Saturday, February 14, 2009

dirty and she did not understand she was dirty

This Valentine’s day, let’s take a break and think about Gabrielle Russier.
Perusing the Nouvelle Obs blogs, I fell upon this name and discovered a mini-cult.

Gabrielle Russier was arrested, in 1969, for having an affair with a 17 year old student. Russier was a literature prof at a lycee in Marseilles. She was very ‘68 – she hung out with the young, she listened to their music (o how that music has aged them since – nothing is as old as a hit from 1968), and she demonstrated by their side. She was divorced. 2 kids. In her early thirties.

One of the youth was a 17 year old, Christian Rossi. Rossi’s parents, also teachers – his father taught at Aix - did not like Russier. Eventually, they filed a complaint to the police. Corruption of a minor. Russier was condemned to pay a fine and to spend 8 weeks in a prison in Baumette. She wrote letters to Christian from prison, which were collected and turned into a book. The book was translated into English with an introduction by Mavis Gallant.

As for Russier, when she got out of prison, she was refused a post teaching linguistics at Aix. A further sentence loomed over her. The children must have been in the background, somewhere. The cat was deposed with a neighbor, and at the beginning of the school year, she turned on the gas in her apartment. Fini.

Or not. There is a great post about Russier over at Jean Claude Grosse’s blog. The affair struck a chord with the public.

“ And when the new president, Georges Pompidou, who had just promised the French “a new society”, was asked about the affair on the 22nd of September, 1969, he cited Paul Éluard, chosing a poem consecrated to the women whose heads were shaved at the Liberation: Me, my remorse, was the reasonable victim, she who resembled the dead who died in order to be loved, in the eyes of the lost child (« Moi, mon remords, ce fut la victime raisonnable au regard d'enfant perdu, celle qui ressemble aux morts qui sont morts pour être aimés. »)”

Out of this short, passionate life, a film was made, based on the letters – Charles Aznevour wrote a popular song – and one of France’s most popular novelists, Michel del Castillo, wrote another book, the result of his investigation of the case.

So this Valentine’s day, spare a thought for Gabrielle Ruissier. Here is, without my fumble fingered translation, Eluard’s poem:

Comprenne qui voudra

Comprenne qui voudra
Moi mon remords ce fut
La malheureuse qui resta
Sur le pavé
La victime raisonnable
À la robe déchirée
Au regard d’enfant perdue
Découronnée défigurée
Celle qui ressemble aux morts
Qui sont morts pour être aimés

Une fille faite pour un bouquet
Et couverte
Du noir crachat des ténèbres

Une fille galante
Comme une aurore de premier mai
La plus aimable bête

Souillée et qui n’a pas compris
Qu’elle est souillée
Une bête prise au piège
Des amateurs de beauté

Et ma mère la femme
Voudrait bien dorloter
Cette image idéale
De son malheur sur terre.

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