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La Passion Francesca: Journal 1974-1976 (The Francesca Passion: Journal 1974-76) is the fifth of the twelve published journals of the prize-winning French writer Gabriel Michel Hippolyte Matzneff (born 12 August 1936). It was published by Gallimard in Paris in 1998.

The title refers to Matzneff’s stormy love affair with Francesca Gee (born 8 February 1958), which dominated the three years in question, beginning in August 1973 and ending acrimoniously in September 1976, though his sorrow from his wounded feelings lasted much longer. The chapters of his book Les Moins de seize ans (The Under-Sixteens), published by Julliard in Paris in 1974, which proclaimed his unitary love for pubescent girls and boys, were punctuated by her early love-letters to him.

Matzneff’s brief stay in Sicily in 1976 is the subject of a separate article. Likewise, his say in Tunisia, begun at the end of that year is presented separately but in conjunction with the remainder of that stay described in the following journal. Otherwise, all the passages of Greek love interest in La Passion Francesca are presented here. They were all written in his home city of Paris except where stated otherwise.  The translation is this website’s.

Matzneff 1973 02 
                                                                     Matzneff in Paris, 1973


In Paris:

    Thursday 24 [January …] Today, at Juillard’s I sign the contract for The Under-Sixteens [p. 16]

From 28 January to 7 February, Matzneff was in Marrakech, writing The Under-Sixteens

    Monday 4th February. […] The Under-Sixteens. It’s a real bomb which in July I’ll put on Jacques Chancel’s desk. It will be an unheard-of book. No one has ever written such a book. Even Plutarch’s treatise on love is less personal, less burning.[1] [p. 20]

In Paris:

    22nd February. […]  

    With Francesca, who is the same age as Tadzio, I see Death in Venice for the third time. And for the third time, there are dirty idiots in the audience whom Thomas Mann and Visconti make laugh.[2] Democracy is very pretty, but sometimes one tells oneself that great works have to be earned and that there is a category of imbeciles who should not be allowed to enjoy beauty. [p. 26]

Apparently written in Sardinia:

    23 June. […]

    The words Francesca spoke to me at our first false break-up, at the beginning of January, I don’t want to appear in her mouth: no shadow should, in The Under-Sixteens, tarnish our magnificent passion. So I invent a boy who never existed, a fourteen-year-old Christian. The most attentive of my readers will guess that it is a girl, that a very young boy would never speak like that, but most of them will not see the light. [p. 44]

Matzneff with Francesca Gee Paris 1973
                                                Matzneff with Francesca Gee in Paris, 1973

     13th July, in London. […]
    In the room devoted to his secondary school years is the watch Byron wore at Harrow. I imagine him nervously opening and closing the case of this watch while “on Mount Ida” he was impatient with the lateness of his boyfriend of the moment, Clare, Dorset or Delawarr, “almost too beautiful for a boy”.
    The snake heads on the gold ring Byron wore on his first trip to Turkey and Greece resemble those on the crosses of Orthodox bishops.
    In the same showcase, the hair of a young woman whom Byron loved in Spain and that, also brown, of Nicolo Giraud, the fifteen-year-old boy who was the great passion of his first stay in Athens.
    More hair, blond hair, from John Edleston, the Cambridge choirboy, and, next to this lock, the carnelian given by Edleston to Byron! I cannot take my eyes off this carnelian, which inspired several of Byron’s poems, which I mentioned in The Arabian Notebook; it moves me as strongly as if the blond boy had given it to me. I didn’t expect to see it here, I didn’t imagine that it still existed!
    Manuscript of an elegy (in Latin!) inspired by Edleston. At the top of the page, Byron has mechanically written thrice the name he loves.[3] [p. 49]

    Lille, the 16th VII. […]
    In the Lille-Paris train, in the restaurant car, this lad of about twelve, with magnificent almond-shaped blue eyes whose dark circles are underlined by the extreme paleness of his complexion. His ash-blond hair falls gracefully over his shoulders. [p. 50]

In Paris:

AN 003 10 Z catches sight of A dtl
The camera zooms in on the bevel-toothed horror

