Historians in their infinite hindsight love to imagine what it might’ve been like sitting in that courtroom. Nostalgia gives them the opportunity to speculate on the accusations and tearful testimony, discreetly trimming away less passionate portions. Yet that spring lost in a whirlwind of Parisian law deserves to be remembered fully. The entire life of Bernadette Fabrique — not just her trial — deserves to be remembered.
Mlle. Fabrique’s girlhood was spent comfortably, despite what conventional wisdom insists. Her governess wasn’t abusive, her walks through the city were always chaperoned, and her behavior during social events was impeccable. The fact that at sixteen she was kidnapped from her bed by a mutant beast gestated in an undersea laboratory which took her skin and assumed her life, mattered only to the former Bernadette Fabrique. Nobody noticed the difference, and destiny continued its dreamlike course.
When she came of age to be courted, innumerable suitors emerged. All were educated, and none were psychopaths or perverts, no matter what scandals the disreputable newspapers of the time concocted. Among the gentlemen who sought Mlle. Fabrique’s favor, Louis Gagnon came the closest when he invited her to a performance of Massenet’s Manon. It has been speculated that if their dalliance had lasted past intermission, they might one day have married; the fact remains that it didn’t. Perhaps M. Gagnon leaned in for a kiss. He may have said something salacious. What provoked the incident is lost, but none dispute that Mlle. Fabrique responded by shedding her human costume, rising to her full height with fangs bared, and chasing Louis Gagnon through the Opera-Comique until five battalions of police managed to restrain her just as she cornered him on the roof.
What followed became the decade’s greatest miscarriage of justice. Barely allowed to retrieve her skin, Mlle. Fabrique was paraded through the court as a fiend. Women fought to claim seats in the gallery merely for a chance to faint at the sight of the accused. In addition to the Opera-Comique’s extensive damage, charges were brought against Mlle. Fabrique for the injuries suffered by M. Gagnon, despite the fact that she didn’t actually catch him.
The name and record of this young woman would inevitably be ruined no matter what decision the jury returned. How could such a fair beauty return to her roseate life after being described as “A monstrosity without remorse, built by corrupted minds for the explicit purpose of destruction”? Prosecutors chose to dwell on the havoc of a lone incident, ignoring years of demure behavior that preceded it. For the crime of being an independent woman, and also an amphibious, eight-limbed creature, Bernadette Fabrique bore her torment with saintly patience.
And after dozens of witnesses, a prosecution hell-bent on character assassination, and the moving, if superficial testimony of M. Gagnon shortly before he lapsed into a presumably unrelated coma, it’s understandable that the jury was compelled to declare Mlle. Fabrique guilty on all counts. The defendant’s decision to pounce at the jury, sending a packed courtroom fleeing is equally understandable. Obviously, Mlle. Fabrique had no right to bear society’s scorn, nor should she have been held responsible for the carnage that followed the reading of her verdict. Who could blame someone facing execution for tearing the city apart building by building? If anything, it’s astounding that this young woman had the strength to rip through masonry that withstood centuries. Is it so unfair that Paris had to crumble in order to afford Mlle. Fabrique the chance to vent her frustration?
Bernadette Fabrique was a complex person, like countless others who grew up in an era with no tolerance for spirited souls. Her escape and subsequent rampage have yet to overshadow the example she left behind. Louis Gagnon never awoke from his coma, though he must have been remorseful for the part he played in her defamation. The Opera-Comique was rebuilt along with the rest of Paris, and the world moved on.
Strangely enough, Bernadette’s parents claimed that one morning, years after their daughter’s departure, a parcel was left at the front door. Carefully folded inside was Mlle. Fabrique’s skin, pristine and unblemished. The authorities denied ever bringing such a package to the Fabrique estate.