The Actress La Clairon’s Ghost Story

La Clairon, Author's Collection
La Clairon, Author’s Collection

The girl born Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris became the famous French actress known as Mademoiselle La Clairon. Because of her fame, La Clairon wrote her Mémoires, a book that contained many interesting tidbits about her acting career. However, what seemed to generate the most interest from her book was “the celebrated history of the lady’s ghost.”

The ghost was “the spectre of a young Breton whom she had pitilessly left to die of love.” It seems the young Breton was so heartbroken when she refused to see him one last time, he vowed on his death-bed in 1743 to haunt her the remainder of her life. Supposedly, his vow came true because thereafter his ghost visited La Clairon in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times and was claimed to be “perpetual.”

One English newspaper thought the story of La Clairon and the lovelorn ghost so interesting, they published the following (presented nearly verbatim) in 1854:

The worst point connected with ghosts is, that they usually frighten people too much to produce any good effect. This one, which tormented Mademoiselle Clairon, appears to have been exclusively malicious, and to have been disturbed in his rest by disappointed love. He was a young man who had sought her society soon after her first brilliant success. She received him with intimacy, liked his society, gave him certainly some encouragement, relieved him from pecuniary difficulty, when she had very little to spare, but refused to marry him under his most passionate and repeated entreaties. They were acquainted about two years, and a-half, when the ill-starred lover, finding himself on his death-bed, implored her to grant him a last interview, a request which those who surrounded her, warmly seconding her own repugnance, prevented her from complying with.

He died, attended by servants, and the only friend, a female whom he had latterly admitted to his confidence. On that same evening, as the clock struck eleven, Mademoiselle Clairon, being at supper with a large party of friends, a dreadful cry was heard by all present, which she immediately recognized as the voice of her deceased lover, and fainted, with terror and emotion.

For more than two years this same unearthly cry, which seemed to proceed from the empty air, was constantly heard by her, wherever she happened to be at the moment, and by all who were in company with her. In vain the police established the most diligent search, thinking it might be either a trick or a conspiracy, but nothing ever transpired to shake the certainty of its being a supernatural visitation. Sometimes the sharp report of a gun or pistol was substituted for the cry, accompanied by the loud and continued clapping of hands. The last demonstration she had been so long accustomed to, from the partiality of the public, that the effect was agreeable and consoling, rather than productive of terror.

All this continued for the time we have already named, and on the last occasion there was an accompaniment of melodious music, as if the ghostly visitant was taking his departure in a friendly and reconciled state of mind. Not long after this, an elderly lady was announced and admitted to the presence of La Clairon, appearing before her as a perfect stranger. They sat down, and gazed on each other in silence, and with instinctive interest. At length, the old lady explained who she was, and the object of her visit.

She was the friend of M. de S—, had attended him on his deathbed, and was now prompted by uncontrollably curiosity to see the woman whose cruelty had hastened his decease. After much circumlocution, and many explanations, “Mademoiselle,” said the visitor, “I do not blame your conduct, and my poor friend fully admitted his obligations to you; but his unhappy passion mastered his judgment, and your refusal to see him embittered, while it accelerated, his last moments. His eyes were fixed upon the clock, anxiously watching the motion of the hands, when at half-past ten, his valet announced to him your positive refusal to come. After a short silence, he seized me by the arm, in a paroxysm of despair, which nearly deprived me of my sense, and exclaimed, ‘Unfeeling woman! she will gain nothing by this; I will persecute her after death, as I have followed her throughout my life!’ I tried to calm him, but he died as he uttered these dreadful words.”

Such is the account which Mademoiselle Clairon herself hast left of this very singular episode in her history. She states the fact without pretending to understand or account for it, but modesty admits that she feels herself too insignificant to suppose that she could be selected as an object or medium of supernatural communication.

If you are interested in learning more about La Clarion and her life click here.

References:

  • “An Actress’s Ghost Story,” in Commercial Journal, 3 June 1854 
  • Owen, Robert Dale, Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, 1860
  • Williams, Hugh Noel, Queens of the French Stage, 1905

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