Gabriel Michel Hippolyte Matzneff (born 12 August 1936) is a left-wing intellectual French writer and self-identified and open pederast - i.e. a “lover of children” - who often describes sexual activity with young people in his work. He is the winner of the Mottard and Amic awards from the Académie française in 1987 and 2009 respectively, the Prix Renaudot essay in 2013 and the Prix Cazes in 2015.
The critic Pol Vandromme wrote in 1974 that he was "the most notable writer of his generation." In 1985, in his published diary Un Galop d'Enfer, he stated that whilst in the Philippines he would regularly engage in sexual contact with young males. He wrote that "Sometimes, I'll have as many as four boys — from 8 to 14 years old — in my bed at the same time, and I'll engage in the most exquisite lovemaking with them." Matzneff claimed to be the author of the French Petition against Age of Consent Laws, signed by many prominent French intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir and Guy Hocquenghem. Whether this is true is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that the signatories knew precisely who authored the petition, or that knowledge of the author would have changed the signatories' willingness to sign.
This page details Matzneff's life as it relates to minor-attraction.
Gabriel Matzneff: His attraction to Youth
At the end of October 1974, Gabriel Matzneff published Les Moins de seize ans (Less than sixteen years old), in the collection "Idée fixe" directed by Jacques Chancel, an essay in which he overtly discusses his sexual attraction to “young people”, i.e. minors of both sexes. He writes:
- What captivates me is not so much a specific sex as the extreme youth, that which extends from the tenth to the sixteenth year and which seems to me to be – much more than what is usually meant by this formula – the true third sex. Sixteen is not, however, a fateful number for women, who often remain desirable beyond that age. [...] On the other hand, I can't imagine myself having a sensual relationship with a boy who has passed his seventeenth year. [...] Call me bisexual or, as the ancients said, ambidextrous, I have no problem with that. But frankly I don’t think I am. In my eyes, extreme youth alone forms a particular, unique sex.
Matzneff denounces the fact that the “erotic charm of the young boy” is denied by modern Western society “which rejects the pederast in the non-being, the kingdom of shadows”. He adds further: “the two most sensual beings I have known in my life are a boy of twelve and a girl of fifteen.”
Gabriel Matzneff admits, however, the existence of “ogres”, sadistic child abusers. He has denounced the “confusion” between the criminals and all the “pederasts”, who bring “children” “the joy of being initiated into pleasure, the only 'sex education' that is not nonsense.” For the American academic Julian Bourg, Matzneff’s distinction is a desire to defend "well-meaning paedophiles like himself".
If in 1974 he wrote that French society was “rather ‘permissive’” and that his love affairs with his “marvellous fifteen-year-old mistress” – Francesca Gee, the protagonist of the 1998 book La Passion Francesca (The Passion of Francesca), and the inspiration for the main character Angiolina in the novel Ivre du vin perdu (Drunk on Lost Wine, 1981) - “do not seem to shock anyone”. In 1994, in his preface to the fourth edition of his book, he qualified it as a “mundane suicide”, and acknowledged: “My reputation as a debauchee, a pervert, a devil dates back to Moins de seize ans.” He also deplores the fact that “the shams of the moral order have never been so wriggling and noisy. The cage in which the State, society and the family lock up minors remains hysterically locked.” In the 2020's, Francesca Gee would disavow her past relationship with Matzneff, claiming that Matzneff had used letters she wrote to him and photos of her without her permission, and expressing her desire for the cover of Ivre du vin perdu (1981) to be changed to remove the illustration of her. (See "Post 2019 backlash" below for more).
On 24 September 1981, he was criticized by the far-right weekly Rivarol, under the pen of its literary critic Robert Poulet. Matzneff wrote that "The fascist weekly then painted me as "a perverse writer, seducer and professional corrupter", who "spends half his life depraving schoolgirls, and the other half initiating children into pederasty". What can honest people do against such a scoundrel? Rivarol had the answer ready: lynching, popular justice, death."
To death threats he responded that "what was written in Rivarol had no importance whatsoever; and that it was only natural that the extreme right should speak the language of the extreme right. So I didn't phone my lawyer and I thought of other matters." In a later 1980s criticism, he describes being "struck by the similarity of the vocabulary used by anti-Semites and that used by those who call for the extermination of libertines. The ingredients are the same: jealousy, hatred, caricature to make the enemy despicable and hateful."