    14th August. […] The Thousand and One Nights of Paolo Pasolini, at the Bilboquet.  […]
     The film begins with an (unintentional) gag. A slave-market in the Orient. A young woman is for sale who, through her master’s whim, has the right to choose her buyer. She refuses one because he’s ugly, another because he’s old, and the third because he’s surely impotent. And she exclaims: “I want to belong only to that wonderful youth with the beardless cheeks that I see over there!” The camera moves and zooms in on the wonderful beardless youth. A young man with a hairy upper lip, bevelled teeth and a goofy smile appears on the screen. One laughs heartily, but stops laughing when one realises that Nur-ed-Din - as the bevel-toothed horror is called - is none other than the hero of the film. For two and a half hours he tirelessly makes his way through the film, doing nothing but laughing or crying with the mimicry of a mental retard, and running like a maniac yelping “Zumurrud! Zumurrud!” which, one has understood, is the name of his beloved. It’s appalling.
     Jean-Louis Bory and Henry Chapier wore strange glasses the day they saw in The Thousand and One Nights a hymn to homosexuality. It must be said that it is, on the contrary, a hymn to heterosexuality. In this film, only the women are pretty and desirable. The blokes are uglier than the others. They have beastly and irredeemably stupid faces.[4] The only one who is sweet is the kid his father hides in a trap door, but alas, he is murdered almost immediately with a stab.[5] [pp. 60-1]

    Wednesday 18 September. […]

13s on bus Paris 1975 d2

    In the 91 bus, a little girl and a boy of thirteen, both bronzed, beautiful, charming. They are seated, and their big suitcase clutters the passage. Evidently, they have just disembarked at Montparnasse station. A stumpy little man of about fifty, hat screwed on his head, scowling, gets on the bus. To be sure, the suitcase is blocking the corridor a bit, but there’s still room to pass it. The chap grumbles, glares at the kids, makes a menacing gesture with his arms. His attitude expresses such hatred that the boy looks at me with surprise and worry. I give him a friendly smile. Perhaps it’s the first time he’s been this confronted with the silliness and aggression of adults. Courage, little one! It’s not the last … [p. 67]

Sunday 30th [September ...]
    Yesterday, in the mail, a very nice letter from Neil, the American kid of July ’73. He writes me that the few days he lived with me in Paris were the most intense he ever lived. [p. 78]

Francesca is speaking while they make love:

    Wednesday, 18 [December …] Then, in a whisper: “Love me like a little boy.” I ganymeded her, and then she purred with pleasure. What a naughty girl! [p. 91]

    24 December. Yesterday evening, at dinner with Roger Peyrefitte[6], who had also invited Bernard de Fallois[7] and André Fraigneau[8], I was led to relate that a few days ago a mother gave me a threatening telephone call in the middle of the night. “I hope the young person was not in your home?“ Peyrefitte asked. “No, she had just returned home, but too late for the mother’s taste.”

    It was then that Fraigneau pointed out to me that loving minors is always dangerous and that those who love very young girls expose themselves to the same danger as me. I understand then that he thinks Francesca is a little boy! I bite my lip to keep from bursting out laughing and, plummeting into my pepper steak (excellent), I try not to disabuse him of this belief. Long live misunderstanding. [pp. 95-6]



    13 January. […] D., Francesca’s younger brother, at the Gare du Nord. Spontaneous, funny, and, despite his crazy mother, apparently well-balanced. With his mass of black hair, his almond-shaped eyes, his hemmed lips, his matte complexion, he is very beautiful. [p. 106]

Matzneff with Francesca Gee Paris 1975
                                                      Matzneff with Francesca Gee in Paris, 1975

    21 January. [...] Letter from a stranger. Reading The Under-Sixteens has been “a dazzling experience” for him and since he read it he can no longer sleep (sic). He encloses a photo of a naked boy, which I immediately tear up, not wanting to get into trouble with the law for mistakes I did not make. In the “Risks” chapter, the photos of Francesca are enough for me.
     Strangely enough, The Under-Sixteens, for which Francesca was the inspiration, the muse-inspiring genius, has earned me many more letters from lovers of young boys than from lovers of young girls. Perhaps it is because the latter, contrary to what one might think, are far less numerous than the former. [p. 111]

