I intend to die as I lived, a free man.
- Gabrielle Wittkop
Gabrielle Wittkop (née Menardeau) was born in Nantes in 1920. She taught herself to read by the age of four – “I got the feeling of absolute power” – and was schooled at home before leaving for Paris where she met and married the homosexual Nazi deserter, Justus Wittkop, in a union “of friendship and affection”. The pair moved to Germany in 1946.
Gabrielle’s first book, E.T.A. Hoffmann in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (E.T.A. Hoffmann: self-revelations and pictorial documents) was published in German in 1966. She wrote for the art pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung and worked for Hoffmann-La Roche laboratories, while penning a series of remarkable novels and travelogues steeped in death, corruption and cruelty, sexual ambivalence and deviance, but also an extraordinary sense of beauty and place, huge enjoyment of travel and adventure, and a healthy distrust of humankind and society. Her first novel, Le Necrophile (The Necrophiliac, 1972) was published by the modern erotic pioneer Régine Desforges.
Hemlock (1988) is a moving but detached account of the suicide of her lifetime companion Justus, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and choosing to end his life with dignit. Gabrielle also ended her own life at the age of 81, following a diagnosis of lung cancer. Many of her works have been reissued posthumously, at least two have since been republished in Folio, and she has a keen fan base in France and her adopted country, Germany. She is the self-styled female heir to de Sade and a fascinating exponent of the contemporary French “extreme”. Wittkop is widely translated,though the only English translation to date is a Canadian edition of The Necrophiliac, trans. Don Pabst, 2011.
Featured reading group title
Chaque jour est un arbre qui tombe (Each day is a tree that falls)
Chaque jour est un arbre qui tombe was left by Gabrielle among her papers as a posthumous gift to her friend Nikola Delescluse. The text is a characteristic mix of sexual deviance, cruelty, family relationships, memory, death, beauty, art and travel, ranging from Wittkop’s French childhood and family to travels in Venice and India, told in parallel first- and third-person narratives underpinned by an astonishing network of visual echoes and resonances that builds as the book progresses. There is much to shock, plenty of controversial “free-thinking”, and much, too, that is extremely beautiful, full of a remarkable zest for life and the things of this world.
- http://blog.gabrielle-wittkop.fr/: web site maintained by Gabrielle’s friend Nikola Delescluse.
- If you’ve read the book, let us know what you think by commenting below.