PARIS – Francesca Gee remembers hanging out in Paris with a friend one day in late autumn in 1983, when they spotted a new bookstore. As they lingered outside the store, her friend suddenly drew her attention to the bottom of the window.
“Look, it’s you!” “
Ms. Gee’s face was staring at her from the cover of Drunk on Lost Wine , a novel by Gabriel Matzneff, the writer and defender of pedophilia. Ten years earlier, at the age of 15, Ms. Gee had entered into a traumatic relationship that had lasted three years with Mr. Matzneff – much older than she was. Now, not only did he show a portrait of her teenage girl on the cover of her novel, but he included in it the letters she had written to her, she protested, without her permission or even having informed her.
For decades, despite repeated protests, Mr. Matzneff used Ms. Gee’s correspondence to justify pedophilia and what he claimed to be wonderful love stories with teenage girls. He enjoyed the incessant support of a part of the literary, media, economic and political elites.
The writings of Mr. Matzneff were relayed by some of the most prestigious publishing houses in France, notably Gallimard, who published Drunk wine lost for almost forty years with this same cover – thus making use of the portrait of Mrs. Gee to precisely promote the type of report that had injured at least two victims of Mr. Matzneff for life.
“This image of me is chasing me, it’s like a malicious double,” says Ms. Gee.
Ms. Gee’s story is about a woman who could not be heard – until today.
Now 62, she contacted the New York Times after publishing an article detailing how Mr. Matzneff had openly and for decades described his sexual relationships with adolescent girls and prepubertal boys.
Breaking a 44-year-old silence – a difficult but well-considered decision – Ms. Gee, who has been a journalist and speaks fluent English, French, Italian and Spanish, gave us a two-day series of interviews in the southwest of France, where she lives today.
His decision was made easier by the cultural change we are witnessing in France. Mr. Matzneff had his first successes in the 1970s, when pedophilia was put forward by certain French intellectuals as a way to free themselves from parental oppression.
If this vision has not been used since the 1990s, Mr. Matzneff nevertheless continued to be published and to have had some success until the end of last year. But in the past two months, he has not only been summoned to appear in court on charges of pedophilia, but has also been stripped of state decorations and abandoned by his three publishers.
It was only after the release of the Consent last January that Gallimard suspended the sale of the novel containing the portrait of Mrs. Gee on the cover. The Consent is the first evidence to emerge of a minor victim of Mr. Matzneff Vanessa Springora.
Overnight, this book made the much-celebrated author an outcast from society. He went into hiding in Italy, while his former supporters among the French elite carefully distanced themselves from , or even denied him.
Upon learning of the release of the Consent , Ms. Gee said that she had “exulted” that the “Vanessa” from Mr. Matzneff’s books, which she had never met but which she had always considered a little sister, spoke.
“She did the job, I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” she remembers thinking. “But a week or two later, I realized that I was totally part of this story.”
The fact is that in 2004, twenty years before Le Consentement shattered France, Ms. Gee had tried to make her own story heard. In vain. She had produced a manuscript detailing her relationship with Mr. Matzneff, addressing some of the same themes and with the same vocabulary as that used in Le Consentement .
None of the publishers she submitted it to accepted it.
At Albin Michel, one of the largest publishing houses, a receptive editor had presented the manuscript to a reading committee, but the latter had ended up rejecting it.
In his rejection letter, Thierry Pfister, the publisher in question, explained that certain members of this committee had expressed reservations; in particular that the target, Mr. Matzneff, was “too Germanopratin” – Saint-Germain-des-Prés being synonymous with the French publishing industry concentrated in this Parisian district.
“At the time, Matzneff was not the somewhat isolated old gentleman that he is today,” explains Mr. Pfister, recently joined, who no longer works at Albin Michel. “He was still in Paris with his networks, his friendships”.
“We made the decision by saying, we’re not going to cross paths with this band,” he adds. “There [were] more shots to be taken than gains to be made. I pleaded his case. I was not followed ”.
Mr. Matzneff’s arm was surprisingly long.
In 1973, when Mrs. Gee was 15 and Mr. Matzneff 37, a friend of the writer introduced them to a gynecologist who agreed to prescribe the contraceptive pill to minors without the authorization of their parents, which was then illegal.
In his journal at the time, Élie et Phaéton , M. Matzneff reports that the gynecologist, Dr. Michèle Barzach, “at no time did he think he should lecture this thirty-seven year old man and his mistress. fifteen”.