    Monday, 10 February. I was happy, on Thursday, to see Olivier Clément[9] again, but he’s like the others (I mean: like the other Christians): what mainly shocked him in The Under Sixteens was the cheerful tone, the pagan joy. What is scandalous about Isaiah Rejoice, he told me, comes down to the painful, torn accent of the novel; but the innocent joy that illuminates The Under Sixteens is unbearable. It’s true, I was forgetting: Christians don’t like happiness. Christ didn’t come so that we might be good, but so that we might be bad. A sign of tension, of contradiction. The thorn in the flesh that keeps us awake.
     I had a lot of fun writing The Under Sixteens because I had a lot of fun living it. Francesca, as the “Letters from the little girl to the naughty man” show well, was a real resurrection for me. And then, after Isaiah, I felt the need to change the air, the tone, to substitute joy for suffering, to write something lively, sunny. [pp. 118-9]

    24 February. [...] The Under Sixteens has broken something between the Olivier Cléments and me. It’s above all Monique who is furious. Olivier didn’t hide from me that she didn’t want me to set foot in their house anymore, that she would try to prevent me from seeing my godson! On the other hand, this book has earned me and will earn me new friendships. Thus, Georges Lapassade tells me that René Schérer and Guy Hocquenghem are enthusiastic and very much wish to get to know me.[10] [p. 121]

Matzneff is watching a play with Francesca:

    13 March. [...] During the interval, Francesca tells me with a wicked smile:
    “After what I told him about you, my little brother will never want to see you again, nor write to you. He is lost to you, mourn him.”
    In the mouth of any other girl, this would be a tease, a joke. But in Francesca’s mouth, it’s the truth, I’m almost certain. [pp. 128-9]

In Amsterdam:

    [16 May] Edward Brongersma[11] (to whom I introduced Roland de La Moussaye and whom we’ve seen on several occasions) is both secretive and expressive. A mixture of a grand bourgeois and a child. A sentimental side too (the story of the boy saved from poverty by his Italian friend). [p. 136]

     6 October. I dine at René Schérer’s with Georges Lapassade and Guy Hocquenghem. This friendly evening does me good because I am still very upset by Tatiana’s infamous act. [p. 160]

     Thursday evening, [9 October]. Roger Peyrefitte takes me to Sylvie Vartan’s gala. It’s not exactly my favourite music, but I like the show. Peyrefitte is always surprisingly young, petulant and spontaneously affectionate. His reputation is bad, but he is much better than his reputation. [p. 161]

     Sunday, 2 November. […] In the evening I dine at La Closerie des Lilas with Pia Daix and Jean Périmony. Pia tells me of the death of Pasolini, savagely murdered on a beach in Ostia by a seventeen-year-old boy he had picked up at the Termini station.[12] I hadn’t liked The Thousand and One Nights, but Theorem made a strong impression on me and, although I had never met him, Pasolini seemed worthy of esteem. A truthful man. [p. 169]

     Amsterdam, 8 November. After a rather long journey, which strengthens my distaste for cars, I arrived yesterday evening in Amsterdam with Alexandre Rozier[13] and Patrick Dreyfus. [...]

     9 November. Rozier, whom I introduce to Edward Brongersma, treats us at the Excelsior. He says to Edward:
     “If I like Gabriel’s books, if I wanted to get to know him, it’s because when reading him one feels that he sacrifices everything to his passions. [p. 173]

12 in Paris school 1975 d3

     5 December. [...] Afternoon at the Collège Stanislas[14] where I dedicate The Arab Notebook and We’ll no longer go to the Luxembourg. A very pretty boy of about twelve comes to ask me for The Under Sixteens. The teacher who serves as my saleswoman exclaims: “A book about the under-sixteens? What a pity your publisher didn’t send it to us, it would have been ideal for the parents of our pupils!” I blushed and muttered, while the kid, delighted with his joke, winks at me and gives me a key-ring with Stan’s coat of arms. When I return home in the late afternoon, I find Francesca waiting for me on the landing. My heart leaps with joy, but she finds a way to have a dig at me (the pretext: my sentence about Stanislas’s boys belonging to good families): “Good families don’t exist any more, you’re so antediluvian!” [p. 180]



