2019, Grasset, Paris
Jane lent me this book since it was sold out at my local bookstore. She mailed it to me after reading it herself; I call that reader solidarity, which was reassuring given the subject matter.
In crystal clear prose, Springora tells the story of her relationship at age 14 with then 50-year old writer and pedo-criminal Gabriel Matzneff, who was able to seduce her due to his literary fame, her need for a father figure, and the indifference of other adults. It is a beware-the-wolf warning, as well as a chastisement of the French literary world who glorify the talented and famous, often without counting the cost to other individuals.
Because she "consented" to this relationship, it took many years for Springora, now 47, to recognize that she had in fact been a victim of sexual abuse. She had been writing down her story over many years, with no thought of publishing it due to societal and cultural restrictions. These restrictions had unfortunately not applied to Matzneff’s work over the years, in spite of his waning popularity and a certain amount of disfavor among readers. So when the writer was given a literary award in 2013 in spite of his known pedo-criminal acts, Springora felt something had to be done and started considering publication. The MeToo movement contributed too, making publication a viable possibility where it would not have been earlier, as Springora stated in an interview. See the interview (in French) here .
Unable to press charges due to the statute of limitations, she found a different strategy to fight back against her abuser, who had regularly published personal details of his relationships with minors, including the one with her, in his books. Springora explains in her preface:
For so many years, I’d been turning around in my cage, my dreams full of murder and vengeance. Until the day I finally found the solution, right in front of my eyes, as clear as day: catch the hunter in his own trap, lock him in a book.(1)
The book reveals that Matzneff had been praised for his writing style in a letter from President François Mitterand which he kept in his pocket to impress others, including the police should they question him about his illegal relationships with minors.
When, as a guest on the most famous literary talk show of the time, he was asked about his numerous sexual relationships with minors, the host and other guests chuckled indulgently. Only one guest, the French Canadian journalist Denise Bombardier, spoke up and strongly criticized the writer, saying that he should be in jail instead of on a talk show. See video (in French) here .
A few days later, Mitterand invited Bombardier to the Elysée (the French equivalent of the White House in the USA), and commented that Matzneff was a good writer but had sunken into pedophilia. This meeting was reported in the press to “discreetly” show that Mitterand wanted to separate himself from his earlier recognition of Matzneff’s talents. However, I’d like to know why his approbation had to be “discreet” and why he didn’t do more? Surely he could have at least encouraged ceasing publication of the journals and the book Les moins de seize ans (Under Sixteens) which Springora stated in an interview is basically a guide book on how to seduce underage girls. See the interview several paragraphs above.
Why didn’t the literary world censure the publication of Matzneff’s journals or books related to pedo-criminality? Their justifications, “at the time, morals were different” or “it’s forbidden to forbid”, a popular phrase from the 1968 French cultural revolution, revered in literary circles, are hard to swallow.
Springora ends her book with a sample note from the editor which, at the very minimum, could and should have been included in Matzneff’s published journals, but was not due to complacency:
Warning to the Reader
Between the lines, and sometimes in the most direct and crude manner, certain pages of the books of G.M. (Gabriel Matzneff) represent an explicit defense of sexual assault on a minor. While literature places itself outside the sphere of moral judgement, it is our duty, as editors, to point out that the sexuality of an adult with a person not having reached the age of sexual consent is a reprehensible act, punished by law. (2)
For a more detailed article in English click here
(1) Depuis tant d’années, je tourne en rond dans ma cage, mes rêves sont peuplés de meurtre et de vengeance. Jusqu’au jour où la solution se présente enfin, là, sous mes yeux, comme une évidence: prendre le chasseur à son propre piège, l’enfermer dans un livre. (10)
(2) Entre les lignes, et parfois de la manière la plus directe et la plus crue, certaines pages des livres de G.M. constituent une apologie explicite de l’atteinte sexuelle sur mineur. La littérature se place au-dessus de tout jugement moral, mais il nous appartient, en tant qu’éditeurs, de rappeler que la sexualité d’un adulte avec une personne n’ayant pas atteint la majorité sexuelle est un acte répréhensible, puni par la loi. (Post-Scriptum)
All English Translations from the French are mine (KB)