New biopic on Violette Leduc announced-France’s greatest ‘unknown’ writer

The surprise winner of seven Césars (France’s main film awards) Seraphine catapulted the name of its director Martin Provost into the headlines in 2009.  This September production starts on a highly anticipated film from the director that will re-ignite interest within France and international audiences.

Still unnamed, the film is a biopic on controversial writer Violette Leduc, with acclaimed actor Emmanuelle Devos (Sur mes Levres, Rois et Reine, Coco Avant Chanel) starring as Leduc.

Described as France’s greatest unknown writer, Violette Leduc was born in 1907, the illegitimate daughter of a servant girl and the consumptive son of her mother’s employer. Discovered by Simone de Beauvoir, Leduc’s best-known novel La Batarde – an autobiography of her early life in Northern France and discovery in Paris – dominated the best-seller list for months after its release and championed the cause of the disenfranchised and oppressed. However it is for her taboo-breaking novel of adolescent love between two boarding school girls, Thérèse and Isabelle that Leduc achieved notoriety in Paris’ literary circles.

First published as the opening chapter to an earlier novel Ravages in 1957, her publishers (Gallimard) refused to publish it in its entirety, fearing that the depiction of physical love between two schoolgirls would cause irreparable damage to French society. As such, the ‘offending’ chapter was removed. Lying untouched until 1966, the novella was finally published – several years after other ‘scandalous’ novels – Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.

Why Gallimard considered Thérèse and Isabelle shocking remains a mystery – especially in light of the fact that Bataille’s novel (depicting necrophilia) was published nearly 30 years earlier. Was latent homophobia behind the decision? If sexual intimacy is graphically described in the novel, it never borders on the obscene. Leduc’s description of the act of physical love may make some uncomfortable (so visceral is her use of language) but its aim is to attune the reader to a hyper-energised world of the senses.  Possibly it was the recognition of the female libido in the narrative that made Gallimard uneasy.

Critical, perspective and sensitive to her innermost thoughts, Leduc is often compared to her (better known) gay literary compatriot, Jean Genet. With production of Provost’s film scheduled to commence later this year, 2012 may mark the end of Leduc’s position as a female ‘outsider’ existing on the fringes and allow her to take her place in the canon of great writers.

Violette Leduc

Violette Leduc



~ by cinemalicious on May 31, 2012.

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