Ms. Gee says she has seen Dr. Barzach half a dozen times in three years, still with Mr. Matzneff.
“He calls her to make an appointment, and here we go,” she recalls. “He is in the waiting room during the consultation. Then he comes in, they talk and he rules it out ”.
In his other journals, Mr. Matzneff writes that Dr. Barzach became the gynecologist with whom, after his breakup with Ms. Gee in 1976, he continued for years to take young minors.
Dr. Barzach , who is also a psychoanalyst, was Minister of Health from 1986 to 1988 under the chairmanship of Jacques Chirac.
From 2012 to 2015, she was President of the French branch of UNICEF, the United Nations agency for the protection of children. Arguing of confidentiality, UNICEF refused to provide us with the contact details of Dr Barzach, who is no longer at the agency. Dr. Barzach did not respond to the interview request that UNICEF assured us had sent him.
‘Love’ or ‘Hostage Taking’?
Mr. Matzneff has repeatedly argued that his relationships with underage girls do them a great service. He said he was certain that their initiation into art, literature, love and sex by an older man had made them happier, more free.
This certainty – reinforced by his support – was not questioned until the publication in January of the Consent. On the contrary, Ms. Springora affirms that her relationship with Mr. Matzneff, which began when she was 14 years old, produced psychological disorders that permanently affected her.
In her unpublished 2004 manuscript, Ms. Gee described her relationship with the writer as “a cataclysm that fell on me at 15, and that was to change the course of my existence” – leaving her “ashamed, bitter, confused “
The testimony of Ms. Gee and Ms. Springora is all the more significant since Mr. Matzneff has repeatedly described these women as two of the three great loves of his life. He devoted each of them to diaries, novels, poems and essays – works which, according to anti-pedophilia associations , served as intellectual guarantees to many men attacking prepubertal children or adolescent girls.
Ms. Gee remembers meeting Mr. Matzneff for the first time in 1973, in Paris, with his mother who had known him several years earlier.
David Gee, his younger brother, remembers that their parents regularly invited the writer to the dinners they organized. His presence particularly pleased their father, a British journalist long based in Paris who sought to find a place in French society.
“It was one of the most socially important things to be part of the intelligentsia,” says Gee. “It counted more than thinking about the side effects of pedophilia.”
With her father’s approval, Ms. Gee attended the writer for three years, powerless to break up. Her father died in 2014.
To maintain his grip on the adolescent, Mr. Matzneff employed tactics which he would later resume with Ms. Springora. He isolated her, forbidding her to hang out with friends his age.
He used his political connections to have Ms. Gee transferred to a high school near his home, a fact he brags about in his newspaper.
Mr. Matzneff then got into the habit of waiting for Ms. Gee in front of the new establishment, the Lycée Montaigne, along the Jardin du Luxembourg.
“He came every day to make sure everyone understood that nothing should be done to me,” recalls Ms. Gee. “He was stationed at a very specific place, and that’s where he was waiting for me.”
Ms. Gee was recently received by one of the investigators responsible for the investigation of Mr. Matzneff and his supporters, which opened shortly after the release of the Consent .
The interview took place in Paris and lasted five hours. Ms. Gee says that after hearing her describe her relationship with Mr. Matzneff, the investigator called her “hostage-taking”.
Prisoner of his writings
In 1976, at the age of 18 and after several desperate attempts, Mrs. Gee finally succeeded in freeing herself from the grip of the writer. She had become more and more critical of him. “It was growing up, in fact,” she analyzes today.
However, she would remain hostage to this man for a long time – trapped in his stories and his letters.
During the three years of their relationship, Mr. Matzneff had indeed encouraged Ms. Gee to write her hundreds of letters with a romantic and sexual connotation.
In 1974, without Ms. Gee’s authorization, he included some of them in Les Under-sixteen , which is a fierce pro-pedophilia plea. In Les Passions schismatique , another of his books, he even erected these letters as evidence “[that] a love relationship between an adult and a child can be extremely fruitful for the latter, and the source of a fullness of life “.
If she wrote them well, Ms. Gee today sees in these letters the expression of a teenager manipulated by a man the age of her parents. We also find his correspondence in the novel Drunk on lost wine , on the cover of which is an illustrated replica of a photograph of her at 15 years old.
“Today, I consider that they were extorted from me and used as weapons against me,” says Ms. Gee.
“He never stopped using me to justify the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents,” she wrote in her manuscript.
