A family locked in a mansion somewhere in the north of France: a fanatical father obsessed with the idea of raising a superhuman daughter, a weak-willed mother and a victim girl. Cruel experiments, isolation, violence… Is it possible to survive in such extreme conditions and preserve everything human in oneself? Maud Julien shared her scary story in her book Daughter’s Tale.
In 1960, the Frenchman Louis Didier bought a house near Lille and retired there with his wife to carry out the project of his life – to raise a superhuman out of his little daughter, Maud.
Maud was waiting for strict discipline, tests of willpower, hunger, lack of the slightest warmth and sympathy from her parents. Showing amazing resilience and will to live, Maud Julien grew up to become a psychotherapist and found the strength to share her experience publicly. We publish excerpts from her book “Daughter’s Tale”, which is published by the Eksmo publishing house.
“Father repeats again that everything he does, he does for me. That he devotes his whole life to me in order to teach, shape, sculpt from me the higher being that I am destined to become …
I know that I must show myself worthy of the tasks that he will set before me later. But I’m afraid I won’t be able to meet his requirements. I feel too weak, too clumsy, too stupid. And I’m so afraid of him! Even his overweight body, large head, long thin arms and steely eyes. I am so afraid that my legs give way when I approach him.
Even more terrible for me is that I stand alone against this giant. No comfort or protection can be expected from the mother. “Monsieur Didier” for her is a demigod. She loves and hates him, but she never dares to contradict him. I have no choice but to close my eyes and, shaking with fear, take refuge under the wing of my creator.
My father sometimes tells me that I should never leave this house, even after he dies.
My father is convinced that the mind can achieve anything. Absolutely everything: he can defeat any danger and overcome any obstacle. But to do this, a long, active preparation is required, away from the filth of this unclean world. He always says: “Man is inherently evil, the world is inherently dangerous. The earth is full of weak, cowardly people who are pushed to betrayal by their weakness and cowardice.
The father is disappointed with the world; he was often betrayed. “You don’t know how lucky you are to be spared the defilement of other people,” he tells me. That’s what this house is for, to keep the miasma of the outside world at bay. My father sometimes tells me that I must never leave this house, not even after he dies.
His memory will live on in this house, and if I take care of him, I will be safe. And sometimes she says that later I can do whatever I want, I can become the president of France, the mistress of the world. But when I leave this house, I will not do it in order to live the aimless life of “Miss Nobody”. I will leave him to conquer the world and “achieve greatness.”
“Mother considers me a quirky creature, a bottomless well of bad will. I’m clearly splattering ink on the paper on purpose, and just as deliberately I chipped off a piece near the glass top of the large dining table. I deliberately stumble or flay my skin when I pull out the weeds in the garden. I fall and get scratched on purpose too. I am a “liar” and a “pretender”. I always try to draw attention to myself.
At the same time that reading and writing classes began, I was learning to ride a bicycle. I had a kid’s bike with training wheels on the back wheel.
“Now we’ll take them off,” said the mother one day. Father stood behind us, silently watching the scene. My mother forced me to sit on the suddenly unstable bicycle, grabbed me firmly with both hands, and—whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh strongly pushed forward down the sloping driveway.
As I fell, I tore my leg on the gravel and burst into tears of pain and humiliation. But when I saw those two impassive faces watching me, the sobs stopped by themselves. Without a word, my mother put me back on the bike and pushed me as many times as it took for me to learn to balance on my own.
So you can fail your exams and still not be a walking disappointment.
My abrasions were treated on the spot: my mother held my knee tightly, and my father poured medical alcohol directly onto the aching wounds. Crying and moaning were forbidden. I had to grind my teeth.
I also learned to swim. Of course, going to the local swimming pool was out of the question. The summer when I was four years old, my father built a swimming pool “just for me” at the end of the garden. No, not a beautiful blue water pool. It was a rather long narrow strip of water, squeezed on both sides by concrete walls. The water there was dark, icy, and I could not see the bottom.
