This month marks the ten-year anniversary of my blog, My French Quest [Frenchquest.com] on WordPress. My first post, L’Histoire et Civilisation de la France sur le XIXe Siècle, was in French as this was the original purpose of My French Quest: Adventures in Literature, French Culture, and Language Acquisition[see post]. I soon realized, however, that blogging in my second language was not sustainable and would not fulfill my purpose of connecting to and interacting with other second language learners of the French Language and those who had a passion for all things French!
For this anniversary post, I will look back at some highlights of my blogs from the last ten years.
2012: BLOG INCEPTION and STUDY ABROAD IN PARIS
The original idea of my blog came from my French Professor at UTEP, Dr. Evans. She suggested that I blog about my experiences during my semester studying abroad for a Graduate Internship at the Cours de la Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne in Paris, France. Part of this course study was to conduct research for my Final Graduate Project: “The Acquisition of French as a Second Language: Subject Pronouns Emphasis”, in which I compared second language acquisition between a university immersion classroom setting in Paris and classroom instruction in the United States. My five courses included French Grammar and Phonetics, French History and Art. I was able to receive 18 hours of Graduate credit for completing these courses at the Sorbonne. My blogs were of my linguistic journey of language immersion. This was the Academic purpose for living abroad!
Living in Paris for my study abroad also fulfilled my Passions of taking “ghost walks”(as my husband calls them): 1) Art–to visit the landscapes and landmarks around Paris and France that the Impressionists Renoir, Monet, Caillebotte, Manet and Cassatt painted; 2)LITERATURE: to walk the neighborhoods of the characters from the great novels of Verne, Balzac, Hugo, Dumas, Voltaire, Maupassant, and Flaubert, Hemingway, Sartre, Valéry; and 3) HISTORY: to retrace the historic steps of Napoleon and Josephine, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Benjamin Franklin, Georges Cuvier, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and many others.
The final reason I lived abroad was to discover my family heritage. My birth mother’s family came to America in the late 1800’s from Strasbourg, in the region of Alsace, France. My great-great grandmother’s name was Louisa Chapeau and her uncle’s name was Gideon Pillar. This was the only information I had to go on. I traveled to Strasbourg several times but did not connect with any family. I did, however, find an old edition of Voltaire’s Lettres D’Alsacea compilation of 100 letters written by Voltaire to his niece Madame Denis, while he lived in Strasbourg and Colmar. I remember reading this book after my final exams on the plane trip home to the United States with wild anticipation as I turned each page hoping to discover Voltaire’s encounter with a member of the Chapeau family! [sadly, twas not to be!]
From September 2012 to February 2013, I blogged about these experiences under the heading “My Parisian Journey” and have recently revisited and reposted these blogs.
2013 2014: IMPRESSIONIST ART and AMERICAN POETRY
Upon my return from Paris, I completed my Master of Arts in French Language and Applied Linguistics by taking some additional graduate courses in 19th century French History and 19th century American Poetry. This broadened my knowledge to the great partnerships between French and American authors and poets of this time.
Naturally, many of my blogs for 2013 reflected this new discovery. These partnerships included the works of Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry Longfellow.
For many years leading up to my trip abroad, I had studied much of the history about the lives and works of the Impressionists and the history of France, French art and Paris:
Pinkney’s Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (my favorite); Writing in the City by Michael Prendergast ; Literary France by Priscilla Clark [three excellent books]; Is Paris Burning by Collins and La Pi; The Dreyfuss Affair; Rescuing Da Vinci; Christophe Charle’s A Social History of France; Dawn of the Belle Époque by Roe; Datta’s Birth of a National Icon, plus many more [see posts]
As those of you who have visited Paris know, many of the avenues, parks, Haussmann boulevards, bridges, churches and monuments look as they did in these Impressionist paintings. What a thrill to walk through these neighborhoods and recognize scenes from my favorite Impressionist paintings of Notre Dame Cathedral, the gardens at Giverny, Luxembourg gardens, Rainy Day of rue de Turin, Pont de l’Europe and La Gare Saint-Lazare. In addition, to visit the museums every weekend where the Impressionist’s works are exhibited–D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, Marmottan, Montmartre—was delightful.
My husband and I made a return trip to Paris in the summer of 2014. I had just finished reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and could now view Paris through his eyes. I discovered that I had lived one street over from his first apartment on rue Cardinal Lemoine during my study abroad but did not realize it at the time.
2015-2018: AMERICAN POETRY and TRANSLATING
My Frenchquest blogs took a detour in 2015 back across the Atlantic to the 19th century American Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Longfellow. Dickinson’s “A Precious Mouldering” is one of the top visited blogs from the past ten years. I began translating some of her poems into French and realized that this is an arduous task. When translating poetry, one must stay close to the meter and structure and avoid too many variations which would lose the central meaning of the author. A translator must put themselves into the mind of the author, learn their voice, keep the original physiognomy while respecting the language and culture. R. Jackobson said, “Poetry by definition is untranslatable”(cited in Venuti, 2000 118). While I agree with Jackobson, I continued translating and blogging the works of Dickinson, Baudelaire, Balzac and Hugo over the next three years which brought me great pleasure. These translations continue to be in the top 25 viewed posts on My Frenchquest today!