For a long time, Ms. Gee’s feelings regarding her experience with Mr. Matzneff remained “confused”. Then, in the early 1990s, she managed to see more clearly.
“It wasn’t until I was almost 35 that I realized it wasn’t a love story,” recalls Ms. Gee.
In 1992, she contacted Mr. Matzneff to demand that he stop using her letters and return them to her. He ended up sending her back a batch of photocopied letters – a carefully redacted selection of all negative tone correspondence.
Ten years later, in 2002, Mr. Matzneff wrote to him asking for the first time his permission to use old photographs of her in a book that was being prepared about him. By the turquoise blue ink that he always used for his correspondence, Mr. Matzneff suggested that he identify him as “the girl who inspired him the character of Angiolina in Drunk on Lost Wine “.
Not only did Ms. Gee refuse, but she renewed her request that her letters be redacted from the books and that her vishonoage cease to appear on the cover of Drunk on Lost Wine . She also demanded that three old photos of her be removed from a website dedicated to Mr. Matzneff, created by an admirer, Frank Laganier. The photos only disappeared from the site seven years later, in 2010, said Gee, after relentless pressure from her.
Mr. Laganier, who currently lives in Paris, declined our requests for an interview. His lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat – who is currently defending Mr. Matzneff in a pedophilia case and is a longtime supporter of the writer – refused to be officially interviewed.
In 2004, Ms. Gee was preparing to sue Gallimard – the publisher of Drunk on Lost Wine and La Passion Francesca , the newspaper run by Mr. Matzneff on their relationship – but she had backed down because of the cost too high attorney fees. Gallimard did not respond to our maintenance requests and Antoine Gallimard, the director of the publishing house, did not respond to our request sent to his e-mail address.
Ms. Gee could therefore neither restrict Mr. Matzneff nor tell his story.
After Albin Michel’s rejection, Ms. Gee had nevertheless submitted her manuscript to other publishing houses, still without success.
Geneviève Jurgensen was an editor at Bayard and met Ms. Gee in 2004. The subject covered in the manuscript was not, she says, in accordance with Bayard’s editorial line, rather specialized in children’s books and works of philosophy and religion.
In re-reading extracts from the text recently, Ms. Jurgensen considers that it is “well written” and that he reports “situations that seem almost verbatim those described by Vanessa Springora”.
“It was obviously not the quality of the book that was in question,” judges Ms. Jurgensen of Ms. Gee’s failure to find a publisher in 2004. “Clearly, it was fifteen years too early. The world was not ready ”.
The latest refusal came from Grasset, the same publisher who, last January, broke a taboo by publishing Le Consentement de Mme Springora.
Martine Boutang, editor at Grasset, remembers that she had been moved by Ms. Gee’s testimony but that she did not see how to publish it: the subject was “too sensitive” and two members of Grasset’s reading committee were ” close to Matzneff “.
“It was not the quality of the text that was at issue,” she insists.
Ms. Gee remembers having the impression that Ms. Boutang was trying to delay the project by asking her to rewrite the manuscript, and that in reality had no intention of publishing. Ms. Boutang says that she does not remember asking him to rework it.
Mr. Matzneff, for his part, encountered no obstacle to the continued publication of his writings – including Les Under-sixteen , in which he used the adolescent letters of Mme Gee to justify pedophilia and sex with minors .
Hope to escape
In a recent interview from the Italian Riviera where he is hidden, Mr. Matzneff assured that if Ms. Gee called him tomorrow, he would be “delighted to see her”.
What would enchant Ms. Gee is that he stops remembering his memory. He mentions it again a dozen times in his last book released in November, more than forty years after their separation. Ms. Gee is now working on a new manuscript about the writer.
Over the years, sometimes unexpected incidents have reminded her that she remains trapped in Mr. Matzneff’s books.
A few years ago, she found herself in front of the Lycée Montaigne, her old establishment. She was waiting there for her niece Lélia who was then schooled there.
“I’m waiting for her where Matzneff used to wait for me,” recalls Ms. Gee.
At lunch, his niece, who was in a literary sector, told him that she “studies a contemporary author named Gabriel Matzneff”.
This is how Lélia, who is now 25 years old, discovered that these books she had read dealt with a “family history”. She regrets having made little mention with her aunt of this period with Mr. Matzneff.
“Where I have the most information on all of this is from Gabriel Matzneff, not my aunt,” she says. “And this is precisely where the problem arises.”
Daphne Anglès and Constant Méheut contributed to this report.