     22 January. Charming dinner with Pierre Jungné[15] and Edward Brongersma, who yesterday had attended my lecture on The Under-Sixteens. I have always enjoyed the company of old people. With them I breathe the air of a polite Europe, of a disappearing society. The conversation I had this evening with the doctor and the senator was like something out of a page of Paul Morand or Thomas Mann; it had nothing to do with the interests or the vocabulary of today’s men. A conversation of Martians.
     Pierre Jungné invited me to his home in Tunis. I shall certainly go, because Tunisia - where I wrote my first two novels and a good part of the third one - inspires me and I want to see this old hedonist, this expert in knowing how to live. [pp. 201-2]

     6 February. At Julliard’s, leaving Jacqueline Vidal’s office, I am caught up in the corridor with Jean-Michel Palmier, who speaks to me enthusiastically about The Under-Sixteens.
     “Many people have dreamed of such a book, but you were the only one who could write it.” [pp. 203-4]

     11 February. […] So I spend the afternoon with Hyacinthe, whose cheerfulness and kindness make up for my lover’s endless sulking.[16] [pp. 204-5]

     16 February. Roland Laudenbach has predicted that This Straitjacket[17] is a book for which I will be found “outrageous” (sic). It’s a book about loneliness, about the temptation of death and about the naive hope that love can make us escape from loneliness and death: this is indeed very shocking and deserves outrage. [p. 205]

12 on telephone Paris 1976 d1

     Monday 22 March. […] This morning I had a long telephone call from young Hyacinthe who complains that he never sees me. “The funny thing,” he tells me, “is that my parents are convinced that I am meeting you on the sly.”
     Now that Francesca’s infamy is giving me over to my worst demons, I’d have plenty of time to spend with my blond, charming schoolboy; but I’m not sure I want to. [p. 229]

     Wednesday, 24 March. […] Dinner with André Bitoun who talks to me at length about This Straitjacket, volume in hand, which he has copiously annotated. He emphasises the birth of a writer, the writing process, the themes of my future novels already present in this diary of adolescence. He also tells me some excellent things about the transition from boys to girls. I tell him that this evolution that he observes will be even more evident in the following volumes. [pp. 230-1]

     26 March. [...]

     This morning, before leaving for the station, a call from Hyacinthe. This kid seems to me to be very much watched over by his family. I spoke for a moment to his mother, who was very kind, and told me, with a touch of irony in her voice: “You know, I've read all your books.” This was, I suppose, an allusion to the Under-Sixteens, and a way of making me understand that she was keeping Hyacinth under lock and key... [p. 232]

     Wednesday 31 March. 3:40 a.m. Awoken by a violent backache, I escape from a strange dream in which I found myself with Francesca, the computer consultant and little Hyacinthe. This Michael was sometimes very young, barely a teenager, and sometimes older.[18] He told me that my letter had come as a great surprise to him, because nothing had ever happened between Francesca and him. “You have no reason to break up.” As for Francesca, she was deciding to leave (for Spain?) with Hyacinthe. “A thirteen-year-old boy will be a nice change from you.” [pp. 234-5]

     Holy Saturday [24 April]. Roger Peyrefitte phones me. A long conversation. He liked This Flaming Straitjacket and congratulates me on the title. “We who are salamanders perpetually burnt and always resurrected...”
     It’s strange that he should tell me this on the day when the Orthodox celebrate the resurrection of Christ. He also tells me, about the obsessive presence of voluntary death in my teenage diary:
     “It was you who killed Montherlant, it was you who led him to suicide.”
     I protest vehemently. When I met Montherlant, he was over sixty years old. At that age, all bets are off. [p. 253]

     26 April. […] Dinner at Les Colonies with Roger Peyrefitte and Fernand Legros.[19] We talk about passion, jealousy, the break-up. Legros, who throughout the dinner has his hat screwed on his head, tells me: “You have to let people go, and let them come back. Either one loves or one does not. If one loves, one doesn’t keep score. [p. 255]

From 28 April to 7 May, Matzneff was in Italy. Readers wishing to read his journals in chronological sequence should here turn to Matzneff in Sicily, 1976.

