Uggghh, I swear I meant to finish my post about the Mont Saint-Michel prison this past weekend but I just got so completely distracted by research.
Like, turns out that one of the 1832 insurgents, a painter called Edouard Colombat, managed to escape the prison. Supposedly he was the first one who succeeded (although this is probably an exaggeration: more like first one in his era) because, well, the prison is on an island which, at the time, was about 6-7 km (about four miles I guess?) from land and really heavily guarded and with all these high walls to scale.
And then he wrote a detailed account of it. And his story is readable/downloadable right here. So of course I had to read it, right? And now I have the urge to talk about it of course… It’s like suddenly running into a real life 19th century Shawshank Redemption. I mean, if I understood correctly, he basically escaped through a kind of “sewer” too. It was like a waste disposal chute or something? (Okay the actual explanation was more complicated because he like carved through several walls etc. but still.) Except it wasn’t under ground, it just lead halfway down the wall and then he had to climb down using a rope he made out of scraps of string that he’d managed to collect but then the rope was too short and he had to jump and almost incapacitated himself in the fall but managed to keep going… And I mean, it’s possible that this is an embellished account but still, he actually did manage to escape, basically just with a nail and bits of string and months of hard work plus some help from his cellmates (who didn’t dare to follow him but were happy to give him a hand). And he was never caught.
Except unfortunately the result of his escape was that the prison rules became stricter and harsher and it was terrible for the friends he left behind. One of his cellmates, a young porter called Lepage,
a big, strong guy, lost both his physical and mental health and he died in 1843 from tuberculosis which he’d contracted in prison, impoverished and mentally ill (in Bicêtre, presumably in the asylum). Also Colombat himself apparently never fully healed from the injuries he got on his escape either and I got the impression that he couldn’t paint anymore after that… He said the right side of his body was partially paralyzed or something? He founded an inn in Jersey instead. (Eventually he was amnestied and was allowed to return to France, though. (All the 1832 insurgents who were still alive were amnestied, more or less, in 1837. Some of them under surveillance but still. (Oh and in the case of Lepage, I assume he stayed in the mental hospital but it’s not like I actually know this for a fact, I just know he died in Bicêtre in 1843.)))
Anyway, the story gave great insight into what the prison was like at the time so it’s not like it was completely irrelevant of course.
Also there are detailed accounts from other prisoners too. I’ve just been reading them and feeling alternately excited and horrified and incredibly depressed. Apparently the place became absolutely terrible for political prisoners later on. As in like you’d rather be a forced labourer than a political prisoner there…
My point is, the problem with historical research is that you risk finding something so interesting that you can’t stop reading more about it.