The French literary world is in shock after a prominent publishing director, Vanessa Springora, claimed in a new book that she was drawn into a damaging relationship from the age of 14 with an acclaimed author of 50 years.
Springora’s book, Le Consentement, will be published in France in January and has already won critical acclaim and has sent shockwaves through the close-knit world of Parisian intellectuals. It has been described as a #MeToo moment for French literary circles.
Springora, 47, the head of publishing house Julliard, says in the 1980s she met author Gabriel Matzneff at dinner with her mother when she was 13 and he was 50.
She was a vulnerable teenager whose parents had gone through a difficult divorce, she writes. He chased her with letters and followed her down the street, and she started a relationship with him when she was 14, according to the book.
Springora claims Matzneff was waiting for her outside her school and at one point moved into a hotel with her to avoid a visit to her apartment from police, who had received anonymous letters warning her of an underage relationship.
Springora claims that she ended up skipping school and falling under his control. She details the confusing grooming process and her feeling that because she had consented to the relationship, she had to blame herself. She describes not understanding what it was like to be a victim and the psychological suffering that ensued.
She also describes how the French literary world of the time indulged Matzneff in his publicly stated attraction to many different teenagers. On TV chat shows he described his relationships with teenagers over the age of 15. In France, a child under 15 is considered a sexual minor but can still be considered capable of giving consent.
Matzneff has also written about his relationships with teenagers, including Springora, in published novels and diaries, and about underage sex tourism in the Philippines – while being hailed as a bold and talented writer.
Springora writes that as a teenager, she accompanied him to the recording of a television show.
In 1977, Matzneff signed an open letter calling for the release of three men in pretrial detention accused of having sex with boys aged 13 and 14. Other signatories include famous writers and intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Springora felt that Matzneff was spoiled by literary circles because he was a talented writer. She asks in the book: “Does literature excuse everything?
She told L’Obs magazine this week: “I hope to be able to bring a small stone to the edifice being built around questions of domination and consent, always linked to the notion of power.”
She said she started writing her book long before sexual misconduct accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017 prompted women to speak out. Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.
In her book, Springora says that the events of the 1980s she describes have now passed the time limit for filing a lawsuit. She describes how police questioned Matzneff after anonymous tips at the time of their relationship, but never pursued a case.
Matzneff, now 83, expressed his “sadness” in a message to L’Obs, describing the book as a “hostile, mean and denigrating work” aimed at harming him.
On Friday, Bernard Pivot, a celebrity literary critic and journalist who has interviewed Matzneff on television several times, responded to the growing controversy over how Matzneff had been allowed to portray his relationships with teenage girls on literary talk shows without being challenged by the moderator.
He said: “In the 1970s and 1980s, literature came before morality; today, morality takes precedence over literature. Morally, it is progress. We are all more or less the intellectual and moral products of a country and above all of an era.