By Gary Isbell
Eve Lavallière, the stage name of Eugénie Fenoglio, was born in Toulon, France, on 1 April 1866. The second child and only daughter of Emile and Albanie Fenoglio, she later described her painful youth. “As a child, I knew not what the love and care of a mother was. My life was tears and suffering from the time I reached the age of reason.”
Her father, a tailor, alcoholic and libertine, often gave himself over to jealous brooding and fits of rage. Her mother often had to flee with the children, seeking refuge in relatives’ homes, until her husband had calmed down. This continued until one day, he shot and killed his wife, pointed the pistol at his daughter but did not shoot, and then shot himself.
Eve lived a life of privation and suffering until entering a theatre company. Her beauty, voice and poise took her to the best theatres in Paris. She became the foremost actress in France and the idol of the multitudes. The entire world viewed her clothing and hairstyles as models and ran after perfumes, soaps and cosmetics “à la Lavallière.”
King Carlos of Portugal, King Leopold II of Belgium, King Edward VII of England, Henry of Bavaria, diplomats, magnates, and princes all came to hear and applaud her. Dazzled by glory, she threw herself “into the vast sea of sin.”
“Gold ran through my hands,” Eve confessed. “I had everything the world could offer, everything I could desire. Nevertheless, I regarded myself the unhappiest of souls.” Despite living in a rich palace in Paris, surrounded by luxury, with a carriage and even an automobile – then very rare – at her disposal, she felt tortured by remorse. On occasion she attempted suicide, even once after a magnificent performance in London.
On Her Way to Damascus
In June 1917, Eve wanted to rest far from the world’s agitation to prepare a repertoire of songs and pieces she was to perform in the United States. So she rented the palace of Porcherie in Chanceux, near Tours. She retired there with Leonia, a young Belgian refugee she had met in Paris in 1915 and who accompanied her as a lifelong confidante. The trustee of this palace was the parish priest, Father Chasteigner, a simple, austere and pious man, genuinely solicitous for the souls of his parishioners.
The day following Eve’s arrival was a Sunday. Father Chasteigner, noting her absence from Mass, called upon her to express his concern. Eve promised him she would not miss Mass again, and on the following Sunday, when the good pastor preached about great converted sinners, she attended the Mass with a frivolous attitude.
Returning to the palace that afternoon, the pastor commented to Eve, “What a pity that you have no faith!”
“But what is faith?” replied Eve, in the tone of one who has permanently lost it.
She then told him of her experiences with spiritism, in which, she said, the devil took part. “I took advantage of the occasion to ask him (the devil) to restore my youth, which was what I most desired, and to cure me of enteritis. Satan promised he would do so on the condition that I would become his. I accepted, adding that my lifestyle was perfect for gaining him many adepts. Obviously quite content, he disappeared.
“Some days later I was at another session, with a new presence of the devil. I denounced him for failing to fulfil his promise. In reply, he guaranteed that he would grant what I asked, but under one more condition: that I not bless myself when I came across a funeral. That was the only vestige of religiosity that remained in me.”
“But Satan still did nothing for me. In the following session, filled with indignation, I called him an impostor and a cheat. By then I had concluded that spiritism was nothing but a farce and that the devil did not exist.”
“Well, I assure you that he exists,” the good priest said, and with that, he mounted his bicycle and left without further ceremony.