APRIL 7: Violette Leduc (1907-1972)


Violette Leduc was considered scandalous, even by French standards, so that’s already saying a lot. One of her books, narrating the story of a lesbian fling she had while in boarding school, was written in 1966 but censored until 2000. Intrigued yet?


Violette Leduc, source

It seems her story was taken straight out of a novel. Violette was born in the very North of France, on April 7, 1907, as the illegitimate daughter of a servant girl and the son of a wealthy local family. The latter pulled a classic jerk move and refused to recognize Violette. She grew up surrounded by women, and though she was smothered by her mother, she formed a strong bond with her grandmother and her maternal aunt.

WWI forced her to interrupt her studies, but she resumed them afterwards, and attended a boarding school – the theater of her first lesbian adventures with a girl supposedly named Isabelle, and the place where she fell in love with literature, from the Russian classics to the French symbolists and her own contemporaries.

In 1925, she had an affair with her music teacher, Denise Hertgès, who was fired when their tryst was discovered (Leduc was also expelled). This didn’t prevent Violette from living with Denise when she moved to Paris with her family in 1926 and, after having failed her baccalaureate, started working as a clerk for the Plon publishers. Denise and Violette lived together a total of nine years in the Paris suburbs.

In 1942, she met someone who would radically change her life: Maurice Sachs, a gay writer who recognized Violette’s potential and encouraged her to write. Her first novel, L’Asphyxie (In the Prison of Her Skin in the English translation), was eventually published by Albert Camus himself with the famed Gallimard publishing house; the novel was praised by Sartre, Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet. Her subsequent works also earned her comparisons with Marguerite Duras or Nathalie Sarraute. Leduc acquired the unfailing support of another major writer at the time: Simone de Beauvoir, Violette’s greatest unrequited love (it seems), whom she met in 1945, and who became her literary executor.
Leduc is now recognized as a pioneer of the autofiction genre, which combines elements of autobiography with fiction.

Getting published wasn’t all smooth sailings though. Leduc had to face censorship multiple times for including sexually explicit lesbian scenes in her writing, or depictions of incest between siblings.

Violette Leduc died of breast cancer in her home in Southern France. A few movies have been made based on her works and life, with the most recent one being a drama/biopic by Martin Provost.

It’s hard to say whether Violette was lesbian or bi, since a few sources often insist on her unrequited love for a few gay men she knew (like Sachs). But how much of that is loosely interpretative of her behavior and how much of it is true? In many cases, lesbian women have married or pursued gay men to present a more respectable façade; even now, we tend to erase lesbian identities by overly focusing on their relationships with men. It seemed Leduc was closer to being a lesbian, though, than bi, but again – this is all speculation.

Learn more about Violette with these articles, in English: here and here, and in French: here, here, and here.