Matzneff 1976
                                                                                   Matzneff in 1976

In Paris again:

     Wednesday 2 June. [...]
     At 2:30 pm. I had an appointment at the Madeleine with Hyacinthe. [p. 274]

     Saturday 5 [June]. [...] Francesca unleashed, sucking my bum-hole, sodomising me with her finger, asking me to take her like a boy. [p. 275]

    31 August, [...]
     In the same post, a letter from Hyacinthe, who signs: “Your beloved Hyacinthe, who embraces you.” I think he meant to say “who adores you”, but this “adored” is a delicious slip of the tongue, revealing the true nature of love, which, contrary to what St. Paul says, is the most egocentric of feelings. “I love you”, in nine cases out of ten, means: “Love me!” Anyway, from the pen of such a young person, it’s amusing. [p. 294]

     Monday the 18 [October]. [...] Sauna, then I see Hyacinthe who is fourteen today. [p. 314]

     21 October. [...] After lunch, […] Hyacinthe will pass by my place. The sun shines. The sky is perfectly blue, a fresh breeze blows, enlivening. Life is beautiful. […]
     I return home at four pm. Hyacinthe arrives from school almost immediately. [pp. 315-6]

     [Monday 8 March.] I dine at the home of Philippe de Saint Robert. Nicole Barbarin tells me, which makes us laugh, that Pierre Viansson-Ponté[20] is convinced that the Francesca of the Under-Sixteens is not a girl, but a boy. [p. 320]

On 21 December, Matzneff went to Tunisia.

Continue to Matzneff in Tunisia, 1976-8.


[1] Les moins de seize ans (The Under-Sixteens), published by Julliard (run by Jacques Chancel), was a short book, rich in historical allusions, reflecting on Matzneff’s love for boys and girls aged 10 to 16 (with 16 as a strict upper limit for boys only), felt by him to be a single sex apart, and drawing mostly on his own experience.

[2] Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice (1912), reviewed here, was the best-known work of fiction to have as its main theme a man’s obsession with a beautiful boy. Luchini Visconti’s lavish film of it, reviewed here, had just been released. The boy protagonist, Tadzio, was fourteen in the novella, but was played in the film by an actor thirteen days older than Francesca.

[3] Everything quoted in this entry of 13 July is a references to the boy-loves of the celebrated English romantic poet George, Lord Byron (1788-1824), whom Matzneff had long revered.

[4] In the original Tale of Zummurud and Alī Shār, Nur-ed-Din was indeed a beardless youth and his beauty was described in terms clearly designed to make him sexually exciting to an audience of mediaeval Moslem men (generally  attracted to boys, but not to other men). This treatment of youths was typical of The Thousand and One Nights, allowing pederastic frisson to be added to even the most plainly heterosexual stories. Matzneff was probably annoyed by the film’s dishonesty in depicting unappealing young men instead of beardless adolescents, as well as aesthetically disappointed. His disappointment was likely sharpened by an expectation that the boysexual Pasolini would have done much better.

[5] To be fair on the film, the bit Matzneff is alluding to here is pretty faithful to the original story (the best pederastic one) in The Thousand and One Nights: The Tale of the Third Kalandar, so criticising its brevity is a little unfair.

[6] Roger Peyrefitte (1907-2000), the author of the prize-winning Special Friendships (1943) and the pre-eminent boysexual writer of his generation, had been a friend  of Matzneff’s since November 1970. Many references to him are not excerpted.

[7] Bernard de Fallois (1926-2018) was a writer who in 2009 received the critic’s prize of the French Academy for his work in general.

[8] André Fraigneau (1905-91) was another author who won a coveted prize from the French Academy. He was also the publisher of Marguerite Yourcenar, author of Mémoires d'Hadrien, the most famous novel about the love affair of the Roman emperor Hadrian and the Bithynian boy Antinous.

[9] Olivier Clément (1921-2009) was a French convert to Orthodoxy and eminent theologian.

