Having heard, for the first time, that my adventures have been doubted, and looked upon as jokes, I feel bound to come forward and vindicate my character for veracity, by paying three shillings at the Mansion House of this great city for the affidavits hereto appended.
This I have been forced into in regard of my own honour, although I have retired for many years from public and private life; and I hope that this, my last edition, will place me in a proper light with my readers.
– R. E. Raspe
Singular travels, campaigns and adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Marquis de Sade, an infamous French aristocrat, spent just over a decade in the 1780s imprisoned on charges related to his violent sexual fantasies. He was held at the Chateau de Vincennes and the Bastille before finally being transferred to the insane Asylum at Charenton.
While imprisoned de Sade wrote the novella Justine. It tells the story of a girl who is orphaned at the impressionable age of twelve, when she and her older sister Juliette must learn to make their own way in the world. After they part company Juliette is quickly corrupted, but becomes worldly and is ultimately rewarded with riches and happiness. Justine, determined to be virtuous, is subjected to a series of misfortunes, betrayals and assaults. She is briefly reunited with her sister before she is eventually stuck by lightning and dies.
After the French Revolution de Sade enjoyed ten years of freedom, but 1800 would be his last; the following year Napoleon ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and de Sade was returned to Charenton asylum where he died in 1814.
Justina Murray was an Irish girl, the youngest of twelve children. She should have been a twin, but her sibling was stillborn. However she was close to her older sister Josephine.
Justina left home at the age of twelve to board at a convent school in England, and never saw her mother again. Her father, a Lieutenant Colonel, had been instrumental in the foundation of the school at Farnborough Hill, and Josephine was the first pupil.
An adult Josephine, while visiting her aunt Isabella the Marquesa de Villalonga in Spain, is said to have run off with a matador, though later accounts painted her as a favourite spinster aunt doting on her nieces and nephews.
At the fin de siècle, the twenty-year-old Justina became a nun. She lived the rest of her life at Farnborough where she died aged 96.
The nun I was named after was not my great, great aunt. She was the aunt of my grandmother’s first husband, a man who died two years before my mother’s birth.
What sort of story should I tell you about myself? I was born the fifth of six children, a first generation New Zealander. Perhaps life should have been difficult for a middle child who shared that dubious role with three other siblings, but it wasn’t. My father called me his ‘penultimate’ and I wore it inside like the title of a hero.
When I left school I planned to explore the world, but at the turn of the millennium, I changed my plans and came home to spend time with my ailing father.
I used to think that I was the girl that things happened to. Eventually I realised that there is agency in being the girl that things happen for.