As with the bicycle, my first lesson was simple and quick: my mother just threw me into the water. I thrashed, screamed and drank water. Just when I was ready to sink like a stone, she dived in and fished me out. And everything happened again. I screamed again, cried and choked. Mother pulled me out again.
“You will be punished for that stupid whining,” she said before unceremoniously throwing me back into the water. My body struggled to float while my spirit curled up inside me into a slightly tighter ball each time.
“A strong man does not cry,” said the father, watching this performance from a distance, standing so that the spray did not reach. – You need to learn how to swim. This is vital in case you fall off the bridge or have to run for your life.
I gradually learned to keep my head above the water. And over time, she even became a good swimmer. But I hate the water just as much as I hate this pool where I still have to train.”
(10 years later)
“One morning, going down to the first floor, I notice an envelope in the mailbox and almost fall, seeing my name written in beautiful handwriting on it. Nobody ever wrote to me. My hands are shaking with excitement.
I see on the back of the letter that it is from Marie-Noelle, whom I met during the exams – a girl full of joy and energy, and, moreover, a beauty. Her luxurious black hair is pulled back at the back of her head in a ponytail.
“Listen, we could correspond,” she said then. – Can you give me your address?
I frantically open the envelope and unfold two full sheets, covered on both sides with lines of blue ink, with flowers drawn in the margins.
Marie-Noelle tells me that she failed her exams, but it doesn’t matter, she still has a wonderful summer. So you can fail your exams and still not be a walking disappointment.
I remember she told me that she got married at seventeen, but now she says that she quarreled with her husband. She met another guy and they kissed.
Then Marie-Noel tells me about her holidays, about “mom” and “dad” and how happy she is to see them because she has so much to tell them. She hopes that I will write to her and that we will meet again. If I want to come and see her, her parents will be happy to host me, and I can stay at their summer house.
I’m overjoyed: she remembers me! Her happiness and energy are contagious. And the letter fills me with hope. It turns out that after failed exams, life goes on, that love does not end, that there are parents who continue to talk to their daughters.
What could I write to her about? I have nothing to tell her … And then I think: no, there is! I can tell her about the books I read, about the garden, and about Pete, who just recently died, having lived a good long life. I can tell her how he’s become a “lame duck” in recent weeks and how I’ve watched him hobble with love.
I realize that even cut off from the world, I have something to say, that life goes on everywhere.
I look directly into my father’s eyes. I know everything about maintaining eye contact – even more than he does, because he is the one who averts his eyes.
In my mind I write her a letter on several pages; I don’t have a loved one, but I am in love with life, with nature, with newly hatched pigeons … I ask my mother for beautiful paper and stamps. She demands first to let her read Marie-Noelle’s letter and almost suffocates with indignation:
“You’ve only been outside once, and you’ve already gotten mixed up with prostitutes!” A girl who marries at seventeen is a prostitute! And she kissed another guy!
But she’s getting divorced…
Mother confiscates the letter and strictly forbids me from contact with “that dirty whore.” I am disheartened. What now? I walk around my cage and hit the bars from all sides. I am both annoyed and offended by the bombastic speeches that my mother makes at the table.
“We wanted to create the perfect person out of you,” she says, “and this is what we got. You are a walking disappointment.
Father chooses this very moment to subject me to one of his crazy exercises: cutting the throat of a chicken and demanding that I drink her blood.
– It’s good for the brain.
No, this is too much. Does he not understand that I have nothing more to lose? What does he have to do with kamikaze? No, he doesn’t understand. He insists, speaks out, threatens … When he starts yelling in the same bass that made my blood run cold in my veins as a child, I explode:
– I said no! I will not drink chicken blood, today or any other day. And by the way, I’m not going to look after your tomb. Never! And if necessary, I will fill it with cement so that no one can return from it. I know everything about how to prepare cement – thanks to you!
I look directly into my father’s eyes, holding his gaze. I also know everything about maintaining eye contact – it seems even more than he does, because he averts his eyes. I’m on the verge of fainting, but I did it.”
Maud Julien’s book “Daughter’s Tale” is published in December 2019 by the Eksmo publishing house.