His open discussion of intergenerational sex slowly became more controversial during and after the 1990s, during where age-disparate sex and the figure of the "monstrous pedophile" was more and more openly denounced. For example, the late journalist Denise Bombardier was considered outspoken in 1990, for expressing her disgust towards Matzneff on the set of Apostrophes in 1990. That same year, Matzneff joined the publishing house Gallimard with the help of Philippe Sollers, who published his 1979–1982 collection of diary entries, "Les Soleils révolus", and paid monthly royalties to Matzneff until 2004.
The French context helps explain how Matzneff could live and express his sexual preference so openly. An age of consent was introduced in France on 28 April 1832, fixed to 11 years for both sexes and later raised to 13 years in 1863. On 6 August 1942, the Vichy Government introduced a discriminative law in the Penal Code: article 334 (moved to article 331 on 8 February 1945 by the Provisional Government of the French Republic) which increased the age of consent to 21 for homosexual relations and 15 for heterosexual ones. The age of 21 was then lowered to 18 in 1974, which had become the age of legal majority. This law remained valid until 4 August 1982, when it was repealed under President François Mitterrand to equalize the age of consent at 15 years of age.
Post 2019 backlash
Although Matzneff had been publicly criticized at various points throughout his career, the most consequential backlash has come for Matzneff during his 80's; his later, elderly years of life. Coinciding with various high profile panics and backlash events in the 2010s and 2020s, at the end of 2019 one of his former sexual partners, Vanessa Springora — the director of Éditions Julliard publishing house — published her book Le Consentement ("Consent"). In it, she described her retrospective interpretation of her sexual relationship with Matzneff when she was a teenager. She describes how, although she was a willing participant with Matzneff at the time of their sexual relationship, she felt it was his responsibility to not engage in such activity, and that the experience had negative effects on her and her life as a result. Matzneff had already penned an account of their relationship in La Prunelle de Mes Yeux (The apple of my eye), published in 1993.
Springora's book ignited controversy over the tolerance of the literary milieu towards an open, practicing pederast, and the French age of consent being 15 at the time. This controversy led Éditions Gallimard to withdraw their marketing services for some of Matzneff's works, with other publishers to follow. At 84 years-old, Matzneff self-published a short response to the book entitled "Vanessavirus" (2021), to which Springora replied "No comment".
In the wake of Springora's bestselling book and the media attention generated in the international press, at the beginning of 2020 the Paris prosecutor's office opened an investigation against Matzneff for "rape of a minor under the age of 15". Gallimard, the leading French publishing group and Matzneff's historical publisher for 30 years, abruptly stopped marketing the author's books in early January 2020 and recalled his books from bookstores, less than two months after having published L'Amante de l'Arsenal, the last installment of Matzneff's diary. On 12 February 2020, police searched the headquarters of Éditions Gallimard looking for, among other things, unpublished manuscripts detailing Matzneff's sexual activity with minors. According to newspaper reports in October 2021, the investigation will likely be closed due to the statute of limitations.
A pseudonymous writer using the name Lisi Cori, in a 77 page privately printed 2021 work entitled La Petite Fille et le Vilain Monsieur (The Little Girl and the Naughty Man), has compared the two published accounts of Matzneff and Springora. Their text challenges Springora’s framing of their relationship and some factual matters such as chronological accuracy.
On March 21st, 2020, the New York Times writer Norimitsu Onishi, author of two previous mainstream articles condemning Matzneff,profiled one of Matzneff's former lovers from over 40 years ago, Ms. Francesca Gee, now 62 years-old. Ms. Gee contacted the Times in the wake of Springora's publicity and after the paper had published critically on Matzneff. In the article, Ms. Gee states that she came to re-interpret her relationship with Matzneff as negative by the 1990s, almost 20 years after they parted: "For years, Ms. Gee’s feelings about her experience with Mr. Matzneff were “muddied.” Then in the early 1990s, her understanding became clearer.
"It was only when I was almost 35 years old that I realized this wasn’t a love story," Ms. Gee recalled."
Ms. Gee claims to have attempted to publish a condemnatory book on her relationship with Matzneff, which was rejected by multiple publishers, and - most seriously for Matzneff - that he had published sexually charged letters she wrote to him as a teenager without her permission. The Times wrote:
Encouraged by Mr. Matzneff, Ms. Gee had written him hundreds of amorous and sexually explicit letters during their three years together.
