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Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davisby Alice Kaplan
Synopses & Reviews
A year in Paris . . . since World War II, countless American students have been lured by that vision—and been transformed by their sojourn in the City of Light. Dreaming in French tells three stories of that experience, and how it changed the lives of three extraordinary American women.
All three women would go on to become icons, key figures in American cultural, intellectual, and political life, but when they embarked for France, they were young, little-known, uncertain about their future, and drawn to the culture, sophistication, and drama that only Paris could offer. Yet their backgrounds and their dreams couldnt have been more different. Jacqueline Bouvier was a twenty-year-old debutante, a Catholic girl from a wealthy East Coast family. Susan Sontag was twenty-four, a precocious Jewish intellectual from a North Hollywood family of modest means, and Paris was a refuge from motherhood, a failing marriage, and graduate work in philosophy at Oxford. Angela Davis, a French major at Brandeis from a prominent African American family in Birmingham, Alabama, found herself the only black student in her year abroad program—in a summer when all the news from Birmingham was of unprecedented racial violence.
Kaplan takes readers into the lives, hopes, and ambitions of these young women, tracing their paths to Paris and tracking the discoveries, intellectual adventures, friendships, and loves that they found there. For all three women, France was far from a passing fancy; rather, Kaplan shows, the year abroad continued to influence them, a significant part of their intellectual and cultural makeup, for the rest of their lives. Jackie Kennedy carried her love of France to the White House and to her later career as a book editor, bringing her cultural and linguistic fluency to everything from art and diplomacy to fashion and historic restoration—to the extent that many, including Jackie herself, worried that she might seem “too French.” Sontag found in France a model for the life of the mind that she was determined to lead; the intellectual world she observed from afar during that first year in Paris inspired her most important work and remained a key influence—to be grappled with, explored, and transcended—the rest of her life. Davis, meanwhile, found that her Parisian vantage strengthened her sense of political exile from racism at home and brought a sense of solidarity with Algerian independence. For her, Paris was a city of political commitment, activism, and militancy, qualities that would deeply inform her own revolutionary agenda and soon make her a hero to the French writers she had once studied.
Kaplan, whose own junior year abroad played a prominent role in her classic memoir, French Lessons, spins these three quite different stories into one evocative biography, brimming with the ferment and yearnings of youth and shot through with the knowledge of how a single year—and a magical city—can change a whole life. No one who has ever dreamed of Paris should miss it.
"This is an enduring group profile of three influential yet completely different American women, for each of whom Paris played a short but transformative role, over three tumultuous decades. Jacqueline Bouvier — who would become Vogue's It Girl and then, in Kaplan's words, 'the eternal First Lady' — found in 1949 Paris the aesthetics, pleasures, and discipline that would serve her all her life. In 1957, Susan Sontag hit the Parisian ground running from her husband and five-year-old son in America to imbibe the freedoms of Europe. On hand during the breakdown of the old colonial dispensation, Sontag would even be buried in Paris. Angela Davis, like Miss Bouvier, traveled with a student group. In a French resort shortly before reaching Paris, on a late-summer day in 1963, she learned of the Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., her hometown. Her ever-increasing radicalization back in the U.S. was applauded by myriad French intellectuals. The much-admired Kaplan (French Lessons: A Memoir) focuses sharply on three women of successive generations, providing a keen feminist-cultural picture of Paris's enduring, if varied, impact. 27 b&w photos. Agent: Marly Rusoff Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Pauline Frederick Reporting is the biography of the life and career of the first woman to become a network news correspondent. After no less an authority than Edward R. Murrow told her there was no place for her in broadcasting, Pauline Frederick (1908and#8211;90) cracked the good old boysand#8217; club through determination and years of hard work, eventually becoming a trusted voice to millions of television viewers.
During Frederickand#8217;s nearly fifty years as a journalist, she interviewed a young Fidel Castro, covered the Nuremberg trials, interpreted diplomatic actions at the United Nations, and was the first woman to moderate a presidential debate. The life of this pivotal figure in American journalism provides an inside perspective on the growth and political maneuverings of television networks as well as Frederickand#8217;s relationships with iconic NBC broadcast figures David Brinkley, Chet Huntley, and others.
Although Frederick repeatedly insisted that she would trade her career, glamorous as it was, to have a family, a series of romances ended in heartache when she did indeed choose her work over love. At the age of sixty-one, however, she married and attained the family life she had always wanted. Her story is one for all modern women striving to balance career and family.
Brilliantly uniting the personal and the critical, French Lessons is a powerful autobiographical experiment. It tells the story of an American woman escaping into the French language and of a scholar and teacher coming to grips with her history of learning. Kaplan begins with a distinctly American quest for an imaginary France of the intelligence. But soon her infatuation with all things French comes up against the dark, unimagined recesses of French political and cultural life.
The daughter of a Jewish lawyer who prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, Kaplan grew up in the 1960s in the Midwest. After her father's death when she was seven, French became her way of "leaving home" and finding herself in another language and culture. In spare, midwestern prose, by turns intimate and wry, Kaplan describes how, as a student in a Swiss boarding school and later in a junior year abroad in Bordeaux, she passionately sought the French "r," attentively honed her accent, and learned the idioms of her French lover.
When, as a graduate student, her passion for French culture turned to the elegance and sophistication of its intellectual life, she found herself drawn to the language and style of the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine. At the same time she was repulsed by his anti-Semitism. At Yale in the late 70s, during the heyday of deconstruction she chose to transgress its apolitical purity and work on a subject "that made history impossible to ignore:" French fascist intellectuals. Kaplan's discussion of the "de Man affair" — the discovery that her brilliant and charismatic Yale professor had written compromising articles for the pro-Nazi Belgian press—and her personal account of the paradoxes of deconstruction are among the most compelling available on this subject.
French Lessons belongs in the company of Sartre's Words and the memoirs of Nathalie Sarraute, Annie Ernaux, and Eva Hoffman. No book so engrossingly conveys both the excitement of learning and the moral dilemmas of the intellectual life.
About the Author
Roger Grenier, an editor at Éditions Gallimard, has published over thirty novels, short stories, and literary essays and is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Grand Prix de Littéature de l'Académie Française.
Alice Kaplan is the author of French Lessons: A Memoir, The Collaborator, The Interpreter, and Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, and the translator of OK, Joe, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, A Box of Photographs, and Palace of Books. Her books have been twice nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, once for the National Book Award, and she is a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She holds the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut.
Table of Contents
List of Photographs
1. Jacqueline Bouvier: 1949-1950
2. Jacqueline Bouvier: The Return
3. Susan Sontag: 1957-1958
4. Susan Sontag: The Return
5. Angela Davis: 1963-1964
6. Angela Davis: The Return
A Note on Sources
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