PORTRAIT – The novelist, Prix Femina in 1989, did not imagine being the target of high school students dissatisfied that one of her texts had been given to the anticipated test of the French baccalaureate. A look back at the career of the most discreet of the great novelists.
Winner in 1989 of the Prix Femina with angry days, Sylvie Germain did not imagine that in June 2022, an extract from this novel would become the subject of the Bac Français. She also didn’t know that the madness and revenge present in this fiction would become reality for some first-grade students. Totally absent from social networks, she discovered through the press the vengeful, often violent emails that circulated about her, in particular from candidates accusing her of being responsible for the bad mark that they were already certain of obtaining. .
“These students do not represent all high school students, far from it, they are only noisier, more enraged in the mediashe says today. They express a lack of interest in culture, even a rejection, and a contempt for the language as it is taught to them, preferring to it a use according to codes and a lexicon established by them and for an inter-self which becomes exclusive. .
The testimonials of support that were sent to her ended up reassuring the one who lives near a high school (she removed her name from her mailbox): this surge is the work of a minority. “I am in this story only the pretext of an anger due to the disarray of students in front of a text whose style and imagination are totally foreign to them. Instead of questioning the limits of their knowledge and skills, their lack of real work, the extent of their linguistic and cultural shortcomings, they accuse the education system, or even society as a whole, of being responsible of their failures. She takes the opportunity to express her gratitude and her support to teachers whose problems she is aware of, because she knows them well. In the 1980s, she herself taught at a French high school in Prague. “The difficulties were not at all of this order at the time, the situation seems to be deteriorating a lot”, she remembers.
This spotlight, however, left his career in the shadows. That of a successful novelist. She has published books regularly for more than 35 years, but her appearances on television are extremely rare. The longest is an interview in 1998, with Bernard Pivot in “Bouillon de culture” within a program around the theme “Secrets de femmes”. She is also invited by François Busnel to talk about the twists that our lives can take, which she recounts wonderfully in The wind picks up its turns at Albin Michel.
This distance from the media did not prevent her from receiving a dozen prizes, sometimes prestigious, often modest. A philosopher by training – she was taught, among others, by Emmanuel Levinas – Sylvie Germain embarked on research on asceticism in Christian mysticism, her master’s subject, and on the human face, her doctoral subject. .
His life as a pen does not start until a little later. She entered working life by becoming a civil servant. She worked, among others, at the Council of State, then at the Ministry of Culture. In 1982, under Jack Lang, she thus lived in the first line, the transformation of the laws on the audio-visual one, with the arrival of the free radios.
Son premier roman The Book of Nights, appeared in 1986. Critics immediately hailed the quality of his language, turns of phrase compared to precision mechanics worthy of watchmaking. Thus, in 2013, she was elected to the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature of Belgium, in the chair of Dominique Rolin.
Today, to the conferences she regularly gives across France, she adds the promotion of her new novel, The power of shadows. The starting point is an evening with friends around the theme of the metro. She evokes there in her own way, the questions that one can ask about the depths of the soul. An ideal subject for future high school graduates.
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