Trial of Gilles De Rais
president of the secular tribunal, present at the proceedings. The judges reacted coldly; they excommunicated the madman at once.
    In this day, excommunication had an overwhelming impact. Gilles de Rais managed, on the surface, to place himself above his judges. But the superstitious devotee — that he had not ceased being in spite of his crimes and satanic pursuits — broke down. Returned to the solitude of his room, he discovered again, more terrible than ever, the nightmare in which he raved.
    One frightening way out remained, however, which suited the madman. To make a blaze of the disaster! An unquestionably disastrous but spectacular blaze, ultimately a delirious blaze; the crowd that would approach its glare would be fascinated …
    In the course of the lengthy hallucination that he was living, the vain man that he had been came to a point where the violent movement of his thought exceeded its shabby limits. Succumbing definitively, his only authentic glory clung to his crimes. But he could only boast of these crimes under one condition:
    He was going — crying, desperate, already nearly dying — to confess them, but, at the same time, to revel in their horrible grandeur, a grandeur that would make men tremble!
    He was going to do what the Christian path had taught him, the path that, despite everything, he had always wanted to follow. While moaning, he would implore the forgiveness of God and all those who had suffered from the prodigious disdain that he had for others. He would implore while moaning, he would implore while dying; his tears, in this heavy apotheosis, would be authentic tears of blood!
    But we have, however, only a remote understanding of what goes on in a fragile mind at the moment when the possibility of making a stand is stripped away, before our comprehending or divining, if possible, what leads it from one point to another. Likewise when we can discern nothing on a stormy night, the traces of lightning that escape us are dazzling … provided they escape us; and what is forced upon us, more than a comprehensible aspect, is the dizzying mobility wherein the possible aspects succeed one another. We must no less illustrate — or try to illustrate — by beginning with some trifling thing, what the documents inform us could have happened. We cannot to any extent forget that Gilles de Rais could never, unless vaguely — could not, in any case, but differently — have had the reactions which we impart to him. In their indecent precision what the statements suggest is the turmoil from which emanated these tears, these confessions, these entreaties that we are familiar with. But without the statements to suggest it, we would be no more familiar with the turmoil than we would be, asleep, with the storm that dazzled us. It is in this sense — only in this sense — that the commentaries add to the statement of facts. But need Lord de Rais’ theatrical death appear, conclusively, limited by the poverty of these facts? Could the facts be separated from the incomprehensible lightning storm of the possible?
    When on October 15, 1440, Gilles de Rais appeared again, the change that he had undergone in two days time in the solitude of his room was so great that it was comparable to death; only death might have brought about a more profound havoc … He was resigned; to his judges he came asking forgiveness for his insults; he was crying. He did not confess everything the first day, but if he denied what was the most serious thing to the clergymen, he immediately acknowledged the inadmissible: he had put children to death!
    On his knees, in tears, “with great sighs,” he pleaded to be absolved of the sentence of excommunication that the judges had pronounced against him. The judges, who had already forgiven him for the insults, absolved him as he requested. The hesitation of his first confessions is not necessarily significant. Doubtlessly, it is not unbelievable that at the outset profound reservations

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