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Even Paris was shocked by the brazen killing. On March 16, 1914, Henriette Caillaux, wife of France’s minister of finance, ordered her husband’s official limousine to take her to a gun dealer, where she purchased a Browning revolver.
She then calmly waited an hour at the offices of Le Figaro for editor in chief Gaston Calmette to return. Pulling the gun from her elegant fur muff, Madame Caillaux shot him four times at point-blank range.
Le Figaro, repulsed by the finance minister’s progressive tax policies, had begun publishing a scandalous correspondence provided by Caillaux’s ex-wife, whom he had divorced to marry Henriette.
Before buying the gun, the second Madame Caillaux had left her husband a note saying: “I’ll do it for you.”
The defense lawyer argued that since women are incapable of controlling their emotions, this was a crime of passion, not premeditation. Henriette Caillaux was duly acquitted.
Fixated on the summer’s juicy murder trial, newspapers barely noted the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
I spoke with Philipp Blom, author of “The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914,” on the following topics:
1. Shaken by Speed
2. New Physics
3. Avant-Garde Art
4. Radical Feminism
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)