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When The World Spoke French (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Marc Fumaroli , Richard Howard

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Book Description

11 Aug 2011 New York Review Books Classics
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.

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A vivid and provocative read. (Independent on Sunday)

A graceful vehicle for the writer's personal anxiety as to the decline of the language whose flame he has always so ardently sought to keep. (Sunday Telegraph)

A gem for history lovers. (Destination France)

About the Author

Marc Fumaroli is a scholar on French rhetoric and art. He is a member of the British Academy; the American Academy of Science, Letters and Arts; the Societe d'histoire litteraire de la France; and the Académie francaise. Fumaroli received the Monseigneur Marcel and the Critique prizes in 1982 and 1992, respectively, and is president of the Societe des Amis du Louvre.

Richard Howard is a poet, translator and critic. Since 1958, he has translated more than one hundred fifty books and has earned recognition as one of the truly authoritative translators of modern French literature.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Decision 17 July 2011
By Alan Sommerman - Published on Amazon.com
This book, as I wrote a friend, is no pique-nique in the Bois. It is 500 pages of scholarly text with lots of references that had me looking up people, places and events. You would do well to keep a smart phone handy. The interesting thing is that the prose which are supposed to exemplify the best of French writing of the period have been translated into English. I would have preferred that the text be in English, but that the examples remain in the original French. A solution would be to get the French version that was published several years ago.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Romp through the French-Speaking World 14 Oct 2011
By Neil Scott Mcnutt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"When the World Spoke French" This intelligent romp through the societies of France, England, Berlin, Rome, Dresden, Vienna, St. Petersberg, with many asides, is a joy and a challenge. With only a little basic restaurant French, it is possible to really enjoy this book for its unique window into the events in Europe from 1713 to 1772. Much of the perspective is taken from translated original letters, describing the interactions, intrigues, love affairs, and disappointments of the era. It also reinforces our regard for how much France helped the American Colonies break from England. Who knew that old Benjamin Franklin was such a big lover while in France as an influential diplomat?? The horrors of the French Revolution are included but in a proper context from the letters by the survivors. The influence of writers such as Voltaire and of kings such as Frederick II and Stanislaw II Augustus provide a unique window for us to appreciate the events of such a momentous era in history.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely literary gem 5 Oct 2011
By Literary Diva - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a French teacher and impassioned about the country of my maternal grandfather, I thoroughly enjoy the historical data in this romantic literary gem. A valuable tome for those interested and knowledgeable on France. Merci mille fois!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real dope for the cognoscenti 27 Oct 2012
By Saul Cooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a hidden gem. It's not some traditional history book, but gives you an insight into how the world works and the players therein.
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps it's good in French... 17 Sep 2011
By E. J. Roach - Published on Amazon.com
This book may have been an important work in its original French, but the translation is terrible. The English translation is absolutely turgid, making this a book that one picks up for a class, perhaps, but not for leisure reading. New York Review Books: You can do (and have done) much better.
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