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
A group of police officers examining the attic room where Blanche had been held captive. Credit: Ranker

Days passed, and Madame Monnier could see that Blanche remained steadfast in her decision. She began to tell her friends in town that Blanche had disappeared in the middle of the night, and she gave a good show with fake crying and the whole nine yards. We don’t know if Blanche’s boyfriend stopped by the house to look for her, but if he did, Madame Monnier would have told him the same story.

Her son, Marcel, was very loyal, and told everyone the same story. They probably decided that if she finally agreed to come out, they would tell the neighbors that she had returned home. Marcel went on to become an administrator at a local commune, and for him and his mother, their reputation was all that mattered to them.

Blanche grew thinner and thinner, and she was living in her own filth, growing more and more insane by the day. She screamed out the windows, hoping that someone would hear her on the street, but help never came. Twenty-five years later, and Blanche never gave in to her mother’s demands, yet she remained imprisoned in the attic.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
Credit: AllThatIsInteresting

Blanche is Rescued

In 1901, an anonymous letter arrived at the Poitier police station that a young woman was being held captive in 21 Rue de la Visitation. The police showed up to the house to investigate, and when they knocked on the door, no one answered, even though they could hear movement from the inside, and see the flutter of curtains moving as Madame Monnier peeked out the window. They decided to break in, and searched every room for this captive woman. When they opened the attic door, they saw the skeleton-like Blanche Monnier.

She is now 50 years old, and had not seen daylight for 25 years. Blanche was totally naked, and she hid her body and face under her blanket, because the sunlight was too much to handle. She was terrified and completely deranged. She only weighed 55 pounds. One of the police officers wrote in his statement, “We immediately gave the order to open the casement window. This was done with great difficulty. The old, dark curtains fell a heavy shower of dust. To open the shutters, it was necessary to remove them from their hinges.”

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
The police took this picture of Blanche soon after they discovered her in the attic bedroom. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Blanche had been lying on a straw mattress that had gone rotten, and she was lying in her own filth. Crumbs of food and bugs were all over the floor. The smell was so bad, the police officers didn’t want to go inside to investigate. Blanche was taken to the Hotel-Dieu Hospital, and doctors thought she was going to die, well because she was so thin. The nurses gave her a bath, and she kept saying how lovely it was to being clean, and how thankful she was to be free. It was still difficult for her to be in the sunlight, because of her sensitivity.

When the police were raiding her home, Madame Monnier was sitting in her living room, completely calm. Her brother was still living in the house, which clearly shows that his mother had also manipulated him from moving out and having his own life, even well into his 50’s. But he tried to claim that Blanche brought this all upon herself.

When he and his mother were brought to court, Marcel testified that Blanche was an angry woman who was full of rage. (Wonder why?!) And that they believed she was mentally ill. He said that only a crazy person would choose to stay in solitary confinement over agreeing to break up with someone, and this was why they kept her locked up. They figured that she must be crazy, and deserved to be imprisoned. He also tried to claim that she never even tried to escape the room, and that after they locked her in there, she simply accepted her fate and decided to stay.

Obviously, this was no true. An entire group of policemen had to work together to take down the shutters from the window, and there was no way the weak and starving Blanche could have done that on her own. Neighbors came to testify at the trial, claiming that they thought they could hear the screams of a woman shouting “police!” out of the blocked window. This is most likely where the anonymous letter came from. Someone probably noticed the screams that continued on for 25 years.

Blanche Monnier Spent 25 Years Locked in an Attic, just because she had a Boyfriend
This letter was written to the police anonymously, and it help lead to Blanche Monnier’s rescue. Credit: AllThatIsInteresting

Blanche also never acting violent or lashed out at any of the doctors or nurses. She was calm, and very grateful to have been saved. Tragically, she never got to see her lover again. He had died in 1885.

Her mother was found guilty of her crimes, and she was sent to jail. But she was so old, she died only 15 days after her capture. Her brother was given a sentence of a year in jail, but he was a lawyer, so he knew how to protect himself. He appealed the charges, and was able to go free.

Blanche was able to put on some weight at the hospital, but after being in solitary confinement for 25 years, they say she had lost her mind. She also had nowhere else to go. She was 50 years old, and could not very likely find a husband and move on with her life, and she sure wasn’t going to move back in with her brother. She was sent to live in the Blois Psychiatric Hospital, where she died in 1913.

Looking back, some people debate whether Blanche Monnier was truly insane or not. After all, she could have lied to her mom for the sake of getting out of the room, and then she could have run away with her boyfriend. Others believe that she was perfectly sane before going into the attic, and the solitary confinement drove her to become insane in the dark. There have been studies to theorize that Blanche was showing signs of bad behavior long before the incident, but much of it could be chalked up to teenage angst and rebellion.

While this is a shocking case of abuse, it begs the question- how many women were put into similar situations, only for them to cave within 24 hours and agree to break off a relationship? How long had violence and torture been used to oppress women from making their own choices? Since these family matters always happened behind closed doors, we really may never know.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

How Marriage Has Changed Over Centuries. The Week. January 11, 2015

‘Spinster’ and ‘Bachelor’ Were, Until 2005, Official Terms for Single People. Kat Eschner. Smithsonian Magazine. September 2017

The Story of the French Socialite Who Was Locked Away For a Quarter of a Century, 1876. HistoryDaily. 2016.

Nineteenth-Century French Working Women: Love, Marriage and Children. Kelly Grear. University of Kentucky.

The Woman in the Attic the True Story of Blanche Monnier. Jennifer Morgan. 2017

The Case of Blanche Monnier. Providentia. October 2016