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Mitterand love letters to be published 20 years on
The world has long known that Francois Mitterrand had a 33-year affair that produced his daughter Mazarine, but only now can the fervour of the love between the then French president and his mistress be revealed.
"I will love you until the end of me," he writes to his lover Anne Pingeot in one of more than 1,200 letters to be published next Thursday. "Feelings that I never knew are aroused with you," reads another.
The affair was hidden in plain sight to reporters who covered Mitterrand's 1981-95 presidency, bound by an unwritten but strictly observed French code of respect for the private lives of public figures.
As a result, the public at large was oblivious to the Socialist leader's double life as head of state and a man crazy in love with a woman nearly 30 years his junior.
"Lettres a Anne (Letters to Anne), 1962-1995" will see the light of day more than 20 years after Mitterrand's death and five years after that of his wife Danielle, the mother of their two sons, Jean-Christophe and Gilbert.
Transcribed for publication by Pingeot herself, the correspondence startles not just with its eroticism but with its literary quality.
"O the desire for your arms, your being, of the fire and the swell, the shout that leaves us on the edge of another world," Mitterrand wrote.
The letters chronicle an affair that starts out with timid formality, using the polite French "vous" form for "you".
The first one dated October 19, 1962, accompanied a tome of Greek philosopher Socrates and was addressed to "Mademoiselle Anne Pingeot", then aged 19 and legally still a minor.
Mitterrand -- then a 46-year-old senator and former minister -- wrote: "This little book will be the messenger to tell you of the faithful memory I keep of a few hours in a lovely summer."
The pair had met the previous summer at Hossegor, a seaside resort in southwest France, by which time Mitterrand had been married for nearly 20 years to Danielle.
It is not until the pair travel to Amsterdam together in May 1964 that the intimate "tu" form for "you" emerges, along with vignettes from their trysts.
"I love my hands that have caressed your body, my lips that have drunk of you," Mitterrand wrote in July 1964.
Six years later the writing becomes downright breathless.
"I love your body, the joy that flows in me when I hold your mouth, the possession that burns with all the fires of the world, the gushing of my blood in your depths, your pleasure that erupts from the volcano of our bodies, flames in space, burning," he wrote.
Divorce not an option
It was not until late 1994, a few months before Mitterrand left office, that Mazarine's existence was revealed with an expose in Paris Match magazine on the eve of her 20th birthday.
The young woman's resemblance to her famous father was striking.
A little over a year later, Mazarine and her mother were among the mourners at Mitterrand's funeral after he died aged 79 in January 1996.
Danielle Mitterrand had long taken the affair in her stride.
President Mitterrand never saw divorce as an option, fearing it could jeopardise his career, but swore his "absolute, terrible, definitive" love to Pingeot in 1970.
Ten years later, he admitted guiltily: "I have loved you badly, you whom I love so much."
The letters dropped off in frequency once Mitterrand became president in 1981 -- presumably because the position allowed him to spend ample time with Pingeot and little Mazarine.
Mother and daughter lived under round-the-clock guard in an apartment near the Eiffel Tower, across the River Seine from Mitterrand's office and official residence, the Elysee Palace.
Mazarine Pingeot, now 41 and a professor of philosophy, broke her silence in 2010 with a book "Bouche Cousue" (which translates as "My Lips Are Sealed") in which she described her mother as "the heroine of a film that no one will ever see".