Denise Bombardier: “In America, Mr. Matzneff Would Already Be in Jail”

In 1990, the Quebecer journalist was the only person to condemn the acts of pedophilia committed by Gabriel Matzneff. The successful French writer was an idol of the Parisian intelligentsia who used his attraction to young boys and girls as a major inspiration for his books.
© Serge Benhamou/Gamma

After being insulted by her French colleagues, Denise Bombardier has become a heroine for victims who have come forward. Author Vanessa Springora thanked her in her book, Consent, published in France in January, in which she recounts how she was manipulated by the writer, 30 years her senior, when she was just 14. “She was so damaged,” said Bombardier in an interview with France-Amérique. “I had to say something. It was too serious.”

France-Amérique: On March 2, 1990, you confronted Gabriel Matzneff on the television show Apostrophes. What happened afterwards?

Denise Bombardier: I received hundreds of letters from people in France thanking me, but the national newspaper Le Monde never published another article about my books. I was boycotted. My novel had been nominated for the Prix Femina, and after that I was never put forward for another literary award. People said I needed to get laid. Others said I was a bad writer – the ultimate insult for ruining a literary reputation in France. I was punished for denouncing a pervert and the incestuous world that protected him. “This is going to harm your book,” said my publisher at Seuil. “You’re going to be lynched. Your future as a writer in France will be compromised.”

The French president, François Mitterrand himself, summoned you to the Elysée Palace…

He did, a few days after I appeared on television. I told him that in my country, Mr. Matzneff would already be in jail. “You know these Parisian intellectuals as well as I do,” he replied, brushing it aside. “They’re so obsessed with appearing to be liberal, especially about these delicate subjects, that they make mistakes.”

Is this immunity enjoyed by writers typically French, or could the same sort of scandal happen in North America?

Literature is sacred in France. Writers are invited to the Elysée Palace, taken out for lunch, and awarded medals. They dominate the country’s intellectual, cultural, and political life. They have formed another monarchy; the monarchy of letters. This status cannot be compared to that of writers in North America. In the United States, the world of cinema is legendary. The Weinstein affair is a case in point.

Did the #MeToo movement provoke the Matzneff affair?

No, #MeToo is a North American phenomenon. Relationships between men and women are not the same in France, and some French women have come forward to defend the “right to seduction.” The Matzneff affair was sparked by the publication of Vanessa Springora’s testimony. Now no one can believe that he invented his relationships with children. This is no longer a literary debate.

What does the future hold for writers in France?

They’re being brought down to earth with a bang! Their status is changing: Writers are no longer sacred figures; they can no longer commit crimes and use literature as a shield. We are witnessing a cultural revolution in France. The mentality of younger generations is also different. The journalists who have interviewed me for the last three weeks are men and women between the ages of 30 and 40. They are shocked by Matzneff’s actions and the silence of the authorities. This is the future.