Friday, August 10, 2007
My Sister, The French Major
My sister majored in French in college. Her study of the French language ruined her for life.
I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalizations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl who majors in French. She has entered into her course of study, first of all, knowing full well that it can only lead to her becoming a French teacher, a very grim affair, the least of whose evils is poor pay, and the prospect of which should have been sufficient to send her straight into business or public relations. She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign tongue.
Second, if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind; and she begins to relish such previously unglamorous elements of her vocabulary as langueur and funeste, and, speaking English, inverts her adjectives, to let one know that she sometimes even thinks in French. The writers she comes to appreciate--Breton, Baudelaire, Sartre, de Sade, Cocteau--have an alienating effect, especially on her attitude toward love, and her manner of expressing her emotions becomes difficult and theatrical; while those French writers whose influence might be healthy, such as Stendahl or Flaubert, she dislikes and takes to reading in translation, where their effect on her thought and speech is negligible; or she willfully misreads Madame Bovary and La Chartreuse, making dark romances of them. I gathered that my sister, in particular, considered herself 'linked by destiny" (liee par le destin) both to Nadja and to O. That is how a female French major thinks.
So much for my sister, the French major. There's no need to dwell on her any longer. You get the picture quite well by now, I'm sure.