When the World Spoke French

Marc Fumaroli

When the World Spoke French

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, with the aim to demonstrate the genius of the language in the period when it was the political and intellectual lingua franca of Europe. 2.8 out of 5 based on 5 reviews
When the World Spoke French

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Language & Linguistics
Format Paperbacks
Pages 576
RRP £11.99
Date of Publication August 2011
ISBN 978-1590173756
Publisher NYRB 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, with the aim to demonstrate the genius of the language in the period when it was the political and intellectual lingua franca of Europe.

Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

Frederic Raphael

Mr. Fumaroli makes only two small, noticeable mistakes: He attributes the great English classical scholar Richard Bentley to Oxford (he was, in truth, a Cambridge man) and he confuses "Greek fire"—the weapon invented by the Byzantines to destroy enemy fleets—with "St. Elmo's fire," a climatic phenomenon that plays harmlessly around the mastheads of storm-tossed ships. For the rest, his command of sources, his treasury of recondite detail and his narrative zest combine in a sustained celebration both of francophone intelligence and of the sexual intrigues that so often put desire and diplomacy in bed together.

09/07/2011

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The New York Times

Caroline Weber

[A] magisterial study … according to Fumaroli, the old-school sophistication of French still holds sway among a small, if obscure, international elite. “It is,” he concludes, “in this clandestine worldwide minority . . . that today resides, . . . unknown to the majority of the French, the life and future of their irreplaceable idiom, qualified as a literary language and the language of ‘good company.’” For those looking to join this latter-day “banquet of enlightened minds,” “When the World Spoke French” is an excellent place to start.

08/07/2011

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The Independent on Sunday

Emma Townshend

When the World Spoke French is a thoroughly un-English affair; a lacery of long sentences and the curling tendrils of subordinate clauses. But it also acts as a reminder of a problem which Fumaroli doesn't mention: the legendary French intolerance of people who don't speak their language perfectly ... whether you eventually side with Fumaroli or not, the book is a vivid and provocative read.

07/08/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Jonathan Keates

Absorbing ... Some of Fumaroli’s claims are inaccurate — Louis XIV did not win the War of the Spanish Succession — while others, such as modern democracy “had its birth under the ancien régime in France”, are frankly ludicrous. Richard Howard’s translation copes adequately, though not always comfortably, with Fumaroli’s text. Written with a brio and intensity entirely worthy of its theme, When the World Spoke French is essentially a graceful vehicle for the writer’s personal anxiety as to the global decline of the language whose flame he has always so ardently sought to keep.

14/08/2011

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The Spectator

Philip Hensher

Its main fault is a tendency towards dreadful verbosity … Some of this may be the fault of the translator, Richard Howard, who, despite his very high reputation, here lazily writes in a macaronic dialect … If Fumaroli’s aim, as I suspect, was to demonstrate by his own refinement and sophistication in prose what has been lost with the decline of French as the international language of choice, I am sorry to tell him that the style disappears quite unlamented.

06/08/2011

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