Prisons de femmes

Year: 1931

Author: Francis Carco (pseud. van François Carcopino-Tusoli) (1886 - 1958)

Publisher: Éditions de France

Francis Carco, Prisons de femmes (1931): documentation with photos by Manuel

Louis Koopman was able to acquire a copy of Prisons de femmes that had belonged to the author, as Francis Carco's dedication indicates: 'à moi-même'. It is a (fictionalised) reportage about meetings to prisons and correctional facilities for women. The extraordinary thing about this copy is the documentation that Carco glued into the book, including letters from the Ministry of Justice, authorisations for visits to prisons, data from prison files, and a number of photographs.

'They cause confusion and malcontent'

The authorisations illustrate clearly that permission to visit prisons was not easily granted. Carco received a letter from the Ministry of Justice on 15 February 1930 in which his request for access to prisons was denied. In Prisons de femmes, Carco points out the reason for this: there had been complaints from the staff. 'Such visits have a detrimental influence on the prisoners. They cause confusion and malcontent, and we must act strongly.'Several months later, on 24 June 1930, Carco did receive permission to visit Saint-Lazaire en Fresnes. It is unclear for what reason he was suddenly given this permission after all. The book Prisons de femmes deals differently with his rejection: the character Carco has authorisations copied illegally and they enable him to enter Haguenau.

Visite à Saint-Lazare

Another work by Carco is remarkable from this perspective: Visite à Saint-Lazare from 1925, of which Koopman acquired the author's copy as well. As the title indicates, Carco described a visit to Saint-Lazare in this work. Could Carco have visited this prison before February 1930 (the date on the letter of authorisation)? Compared to Visite à Saint-Lazare, Prisons de femmes does not contain a great deal of new information on Saint-Lazare. The (second?) visit in 1930 clearly failed to yield any significant additional information. Carco repeats most of the descriptions from Visite à Saint-Lazare in Prisons de femmes, although he does so in different words.

'The poetess slayer'

The photographs inserted into this copy of Prisons de femmes form an interesting category unto themselves. Carco brought along his own photographer Manuel on all his visits. Three photos show Carco in the prison’s interior, while a portrait photograph shows the horrifying appearance of a Saint-Lazare prisoner: Marie Louise Weissman-Groues, better known by the name of her husband Bessarabo, whom she had murdered. The 'Bessarabo affair' was featured prominently in the press at the time; even The New York Times carried sensational articles about the 'Poetess slayer'. The entire world seemed enthralled by this murderess who wrote poetry. Mrs. Bessarabo had killed her husband, pretended that he was away on business, and sent off his lifeless body in a package by mail. Carco mainly wished to visit the prisons in order to meet women like Bessarabo. 'The names of famous criminal women strengthened my resolve. I wanted to see the centre of seclusion and imprisonment of these stars of the Judicial Court. Some, who had received life sentences, impressed me so much that I created separate files for them.'

Bibliographical description

Description: Prisons de femmes / Francis Carco. - Paris : Éditions de France, 1931. – 269 p. ; 21 cm

Printer: Nouvelle (Parijs) Dardaillon (Saint-Denis)

Edition: 660 copies

This copy: Number III of 37 on papier Hollande, printed for Francis Carco

Note: Author's copy. With autograph dedication from Francis Carco to himself. Signed by the author for the library of Anny Antoine.

Note: With two letters of the prison ministers of Revues and Montpellier to the Comtesse de Jumilhac, permissions papers for prison visit granted to Carco and Manuel, photographer, documents of the department of Justice concerning the detainees figuring in the book, and with 4 original photographs

Shelfmark: KW Koopm C 1564 en KW 77 H 1 (nr. 38. fol. 2-23)


  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Francis Carco, Visite à Saint-Lazare. Paris, Lesage, 1925
  • Albert Letellier et Robert Debled, Les prisons de femmes. Paris, Marcel Rivière, 1923
  • The New York Times, 8 August 1920, p. 5; 10 August 1920, p. 14; 22 June 1922, p. 2.
  • Le petit journal illustré, 1643 (18 juin 1922).