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Sometime in the late 19th century, the body of a young woman was fished out of the Seine River in Paris. Because there was no evidence of violence upon her, it was assumed that she had taken her own life. This was nothing new. On average, some two hundred people are pulled out of Seine’s murky water each year by Paris's river police. At least a quarter of them are corpses, and nearly half of those pulled out are people attempting suicide. Young women make up the biggest proportion of suicides.

In those days, when an identified body was recovered, it was laid on a marble slab and propped up against the morgue window for the public to view, in the hope that someone will recognize it. Death and punishment were once popular forms of entertainment in Europe, and this macabre display of corpses drew everyone—from young to old—to the morgue. But nothing captured the imagination of Parisians that year, and the century that followed, like the suicide of this mysterious and beautiful young woman.

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