One treasure I found during this time was L’Art D’Etre Grand-Père(The Art of Being a Grandfather) in which Victor Hugo wrote about his experiences in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, as he took frequent strolls through the park with his grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne. Translating this small book of poems by Hugo in 2018 brought much joy as I imagined Hugo strolling through this wonderland of twenty-eight hectares (about 70 acres) which includes: 4,500 different species of plants, an Alpine garden with 3,000 species of world-wide representation, a labyrinth from 1739, a Ménagerie of over 1,000 animals including an elephant and kangaroos, and five massive museums (Musée National d’Histoire, the Grand Galerie de l’Evolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Entomology Museum). Much of the Jardin has stayed the same over the past four hundred years. I lived one block from the Jardin des Plantes during my study abroad and spent many afternoons and weekends there. As an added bonus, I have carried on this tradition as I now read Hugo’s L’Art D’Etre Grand-Père (in my English translations) to my Grandson George!
I learned how to paint in 2018! My friend Marie, a professional artist, introduced me to this wonderful world of art and expression. We have spent many wonderful hours copying Impressionists, Cubism, Abstract, Landscapes, Seascapes and Still Life. What an incredible expression of joy to create with your hands. I wrote about my experience in Painting Impressionism [see post]
2019- A big year!
Studying French History has also been a great passion of mine over the past two decades, specifically the history of World War II, in which my Father fought. My husband, David, who has been a WWII buff since High School, has also read and studied about the American involvement in the war. This has been a great source of conversation and debate for us over the years. In 2007, we visited the beaches of Normandy where the strategy and sacrifice of the Allied forces who fought alongside the French helped gain their freedom. This was one of the most meaningful trips we have had in our forty years.
During this time, I also began studying the history and culture of Germany. In my experience of reading this history, most of the arguments about what happened, and perspectives of what people recorded were written after the events. Historians argue what the facts are as well as how they should be interpreted.
Jean-Paul Sartre lived in occupied Germany during the war and asked these questions: How does a major World War and subsequent Occupation change the way a writer views literature? How significant is a fiction novel after this event? Does literature engage directly or by implication? Why write?
In What is Literature, Sartre addresses these questions as he became a voice of the people, changing French literary culture [see post]. This is my most visited post on my blog with over 5,300 views. Sartre’s littérature engage was of great interest to me as a Professor of English Rhetoric and Composition and gave me a new perspective on the purpose of writing. I ask my students this question at the beginning of each semester: Why write?
In addition, Sartre’s philosophy on writing gave me a new appreciation as a reader: “Writing and reading go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. This is obvious. It is the joint effort of author and reader which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind (Sartre, 52).”
HERMAN MELVILLE and MOBY-DICK:
In 2019, I also took some great trips to Boston, Paris, Prague, Vienna, and Hallstatt. During our Boston trip, I went on a Herman Melville tour of finding Moby-Dick by whale watching in Provincetown and toured the town that inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick, New Bedford. I did not find Moby, however, I did find a little treasure in a bookshop- The Trying-Out of Moby Dick (1949) by Howard P. Vincent-in which all Melville fans should read [see post]. Vincent gives a scholarly study of whaling sources of Moby-Dick with an account of its composition, and suggestions concerning interpretation and meaning.
Continuing with my study of WWII history, I began my CZECHQUEST after an amazing trip with my daughter, Madison, to celebrate her completion of a post-graduate work in Psychology. We toured Austria and the Czech Republic including Vienna, Hallstatt, and Prague. Madeleine Albright’s Prague In Winter about the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and Europe from 1937-1948 was my main reference for this adventure.
One of the great treasures of visiting Vienna was an introduction to the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I had been acquainted with the name Goethe through my research of Longfellow who was greatly influenced by his literature of poetry and romance while living in Germany. Longfellow infused the German language and writings into the spirit of the American mind in his classroom lectures and translations while at Harvard.
2020-2021: GOETHE and LONGFELLOW, HOMER, JULES VERNE, ALDOUS HUXLEY
After my return home from Vienna, I began searching for German editions of Goethe’s poems. I soon found a seven-volume set of Goethe’s poetry in Middle German and began to learn Fraktur script in order to translate these poems [see post].
For a continuation of my Goethequest, I studied Goethe’s poems on nature, romance, and science, in 2020. Through this study, fortunately, I discovered his brilliant essays on art and literature in which he examines the great architectural works of Europe. This led me to see how his diverse interest and studies in the Arts and Sciences influenced his writings. Two of my favorite essays, the Strasbourg Cathedral and Leonard da Vinci’s Last Supper, gave new insights to these incredible works of art which I have had the privilege to visit in the past years.
[Dear readers, I hope you are still with me at this point as the past three years for me have been rich, rich, rich in literature! I have found so many good treasures that my brain has a hard time of keeping up! In my humble opinion as a blogger, the BEST is yet to come, from this point forward!!!]
