M. Gilles de Rais murdered at least a hundred and forty boys in a lifetime. Numbers are not style, but it's difficult not to be impressed. He was a nobleman, and the projection of his life-style was made easy for him by the fact that, while he was rich and owned more than one castle, most people in France were so poor that whole families of peasants left their homes to wander about the countryside in search of food much as, according to Comrade Boris Pasternak, the Russian bourgeoisie did during the early days of the Revolution. M. de Rais caused it to be known that he was not only wealthy but also an extremely religious man who maintained a large boys’ choir in his castle in Tiffauges. This was a way of luring into his grasp victims of the age that suited his tastes. When the boys arrived, hoping to become part of the choir, he murdered them and ravished them while they were dying or, if they died too quickly, when they were dead.
I expect that rape and murder, either separately or mixed together, fill the fantasies of most men and all stylists. They are the supreme acts of ascendancy over others; they yield the only moments when a man is certain beyond all doubt that his message has been received. Of the few who live out these dreams, some preface rape with murder so as to avoid embracing a partner who might criticize their technique.
M. de Rais was a very different manner of man. He occasionally gave select ravishment parties. He would never have done this if he had been physically inadequate. Orgies are for sexual athletes.
After a while not even a pinch of exhibitionism could prevent his desire from outrunning his delight. He took to riding into the countryside and hunting down his little friends. (Here once again we see the strong connection between crime and sport.) In these sorties he was accompanied by a certain M. de Sillé, not so much, I feel, because he needed help as in order to have his prowess in the field admired by his peers.
When he was finally brought to trial, it was for quite another offense, but by this time rumors about his life-style had begun to spread across the land. On a journey through France he had murdered a boy while staying at an inn and this child had parents who noticed his disappearance.
If proof were needed that style engenders style, it could be found in accounts of M. de Rais’s trial. His confession was so long and so lurid that the Bishop of Nantes ordered the face of the crucifix on the wall behind him to be covered. Moreover, style was not confined to the courtroom. People came from far and wide throughout France to pray for his soul. Some of these people were the parents of the children he had murdered. If this is not style, it is at least gesture on a national scale, all brought about by one man.
At the last M. de Rais cried out, ”I am redeemable.” Into what shade is the whole of Mr. Oscar Wilde's De Profundis flung by this single sentence!
Text taken from The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp, edited and compiled by Guy Kettelhack and required reading for all.