[10] The sociologist Georges Lapassade (1924-2008) was an old friend of Matzneff. Their travels together were described in Matzneff in Tunisia, 1966. The philosopher René Schérer (1922-2023) had been the lover of the writer Guy Hocquenghem (1946-88) when the latter was fifteen and they remained close lifelong friends. As will be seen, Matzneff mentions dining with them on the 6th October (not necessarily for the first time), and he did so regularly thereafter (not usually included in this website’s extracts), having become close friends with them both. In 1986, he wrote that since October 1982 they had been two of his three best friends (Calamity Gab, p. 331)

[11] Edward Brongersma (1911-98), a Dutch senator and knight, was the author of the encyclopaedic Loving Boys (1986-90) and the most prominent activist anywhere for the cause of boy-love. Matzneff was also to spend time with him in the Philippines, where they were both drawn by how easy it was to have sexual liaisons with boys there.

[12] Seventeen-year-old Giuseppe Pelosi confessed to the murder, for which he was sent to prison for nine years, but, much later he retracted his confession and the identity of the true culprit(s) has since been considered in doubt.

[13] This is the first mention in Matzneff’s journals of the boysexual Parisian lawyer Alexandre Constant Joseph Rozier (born 20 October 1927 at Caluire-et-Cuire; murdered 30 August 1984 in Ceylon), who introduced himself to Matzneff as a fan of his writing. Rozier henceforth features heavily in the journals, principally as Matzneff’s travelling-companion, and was immortalised in Matzneff’s novels Ivre du vin perdu (1981) and Harrison Plaza (1988) as the banker Christian Rodin. In Ivre du vin perdu, he is the third main character and his sexual habits, tastes and history are recorded in detail, often to great comic effect, together with his adventures with Matzneff in Ceylon (entirely omitted from Matzneff’s journals).

[14] The Collège Stanislas was an elite and highly selective private Catholic boys’ school in Paris.

[15] Pierre Jungné (died 1993) was a doctor who ran a small private clinic in Tunis, and with whom Brongersma made a journey by car across Africa that almost ended fatally due to a breakdown in the desert.

