Modern society has agreed on certain taboos, written and unwritten rules that can help keep people in line and societies flourishing. Many of these taboos cross cultural boundaries and continents, uniting us in mutual opposition to things like theft and murder. Yet apparently one taboo not all countries can agree on is sexual crimes against children.
This form of child exploitation is now challenging societal norms in France with the publication of the novel “Le Consentement,” or “The Consent,” by Vanessa Springora, detailing her relationship with a famous French writer, Gabriel Matzneff.
Matzneff might not be a household name in America unless French literature is really your thing. Matzneff’s books were published by Gallimard, one of France’s primary publishing houses. He’s written books for decades detailing his sexual preferences for children, both boys and girls, under the age of 16, even titling one of his books “Under 16 Years Old.” Somehow more than 40 of these books have been published. If this appalls you, you’re in good company.
Matzneff’s perversions have not been private, hidden, or pushed to the side, but a vital part of his literary career. He’s done radio and TV interviews about his behavior, published columns and books about his sexual preferences, and traveled in search of children to add to his list of sexual exploits.
His career demonstrates the uncomfortable truth that pedophilia has been accepted, not punished, in France when it is carried out by authors and artists, including other French notables such as Michel Foucault, John-Paul Sartre, Charles Baudelaire, and Georges Bataille, and published by elite sources such as Libération and Le Monde. This is an issue lurking behind many so-called literary elites. Matzneff’s situation is just more uncomfortable and acute because he is still alive, still writing, and has an accuser now doing her own writing about his misdeeds and their effects on her life.
Matzneff’s Crimes Were Far from ‘Exceptional Love’
Since the publication of “The Consent,” French prosecutors have begun to look into Matzneff. France’s culture minister, Franck Riester, has also announced a review will be conducted of the government’s writer’s allowance that pays Matzneff’s living expenses.
While this shows some belated attention by authorities to Mazneff’s evil actions against children for decades, it’s almost too little, too late. Twenty-five years ago, another culture minister in France awarded him the Order of Arts and Letters, which “recognize[s] eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.”
Springora’s book chronicles her relationship with this famous author, who was 50 years old when they met, from their initial meeting when she was 13 years old through their sexual relationship when she turned 14. At the time she believed she was in love with him. He would pick her up from school, take her to his house in the afternoon, and be physically intimate with her. This all changed when Springora discovered she wasn’t unique in Matzneff’s life, but part of his pattern of seducing young teens, including traveling to Asia to pay to perform sex acts on children.
Matzneff doesn’t deny the sexual relationship with Springora. Nor does he deny that it happened when she was under France’s age of consent, which is 15. He excuses the relationship because of what he calls “exceptional love” between the two of them, despite the massive and illegal age gap. He also says he won’t read her book because doing so will cause him emotional pain.
He took all of those actions despite the damage and harm done to the child involved. Serial child rape isn’t something society should ignore, even when it’s couched in terms of seduction and love, attraction, and the older party’s desire for young partners. This isn’t about sex between consenting adults, both with equal power in the relationship. This is about influential people seeking out schoolchildren to use for their sexual desires — and about a culture that has excused this practice for decades.
Elites Should Get No Pass for Child Sex Crimes
In France especially, this attitude flourished because of beliefs about the freedoms and rights of elite, creative people. Pierre Verdrager, a French sociologist, wrote about this troubling trend and the ripples across French culture, noting, “There was an aristocracy of sexuality, an elite that was united in putting forth new attitudes and behavior toward sex. And they were also grounded in an extreme prejudice toward ordinary people, whom they regarded as idiots and fools.”
It is beyond time for France to stop excusing poor behavior because of perpetrators’ professional output. Other famous celebrities with problems relating to child sex crimes, such as Roman Polanski, who was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in the United States, live in the country without penalty. Society has no good place for adults who think children should be their sexual partners, nor for societies that excuse this practice. Children should be able to enjoy their childhoods, not be pursued by predators decades their senior.
We can have art without encouraging perversion or excusing it when it is brought to light. It’s time for Matzneff to be accountable for the young lives he scarred, and for the French to face exactly why they ignored this for so long. Talent and degradation do not need to go hand in hand. All children deserve far better than this.