French Author Under Fire for Child Abuse; Publisher Pulls His Books

Following the recent accusations against the filmmakers Christophe Ruggia and Roman Polanski, France is having a third belated #metoo moment with the scandal surrounding Gabriel Matzneff, a French writer who’s been critically revered even though he’s bragged about having sex with teenagers for four decades.

Matzneff, now 83, is the author of “Under 16 Years Old,” among his many books promoting sex with minors. He just wrote a new book, “The Lover at the Arsenal,” published by the leading French publishing house Gallimard.

Gallimard has now pulled all of Matzneff’s books, including his latest, according to media reports.

The scandal erupted immediately after the publication on Jan. 2 of “The Consent,” a book written by Vanessa Springora, who recounts how she was manipulated by V., a powerful man in his 50s, when she met him at the age of 14 and got involved with him. She also recounts her disillusionment when she discovered that he had a habit of preying on young teenagers and practiced child sex tourism in Asia. Although Springora does not name Matzneff, she told local media that she was referring to him, their relationship and the entrapment she felt.

A day after the publication of “The Consent,” the Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened a preliminary investigation into Matzneff for sexual aggression against a minor under the age of 15. Even if Springora’s allegation cannot result in criminal charges because France’s statute of limitations has passed, the Paris prosecutor will be searching for other potential victims in France and abroad. Under a French law passed in 2018, any sexual act by an adult with a child younger than 15 can be prosecuted as a sexual offense. The statute of limitation was extended to 30 years in 2018, but it’s not retroactive, so it doesn’t apply to Springora’s case.

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Springora said in an interview with the French radio station France Info that she felt compelled to start writing her book after Matzneff received the prestigious Renaudot Prize in 2013 for his novel “Séraphin, c’est la fin!.” The Renaudot award is a French literary prize awarded every year to the author of an outstanding original novel.

“(The Renaudot Prize) is part of the provocations which for me was unbearable. There were many others,” Springora told France Info. She said writing “The Consent” was important to her because she wanted to express the voice of a young woman who had been a victim. “It’s a voice that we never hear in literature. It’s the counterpart of ‘Lolita’ by Nabokov,” said Springora.

Celebrated throughout his career, Matzneff was named Officer of Arts and Letters by the then-culture minister Jacques Toubon in 1985, and received the Amic prize from the French Academy in 2009.

Although Matzneff documented his wrongdoings himself in his books , Springora’s testimony has rocked the boat in France because it’s highlighting the country’s more lax attitude towards artists and filmmakers who are also well-known sexual predators, granting them total impunity.

France’s culture minister Franck Riester, who had declared in the wake of Valentine Monnier’s accusation against Roman Polanski that “genius is not a guarantee of impunity,” has been pressured to take measures to curb sexual harassment and violence in the cultural sphere. Reacting to Springora’s book and the investigation launched by the Paris prosecutor, Riester said France’s national book center should not continue to give Matzneff an annual subsidy. Since 2012, Matzneff has received 160,000 Euros ($178,000) from the government-backed institution.

“The facts that are being reported lead me to consider that this subsidy isn’t justified and should not have been maintained,” said Riester in a letter to the book center. Riester also said he wanted the center to launch a commission to determine which writers should continue receiving a subsidy every year.

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