12 in Paris flat 1976 d1

[16] If Matzneff’s account of the amours of his alter ego, Nil Koytcheff, in his novel Ivre du vin perdu (Drunk on lost wine) is true, then Hyacinthe must be the boy described in the following passages, where “Angiolina” is Matzneff’s mistress Francesca:
     Although he had never been faithful to Véronique [Matzneff’s wife Tatiana], he had shown Angiolina a rare constancy, only really cheating on her during those three years with Jean-Marc, a twelve-year-old boy he had met one summer when she was in Rome, staying with her grandparents. That summer, Jean-Marc and Nil slept together several times, but they hardly saw each other again during the school year, because every time the boy phoned, Angiolina was there by chance, and Nil, for fear of a terrible fit of jealousy, forced himself to answer him in a cold, evasive tone, like a husband embarrassed by a call from his mistress in the presence of his wife. It was only after he broke up with Angiolina that Nil was able to live out his passion for Jean-Marc, who was thirteen at the time and as blond as Angiolina had been brunette. “This winter, I thought you didn’t want to see me any more,” sighed the little boy as he pressed his milky-white body against his lover’s and stretched out his pink lips for a kiss. Nil had longed to see him again, but he feared Angiolina, who was capable of the worst when she flew into a rage. [p. 183 ; …]
     Never would Nil forget the face distorted by rage of Jean-Marc’s mother when she discovered the nature of their friendship. That was five years ago. Angiolina was spending the summer in Rome, and Nil was having a tender love affair with this twelve-and-a-half-year-old boy he had met at the swimming pool, with curly blond hair and peachy skin, mischievous and sensual, who, from the moment of their first kiss - which was also the first the child had ever given and received, and what a thrill it was to be the first to savour those fresh lips and that little innocent tongue - had entered right into the clandestine game. There had already been kisses and caresses between them, which the child called “our secrets” and “I love you”, and Nil loved the way Jean-Marc whispered his “I love you” in his ear, with his hands in a cone, but they had never yet been in bed together. The parents swore by Nil, especially the mother, and the four of them often went out together. That day, they had drunk carrot juice at the Dietetic Shop on rue Delambre (“my aunt Grancéola’s favourite restaurant”), then gone to see Comencini’s Pinocchio at a cinema on boulevard Raspail. Nil and Jean-Marc were seated side by side, supervised by their parents. Throughout the screening, wearing sandals, the little boy had caressed Nil’s bare foot with his bare foot, Nil’s hand had not left the velvety crotch of the little boy, who was wearing short trousers, and the presence of the parents redoubled the delectability of these sensations, because fooling families is one of the greatest simple pleasures that these natural accomplices - libertines and children - can offer each other. It was in this propitious darkness that Jean-Marc whispered to Nil:
     “Tomorrow, my parents are spending the day in the country, and I'll be able to come and stay with you.”
     From the swimming pool, where they had arranged to meet, they quickly slipped away in the direction of rue Monsieur-le-Prince. Five years later, Nil still had vivid memories of tasting, centimetre by centimetre, that ravishing virgin body, of their embrace, of the act of making love, during which Jean-Marc had groaned, but had not shied away. At the end of the day, he took the child home to the Trocadero. As soon as he saw the look on the parents’ faces, Nil knew they knew. The Clauzewitz of philopedics had not foreseen that these morons would cut short their country trip and, on their return to Paris, go to Deligny to pick up their son. “Oh, he's long gone out with Mr. Nil,” they were told. The four of them were now gathered in the dining room: Jean-Marc, with a scowl on his face, Nil, trying to put on a casual air, the father, embarrassed, looking up at the ceiling, and the mother, ah! the mother, her nostrils pinched, her complexion pale, her eyes furious, her voice inquisitive: the Mother, in her graces and her advantages, the Mother, in the exercise of her functions, the Mother, in her pomp, her ornaments and her works. The situation was dramatic, and yet Nil, although his heart was pounding, also felt like laughing, so exemplary was she.
     The family is a permanent court of law. Nil and Jean-Marc had to prove that they had been missing for six hours, that they had a six-hour alibi, like the suspects in Agatha Christie’s novels. Nil was very good, as always in such encounters: he, so clumsy in practical life, revealed himself to be a lively cad when it came to his love affairs. As for Jean-Marc, the naturalness and stubbornness with which he supported the fable invented by his lover were truly brilliant, considering the tenderness of his age: Nil knew many twelve-and-a-half-year-olds who, during such an interrogation, would have become confused, burst into tears and confessed everything. “We’ve been to the Louvre”, Nil had immediately said, and as he knew from his own experience of such scenes that parents should not be given time to react, that they should be smeared with explanations and jam, and also that his little accomplice should be given ideas for lies that he could develop later, he went on, spouting a veritable discourse on the crowds that pressed against them at Deligny, their lack of taste for pushing and shoving, their decision to go for a walk along the banks of the Seine, “Hey, why don’t we go to the Louvre?”, Jean-Marc’s enthusiasm in the Egyptian, then Greco-Roman galleries, the time had passed so quickly, and by closing time they were tired, they had gone to Angelina’s for a chocolate, the service was slow... Nil talked and talked, knowing that no one believed a single word of his story, and the mother’s