I’ve noted quite a bit of French nomenclature and references to different French cultural things in House Andrews novels. When did an interest in France come into your lives? And have you two spent much time in France?
This is the original text of WAR AND PEACE. I’d estimate about 1/10 of it is in French. My father was displeased with my knowledge of Russian grammar because I have received a C on two tests in a row in the 4th grade and he went to speak to my Russian teacher about it. She was very old school and she told him she had a fix.
Guess who copied a third of WAR AND PEACE by hand to develop “habits” of proper Russian grammar? C’était moi. Vouloir c’est pouvoir. Sadly, it wasn’t my will that was involved.
There is a very telling paragraph on that first page.
“He spoke that exquisite French, not just spoken but thought in by our grandfathers, and with that quiet, condescending tone particular to a man who’d grown old in society and was significant at court. He approached Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting her with his perfumed and shiny bald spot, and peacefully settled on the divan.”
Russia’s culture has been greatly influenced by France. Russian nobles spoke fluent French. They corresponded in French. They wrote poems in French.
– Quand au front du convive, au beau sein de Delie…Pushkin, the greatest of Russian poets
Quand au front du convive, au beau sein de Delie
La rose ebloussante a termine sa vie,
Soudain se detachant de sa tige natale
Comme un léger soupir sa douce âme s’exhale,
Aux rives Elysees ses manes parfumes
Vont charmer du Lethe les bords inanimes.
Quand je te vois sourire,
Mon coeur s’epanouit,
Et je voudrais te dire,
Ce que mon coeur me dit!
Alors toute ma vie
A mes yeux apparait;
Je maudis, et je prie,
Et je pleure en secret.
Car sans toi, mon seul guide,
Sans ton regard de feu
Mon passe parait vide,
Come le ciel sans Dieu.
Et puis, caprice etrange,Lermontov, arguably one of the best prose writers in Russia.
Je me surprends benir
Le beau jour, oh mon ange,
Ou tu m’as fait souffrir!…
Russia sits on the cross roads of Scandinavia and China. A great deal of Chinese culture revolved around literacy, penmanship, and poetry. Russia is very similar, especially post Peter I. We were required to memorize and recite poems in front of the class. We were required to study classics. Half of the damn classics are in French. I do not speak French, because I know my pronunciation is atrocious. But there was a point in my life when I read it a little bit. It’s all gone now.
The knowledge of France among Russian intelligentsia extends to French literature and art. Russian word for a novel is roman, also French. People will quote things at you. If someone quips about Tartuffe, you must know where it comes from, so you don’t look stupid. The only greater sin is to not know Greek myths.
Here is a brief list of French writers one must be familiar with to be considered educated in Russia.
- Victor Hugo
- Honore de Balsac
- Jules Verne
- Prosper Merimee
- Alexander Dumas
- Anne Golon
- George Sand
As you can see, most of them are classics. The problem with modern French writers is that they are often subversive and there is only so much USSR censors would allow through. But Albert Camus was a staple as well.
A couple of years ago we went to RARE convention in Paris and our publisher arranged for a tour of George Sand’s home. I greatly enjoyed it because I have read most of her translated works when I was around 12 starting with Consuelo, otherwise known as How to write a traditional gothic. When I eventually skyped with Dad and told him about it, he immediately said, “Did you know she had a relationship with Chopin?” There you go.
Now on to France. Gordon and I visited once, Paris only, during the aforementioned RARE, and we both absolutely loved it. I’d go again any day. The atmosphere, the city, the architecture, the people, the food, everything was lovely. Everyone treated us with calm politeness, people were friendly, and the service at the restaurants and shops was impeccable. We were there when protests were going and as we walked past the shop fronts, we noticed a lot of severe looking gentlemen obviously guarding the stores. Gordon asked one of them why, and the man shrugged.
The guard: Revolution.
The guard: Every Saturday.
I thought it was the most French thing I had ever heard.
The only odd thing was that everyone kept mistaking Gordon for a Brit.
The waiter: UK?
The waiter: Really?
Maybe he just looks British? Or perhaps we don’t behave typically American, whatever that might be.
Oh also, traffic. French traffic will make your hair stand on end. They do not understand lanes. There is this roundabout around Arc de Triomphe… O_O.
On the professional front, our French publisher treats us and our work with so much care, it’s unreal. The collector edition of Kate Daniels in French is spectacular.
Ce livre est un trésor. Hopefully, my sad knowledge of French paid off and I didn’t bungle that up too badly. Cécile, if you are reading this, thank you for everything. Gordon and I are very grateful.