Some of them he published in 1974, without her authorization, in his fierce defense of pedophilia, “Les Moins de Seize Ans” (“Under 16 Years Old”). He was offering those letters, he wrote in another book, “Les Passions Schismatiques,” as evidence that “a relationship of love between an adult and a child could be for the latter extremely rich, and the source of a fullness of life.”
Ms. Gee said the words in the letters were those of a teenager manipulated by a man the age of her parents. Her letters were also used in “Ivre du vin perdu,” the novel whose cover featured an illustration of her.
“Now I consider they were extorted and used as a weapon against me,” Ms. Gee said. In her manuscript, Ms. Gee writes that “he used me to justify the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers.”
In 1992, the article states that Ms. Gee contacted Matzneff to demand that he stop using her letters and that he return them to her. "Eventually, he sent her a photocopied stack — a carefully selected batch that excluded her negative correspondence." The article states as fact, the in-reality alleged until proven otherwise existence (and self-censorship), of negative correspondence that the teenaged Gee sent to Matzneff. Unless Gee has kept copies of her old, apparently negative letters, this claim is only provable by Matzneff if he has kept them and if they ever existed. The article stated:
A decade later, in 2002, it was Mr. Matzneff who wrote to her, asking, for the first time, her permission to use old photographs of her in a book. In the turquoise blue ink that he always used to pen his letters, Mr. Matzneff offered to identify the teenager as “the young girl who inspired the character of Angiolina in ‘Ivre du vin perdu.’”
Not only did Ms. Gee refuse, but she also demanded again that his books be purged of her letters and that her face be taken off the cover of “Ivre du vin perdu.” [...]
Matzneff is quoted as saying: if Ms. Gee “called me tomorrow, I would be delighted to see her.”
Matzneff in earlier years of life
Matzneff the writer
An unknown girl reads Gabriel Matzneff on the banks of the Seine
Matzneff with the teenager (identity unknown to Newgon) who inspired the character of Anne-Geneviève in Ivre du vin perdu, at Notre-Dame (photo by Arnaud Baumann)
Marie-Agnès B., very present in Gabriel Matzneff's diaries - in particular in Mes amours décomposés, in Calamity Gab, in La prunelle de mes yeux, in Carnets noirs 2007-2008 and in Les Emiles de Gab la Rafale - and who inspired one of the poems of Super Flumina Babylonis and the character of Constance in Here come the Fiancé.
- English translation of Lisi Cori, The Little Girl and the Naughty Man (2021)
- Chronology of Matzneff's life. (French).
- Links to interviews with Matzneff, from 1969 to 2012. (French).
- The online origin source for the photo has a description which reads: G.M. et l'adolescente qui lui inspira le personnage d'Allegra dans Harrison Plaza, or, in English, G.M. and the teenager who inspired the character of Allegra in Harrison Plaza. Based on the translated 2021 book by Lisi Cori which states that Vanessa Springora inspired this character (page 56), we have reason to believe this to be a photo of the pair together. The book states: "Les Demoiselles du Taranne tells us that they met again and wrote to each other several times in 1988, and that their exchanges were sometimes tender and friendly, sometimes stormy. In April, young Vanessa came to see him at the Salon du Livre stand, where he was signing Harrison Plaza, the novel inspired by their love affair (and published just three months after their break-up)."
- Le Rappel de Charleroi [The Recall of Charleroi] (in French), Éditions du Sandre, 27 April 2010, p. 271.
- Onishi, Norimitsu (11 February 2020), "A Pedophile Writer Is on Trial. So Are the French Elites", The New York Times.
- Article by Matzneff (in French).
- See, for example, Steven Angelides. (October, 2005). The Emergence of the Paedophile in the Late Twentieth Century. Australian Historical Studies, 36(126): 272-29. Researchgate link. IPCE link.
- Most of the information above is paraphrased from an article in Le Monde, cited in Wikipedia.
- Denise Bombardier est morte : elle avait accusé Gabriel Matzneff de pédophilie à la TV
- Teller report 2021.
- Anna Archive links to Lisi Cori's book [In French]. Amazon link (French); (English translated link).
- Onishi, A Pedophile Writer Is on Trial. So Are the French Elites. (NY Times, Feb 2020).
- Onishi, Supporter of Gabriel Matzneff Says He Was Unaware of Pedophilia. (NY Times, March 2020).