eyes sparkling with hatred, her mouth twisted in a grimace intended to be contemptuous, made it clear that she wasn’t fooled, but he didn’t care, the important thing was not that these people believed him, but that they didn’t dare throw in his face that they didn’t believe him. It was a high-flying exercise, but as a young rider, Nil had done a lot of acrobatics and had acquired a precision and composure that would serve him well in his Donjuanesque career. What’s more, his aristocratic ease had given a real upper hand over Jean-Marc’s parents (“You intimidate them”, the little boy had often told him), and he hoped that this would help him to emerge victorious from this confrontation. In a wheezing voice, the mother bombarded her son with questions about the Louvre. Jean-Marc, who had never been there, described imaginary statues, threw out the few names from Greek mythology that he knew, replaced those that Nil had just mentioned, invented details, went on a tirade about Japanese tourists and their mania for photographing everything, drawing the strength to support such a character from the contact of his bare leg pressed against Nil’s, from his hand embracing Nil’s under the table. Subjugated, the mother didn’t have the audacity to make specific accusations, to tell Nil that she knew that Jean-Marc had spent the afternoon in his bed. As for the father, he simply repeated:
     “You should have warned us, left a message at the pool, we were worried.”
     Nil, determined to play the gentleman who has no idea what kind of suspicions are hanging over him, retorted, while fixing on the father what Angiolina called his angelic eyes: “Since you were told at the swimming pool that Jean-Marc had left with me, you had nothing to worry about.”
     They parted icily. Nil’s heart sank at having to abandon his little lover to the lions, but how could he do otherwise? The law, authority and power were on the side of these two idiots: Jean-Marc was their property. When the door of the cage closed behind him, Nil was overwhelmed by a flood of disgust for this father, for this mother, for their so-called love which was only hatred of what their son lived outside of them, for this jealousy which had all the characteristics of a lover’s jealousy, but which was an unhealthy jealousy, infamous, because the jealousy of a lover is justified by sensual desire and the need for fidelity, whereas the jealousy of a mother or a father has no such justification, and moreover it is a hypocritical feeling, because it is supposed to be pure, generous and disinterested. […]
     Today, Jean-Marc’s kisses had joined those further back in the past where everything sinks in, and where Nil would soon be swallowed up too. After Laure had left, Nil wanted to have a look at the notes of the summer when he had known Jean-Marc. His diary of the Angiolina years was locked away in a special drawer, along with letters, photos and everything else relating to his Eurydice, lost forever. He remembered that the scene with the boy’s parents had taken place on the last day of August, and as his notebooks were carefully dated and labelled, it was not difficult for him to find the passage relating to this misadventure. The memories that had flooded back to him corresponded fairly closely with the sentences he had scribbled on the spot five years earlier. At the time, he had observed “the disgruntled, embarrassed, entangled look, the inquisitive eye” of the parents, “especially the mother”. That very afternoon, Nil had told Jean-Marc that if his parents found out they were sleeping together, his father would be furious, but that his mother would react positively. And the child had replied: “You’re wrong, it will be the opposite.” Nil soon had the opportunity to admire the boy’s perspicacity. “The next hour and a half was both painful and exhilarating. Painful, because inside I’m trembling; exhilarating, because I have Jean-Marc next to me, and I feel his complicity and solidarity. His hand feverishly searches for mine under the table. We’re sitting next to each other, with the court in front of us. We’re eating our coq au vin, under the wary, exasperated, powerless eye of Jean and Jeanne, the duettists. Nil smiled. He had forgotten that the parents bore the forenames of these duettists; he had also forgotten the coq au vin. It was true: throughout the ordeal, Jean-Marc and Nil had not stopped eating, because love whets the appetite, and having their mouths full strategically gave them time to think about the barrage of questions and prepare their lies. […]
     Nil put the notebook down on the table and closed his eyes. He couldn’t lie to himself. He knew in his heart of hearts that it wasn’t for Jean-Marc that he’d unearthed this old notebook, that he didn’t care about Jean-Marc, now a tall seventeen-year-old man for whom he had no nostalgia, and that it was Angiolina, Angiolina for ever, whose voice and scent he wanted to rediscover... He saw her again, at the Gare de Lyon, as she got off the train from Rome; he relived their emotion, their passionate reunion. It was forty-eight hours after the explanation with Jean-Marc's parents. [… pp. 202-8]

[17] Matzneff’s first journal, Cette camisole de flammes: 1953-1962 (This Flaming Straitjacket) had just been published.

[18] Matzneff had recently been deeply upset to discover that while he had been monogamous, most unusual for him, keeping himself for Francesca, and nevertheless having to put up with her irrational jealousy and frequent tantrums, she had been unfaithful to him with an English computer consultant called Michael B., initially during a holiday at Sauze d’Oulx, and lying through her teeth about it.

[19] Fernand Legros (1931-83) was a fraudulent art dealer who inspired the character Endaddine Akass in the last and unfinished Adventures of Tintin album, Tintin and Alph-Art.

[20] Pierre Viansson-Ponté (1920-79) was then the political editor of France’s most prestigious newspaper, Le Monde, for which Matzneff had once also written a column.