During this period of research of the intersection of Longfellow and Goethe, I discovered a Literary Travelogue of Longfellow’s entitled, Outre Mer, “A piece of writing about travel”; can you imagine a travelogue without pictures in our modern world high-tech Iphone cameras? I loved reading this little book about Longfellow’s travel around Europe and wrote four blogs about Longfellow’s observations and experiences in Rouen, Paris, and Auteuil France. Yet again, an intersection of three worlds that are my passions: Longfellow, France and German!
In January of 2021, I found THE QUINTESSENTIAL book of poems by Longfellow: The Poets and Poetry of Europe. As a linguist, I am mostly fascinated with Longfellow’s gift and skill of translation as well as his love of language and international languages. Therefore, when I found this little book lost on a shelf in a used bookstore, my heart leapt out of chest. Previous to this find, I knew that Longfellow had translated French and German (he brought the German language to Academics in the United States with his translations of Goethe), but I was delighted to learn that he also translated the languages of: Iceland, Anglo-Saxon (Beowulf), Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Italian (Dante), Spanish and Portuguese.
The Poets and Poetry of Europe is a collection of poetry from the rich histories of these European countries. Each chronological section of Europe is introduced by Longfellow with cultural and linguistic history that, in most cases, he observed personally during his travels [see post]. This book is an incredible way to see how language has developed through the centuries and how cultural influences have crossed borders and changed the native language throughout history.
Each semester, I teach Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for a Seminary course
in which we examine Classic World Literature from a Biblical Worldview. In brainstorming this topic, I considered these questions: Did Homer use Bible language and ideas in the Iliad and the Odyssey? What were the pagan traditions of the Greek gods in this world in which Paul and Barnabas traveled and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did they believe Sophocles that “there is nothing which is not Zeus”? What was their world view? Were these just stories which entertained, or did they believe that these gods and goddesses had the same power and influence over their lives?
I also began to study the book of Acts in the New Testament to see how these Athenian men who worshipped the gods of Homer reacted to Paul’s sermons as he preached about the LORD GOD. How were the messages of Paul and Barnabas so powerful and transformative in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ? My responses and reflections of these questions can be found in these posts.
FRENCH AUTHORS: Valéry and Verne
In keeping with my Frenchquest, I ended 2021 with several posts after a deep dive into the poetry of Paul Valéry, with my favorite being Alphabet. Valéry writes 24 poems of SELF beginning with each letter of the alphabet of self-le mon-corps, le mon-esprit, le mon-monde (the body, spirit, and the world). These 24 poems correspond to the 24 hours in a day and how we go from the unconscious mode of sleep to consciousness of awakening, to connecting to the world. At the end of the day, this cycle repeats. What happens in our mind and body throughout this cycle? It is a fascinating subject in which I continue to contemplate.
The French author, mon préféré, is Jules Verne. The inventor and master of Science Fiction and adventure. Up to this point, I had only read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, in English and French, including Verne’s handwritten manuscript (See BNF Archives). In October of 2021, I journeyed to the Geological and Paleontological Center of the Earth and have not looked back! I introduced my grandchildren to this incredible adventure and we have spent many hours reading, researching (layers of the Earth, Fossils, the Earth’s core, Iceland), drawing, painting, and fantasizing taking this voyage together!! Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!
To conclude, can you believe it, I will return to my tradition of reviewing one year at a time! Some
highlights, thus far in 2022, will include: Aldous Huxley, Marcus Aurelius, Classical Rhetoric, St. Augustine, Voltaire, more Goethe… and my new quest of Fiction (thank you to Emma at WordsandPeace!).
Thank you for your support of my blog through likes, comments, and suggested books to read. Writing blogs and reading your blog posts brings me great joy and purpose.
What a fabulous 10 years, so many wonderful achievements
Thank you Sheree for your support and encouragement over the years! Your blog is a great model for us!
That’s most kind of you Robyn
Joyeux anniversaire, félicitations pour ces 10 ans ! And I’m glad I’m helping for the next step of your French journey.
I often read books with a few of my French students. So with one of them right now, I’m rereading De la Terre à la Lune. It’s actually more technical that I remember, and at more than 50%, we haven’t started the journey yet, lol.
I recently read The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells, which is supposed to be a satire on Verne book, so it’s fascinating to see what Wells used and modified from Verne’s idea.
Congratulations, I’m looking forward to reading lots more in the future!
Thank you, Lisa, for your support and encouragement through the years!
From the Earth to the Moon is on my TBR list with my grandson, George. He just returned from Space Camp and is very excited about this subject, as am I. I just ordered the 100th Anniversary Edition (1874), Illustrated. I am also very interested in Wells “The First Men”, thank you for your recommendation!
Happy 10th Anniversary, dear Robyn ~ Congratulations & best wishes going forward! 🙏🙂
Thank you Phil!
What an amazing journey. I pray the years ahead will be filled with great joy and intellectual adventure
“Ghostswalks”. Mes compliments to Hubby. A perfect term. To me any walk in just about any street in Pari is a ghost walk. Ah! Here Lived Racine. Ah! Here lived Saint-Ex…
Thanks for the expression.