Synopses & Reviews
A New York Review Books Original
From the death of Louis XIV to the Revolution-in Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Russia, and Germany; among kings and queens, diplomats, military leaders, writers, great ladies, and artists-French was the universal language. This book presents a series of portraits of foreigners who conversed and corresponded in French regardless of their native language, accompanied by excerpts from their letters or other writings, to demonstrate the genius of the language in the period when it was the political and intellectual lingua franca of Europe.
Profiled here are figures familiar to English-speaking readers, such as Catherine the Great, Francisco Goya, Horace Walpole, and Benjamin Franklin. Here too are many who are less well known today: Stanis_as II Augustus Poniatowski, the last king of Poland; Gustave III of Sweden; and Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. ambassador to France during the Terror. All of them were irresistibly attracted to France; to the ideal of human happiness inspired by the Enlightenment, whose capital was Paris; and to the taste, style of living, and modes of social pleasure that spread from France across the Continent. Marc Fumaroli provides glimpses not only into their public and private lives but also into a conception of the “sweetness of life” that France and its language nourished for nearly a century.
"In the 18th century, French was the language of culture and diplomacy, uniquely suited to express the wit and style of mainly European political, social, and literary luminaries, according to veteran French scholar Fumaroli.Â Letters and memoirs composed in French from major figures like Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia, along with relative unknowns like Neapolitan AbbÃ© Galiani or American Gouverneur Morris, map a trail from the enlightened salons of Paris to the partition of Poland by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the 18th century. In a convulsed Poland, its king deposed, asserts Fumaroli, 'the age's much-prized diplomacy, sensibility, and philosophy dropped the mask and revealed its underpinnings of realpolitik, cynicism, and sycophancy.' The smooth translation by Pulitzer winner Howard facilitates appreciation of the witty writers, although obscure words such as 'aulic' and 'bedizenment' crop up in Fumaroli's biographical and historical backgrounds. Whether randomly selecting a chapter or treating the book as a saga sweeping inexorably toward the Polish debacle and the French Reign of Terror, readers cannot fail to find their own enlightenment in these gems. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Originally published in French: Quand l'Europe parlait francais.
A New York Review Books Original
During the eighteenth century, from the death of Louis XIV until the Revolution, French culture set the standard for all of Europe. In Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Russia, and Germany, among kings and queens, diplomats, military leaders, writers, aristocrats, and artists, French was the universal language of politics and intellectual life. In When the World Spoke French, Marc Fumaroli presents a gallery of portraits of Europeans and Americans who conversed and corresponded in French, along with excerpts from their letters or other writings.
These men and women, despite their differences, were all irresistibly attracted to the ideal of human happiness inspired by the Enlightenment, whose capital was Paris and whose king was Voltaire. Whether they were in Paris or far away, speaking French connected them in spirit with all those who desired to emulate Parisian tastes, style of life, and social pleasures. Their stories are testaments to the appeal of that famous “sweetness of life” nourished by France and its language.
About the Author
Marc Fumaroli is a scholar of French classical rhetoric and art. He is a member of the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Société d’histoire littéraire de la France, and the Académie française. Fumaroli received from the Académie française, before being elected a member, the Monseigneur Marcel Prize in 1982 and the Critique Prize in 1992, and he is president of the Société des Amis du Louvre. He won the Balzan Prize for Literary History and Criticism in 2001, and is the author of numerous books including L'Âge de l'éloquence, Héros et orateurs, L'École du silence
, and Trois institutions littéraires
Richard Howard received a National Book Award for his translation of Les Fleurs du mal and a Pulitzer Prize for Untitled Subjects, his third volume of poems. He is the translator of the NYRB Classics Alien Hearts and The Unknown Masterpiece.