Monday, March 22, 2021

Vanessa Springora's "Consent: A Memoir": "Electric" Gabriel Matzneff's Sexual Affairs with Teen Fans

We wrote a post about Le Consentement, the French version of Vanessa Springora's Consent: A Memoir. The first paragraph from the dusk jacket of the English translation will serve as a memoir summary:

Vanessa had been waiting for love since she was five years old. At thirteen [13], she thought she found it [...] Vanessa met G. [Gabriel Matzneff] at a dinner party boasting some of France's biggest authors. G. was a man with an electric presence - brilliant, romantic, with a fatherly smile. Vanessa and G. went on dates to bookshops, exchanged passionate letters, shared tender embraces in stairwells. G. was fifty [50] years old. This is not a love story.

However, the first five sentences of the dust jacket and the first one-third of the memoir does sound like a love story.  This raises the question: Did Springora, like Kate Elizabeth Russell of My Dark Vanessa and Alisson Wood of Being Lolitause the allure of nymphets to sell the book by describing scenes of graphic age-gap sex but then end the book by describing her current trauma - thereby avoiding being canceled? Don't answer. That's a rhetorical question. But interestingly, Springora shared in the prologue: "Today, I view books with suspicion."

Let's share some excerpts from the memoir, which Springora opened with: 

"AT THE THRESHOLD OF LIFE, UNBLEMISHED BY EXPERIENCE, my name is V., and at the grand old age of five [5], I am waiting for love." Aww...

In addition to waiting for love, at the age of five (5),  V. had a habit of going to the boy's bathroom to help, "[...] David pee straight. I hold his weenie for him." Really?

Several years prior to the sixth grade, V. engaged in pre-teen pre-sex. For example, V., Julien, and Julien's cousin ([...] a girl a little older than the two of us [...]"): 

[...] had a collection of accessories that seemed to us incredibly erotic: feathers [...] One of us would be designated the consenting prisoner, while the other two would set about stroking the powerless victim, who was usually blindfolded and handcuffed, nightgown lifted or pajama bottoms lowered [...] We thrilled at the delicious caresses, and sometimes even furtively placed our lips, screened by a piece of fabric, on a nipple or a smooth mound." Delicious caresses?

V. got her period in the 6th grade and wrote: "Since my father had fallen off the radar, I had begun desperately trying to attract men's attention." But this implies that if V.'s father were around, she would not have tried to attract men's attention. Question. Is V. implying that she "desperately" tried to attract G.'s attention. And is V. blaming her absent father for her age-gap affair? Yes. V. wrote:

A father, conspicuous only by his absence, who left an unfathomable void in my life. A pronounced taste for reading. A certain sexual precocity. And, most of all, an enormous need to be seen. All the necessary elements were now in place [to be victimized].

Wait, now I'm confused. Is V. additionally blaming her absent father for her "taste for reading" and "sexual precocity"?

V. was fourteen (14) when she met G. whom she described as "handsome", "scrupulously maintained", with "[...] the lean physique of a Buddhist monk, preternaturally blue eyes - that was all it took to seize my attention." "His voice [...] insinuated itself inside me like a spell, an enchantment [...] His presence was electric."

Once again, the reader can infer that V. is implying that if her father were around, she would have been able to resist G.'s electric presence (i.e., If V.'s father were around, G.'s presence would not have have been electric.)

Gabriel Matzneff

Interestingly, V. did not (clearly) take any blame for her part in the age-gap sexual affair with G. that was consummated with anal sex. 

[...] this was the one thing I'd been dreaming of. In a confusion of bravado and romance, I had already secretly determined the inevitable outcome - G. would be my first lover. That was the reason I was lying on his bed [...] 

G. flipped me over on the mattress and set about licking every single part of my body from top to toe: back of my neck, shoulders, back, hips, buttocks. Something of my presence in the world dissolved. And, while his greedy tongue insinuated itself inside of me, my soul took flight.

That is how I lost the first part of my virginity. Just like a little boy, he whispered to me in a soft voice. 

Even though V. shared that she was "dazed with love". She confessed: "I could have stood up and left. I wasn't afraid of G. He would never force me to stay against my will, I was sure of that." 

When V.'s mother, whom came to condone the age-gap relationship between G. and her daughter ("She sometimes invited him for dinner in our little attic apartment."), initially threatened to send V. to boarding school, V. responded: 

"How could she think of depriving me of this, my first, my last, my only love? [...] I would never agree to be apart from him. I would rather die." 


To make a long memoir short, ultimately V. ended the age-gap affair, but not because she came to the realization that she was a victim. (She had to be convinced of that later.) Why? V. wrote:

Conversely, all the girls dreamed of meeting him. One day a girl asked me if he would read a story she'd written. Nothing could be more valuable than a "professional" writer's opinion. The adolescent girls of my era were a lot more brazen than their parents imagined. A fact that obviously delighted G.

Consequently, the beginning of the end of the famous age-gap affair commenced after V. was informed, "He's cheating on you." And, "I saw the old man you're going out with on the bus, kissing another girl." 

[...] if I could have been sure of being the first and the last - if I had, in short, been the exception in his love life. If that had been the case, how could anyone fail to pardon his transgression? Love has no age limit. That was not the issue.

And the end came after V. read in G.'s notebook about his rendezvous with Nathalie whom G. described as "radiant". "We spent a delicious, divine time together." Consequently, V. wrote:

This lie was the last straw [...] I'd been cheated, tricked, abandoned to my fate. And I only had myself to blame.

To be clear, (almost) every (Orthodox) Muslim and Jew would agree that G. should not have had a pre-marital sexual affair with V., and that V. should not have had a pre-marital sexual affair with G. However, it appears that most readers would (openly) opine that V. is a complete victim, and thereby, completely innocent of her part in the affair. And that G., V.'s absent father, V.'s mother, and the French literary society are solely to blame. 

But does V. really believe that she shares no responsibility:

And when, later on, the different therapists I saw did all they could to explain to me that I'd been the victim of a sexual predator, even then it seemed to me that this wasn't the "middle way" either. That wasn't wasn't quite right.

Lastly, I don't have the numbers for the English translation, but, per Zaleski of The Daily Beast, Le Consentement: "[...] quickly sold out at many Paris bookstores, as well as on Amazon." And Le Consentement was awarded the Grand Prix des Lectrices ELLE (2020).


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