With the publication of a new biography of Francois Hollande’s girlfriend, Valerie Treirweiller, the French public will, whether they like it or not, discover yet another layer in the complex erotic saga that is their president’s love life. “La Frondeuse” (The Rebel) reveals that in the early days of his affair with Trierweiller, Francois Hollande shared his mistress with Patrick Devedjian, a political rival close to Sarkozy. Both Trierweiller and Devedjian are suing authors, Christophe Jakubyszyn and Alix Bouilhaguet for “defamation and infringement of privacy,” but this will not stop the news from spreading across the globe, nor will it help to explain French sexual mores to the rest of the world.
The euphemistic language in which the story of this ménage a trois is recounted reveals all by itself the gap between France and Britain when it comes to infidelity: “At the time,” write the authors. “They (Trierweiller and Devedjian) were both committed (married). They were both hesitating about making the big leap and changing their lives. Patrick Devedjian dithered, so much so that Valérie Trierweiler allowed herself to be courted by another man from another political obedience: Francois Hollande. Little by little the relationship with Hollande took precedence over the other, particularly after the (Trierweiller’s) ultimatum in 2003 to which Devedjian did not give in….It was a bit like the Jules et Jim story. The two men preserved a great respect for one another.”
Far from suggesting depravity the authors convey a certain sympathy for the participants of this love triangle, invoking Francois Truffaut’s 1960s masterpiece ‘Jules et Jim’, in which Jeanne Moreau attempts to share her bed and her life with the two men who are in love with her. Both in print and in interviews, Trierweiller’s biographers carefully avoid judgemental language of any kind. The reason for this is that, despite the constant pressure from foreign media, and from social networks like Twitter, the French are still deeply attached to the lure of secrecy and mystery when it comes to the affairs of the heart.
Valerie Trierweiller is unpopular in France, not for her adultery so much as for her perceived vulgarity in dealing with it. Known for her public outbursts of jealousy towards her boyfriend’s ex, Segolene Royal Trierweiller’s famous Tweet in support of Royal’s rival for her parliamentary seat, tipped the French public into a deep aversion from which it is unlikely to budge. Disposed, as people are in France, to look favourably upon beautiful, well-dressed women, they could not forgive Trierweiller for letting them down with such a lack of savoir vivre. Widely referred to as ‘L’hysterique’, Trierweiller is a kind of anti-model of the presidential mistress, who is traditionally expected to be a woman of elegance and discretion. Some of the online comments about the news of her upcoming biography offer good insight into the general view of Trierweiller in this country:
Unbelievable!!! Now she’s “authorising” a biography…Tweetweiller really has hit rock bottom when it comes to ridiculousness and vulgarity. So this unpleasant and insipid courtisane wishes to show us the emptiness of her existence. She really wants to ram herself down our throats!
The Rebel??? The Arriviste would have been more appropriate for Ms Tweetweiller.*
The emphasis is not on Trierweiller’s love life (or on the fact that she had a long-standing affair with a married man) – that is entirely her business – but on how she manages it. She is castigated not for being an adulteress but for being a shameless self-publicist.
There has been a shift, however, in French attitudes towards infidelity and the publication of this biography, despite the circumspection of its authors, is proof of that. There is a growing sense that the public have a right to know about the private lives of their public figures, and an increasing feeling of unease when it comes to extra-marital affairs. Ever since the Dominique Strauss Kahn case, it is as if all the fun has been slowly leaking out of the party. Described for years by the French press as ‘a ladies man’ DSK was suddenly, in the light of the US media, a potential rapist. The word libertine, which had, certainly in Parisian circles, been seen as a compliment, was now tarnished forever.
Contrary to an article on the subject in The Daily Mail by the irrepressible Stephen Clarke, the British divorce rate is actually higher than it is in France, where fewer marriages end in divorce (38% as opposed to 42%). This is partly because marriage itself is on the decline here. The old model of staying married at all costs is no longer popular. Indeed, Sarkozy and Cecilia were the first married couple in the Elysees to break that mould. My own French children, now 24 and 26, both aspire to marital fidelity as do their friends and they tell me that they would rather not marry at all than accept infidelity.
* Comments on an article in Elle Magazine 30/09/2012