Steinheil: Sex, Scandal and Politics in Belle Époque France

Project Lead:

Sarah Horowitz, Associate Professor of History


Brandon Walsh, Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow (2016-2017)

Sam Gibson ’17 (2016-2017)

Megan Doherty ’19 (2017)

Project URL:

Project Description:

What is the language of scandal? This is a question that we aim to study through text analysis of the Steinheil Affair, a sex scandal that captured the French imagination in the early twentieth century. Marguerite (“Meg”) Steinheil was a politically connected courtesan and society hostess who first came to fame as the mistress of the French president Félix Faure. In May 1908, ten years after Faure died during one of their sexual encounters, her husband and mother were found murdered in their home. Meg survived the attack and spent the next six months framing innocent individuals and telling outlandish lies to mislead the police and the public. From the time of the murders to her eventual acquittal for the crime in November 1909, the case fascinated the French public. This is hardly surprising, given that scandal combined elements of a detective story – a grisly crime, dramatic twists and turns that unfolded in the press, a morally dubious but captivating heroine – with a tale of illicit sexuality and political corruption.

Mellon Summer Research Grant, Summer 2016 (Digital Humanities)
Mellon Summer Research Grant, Summer 2017 (Digital Humanities)

Methodology: OCR, python, text-analysis, and Voyant