For every plan or project I start, three more pop up. Same with books — while I’m reading one, I buy five more. And Netflix — every time I log in to watch one thing, I add two to My List. I am positive that I am not alone in any of these things.
One of the things that’s been hanging out on my list of plans and projects is brushing up on French. I minored in it in college, and I’ve kept my hand in via magazines, books, movies, and now podcasts. I translated Camus’s Les Justes last winter for funsies (it’s not out of copyright yet), and I met with a lot of translators at AWP in March 2019. Maybe I’ll get a master’s in translation, I thought. But maybe I should make sure my French is up to snuff before I even consider that.
Where to begin, though? I’m not looking to ask for a beer or a bathroom; I’m looking for something more formal without having to pay for a proper class.
That’s when I remembered: in 2002, my grandmother sent me my great-grandmother’s French book from when she was in college. In 1918.
Yup. That’s where to begin. Good ol’ Shorter French Course by Fraser and Squair, published in 1913 by D. C. Heath. Tres moderne.
The inside cover has not my great-grandmother’s name but her boyfriend’s, Arnold Smith. He’s my great-grandfather. Then there’s a stamp from the Mansfield Normal School, now Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. Below that is a week’s worth of lessons:
- Lundi lecons 1-4
- Mardi ” 5-7
- Mercredi ” 8-10
- Jeudi ” 12-14
- au haut at the top
- au bas ” ” bottom
On the facing blank end paper is my great-grandfather’s address while he was in the army. On the verso of that page she wrote the names of the premier (Clemenceau), the former premier (Briand), the president (Poincare), and the Socialist leader, Sadoue. It’s only on the next verso, after a blank recto, that I found her own name written in pencil at the top of the page: Velma Rose.
This has already gotten long, and I’ve only made it through the endpapers at the front of the book. Next up: a little more history, and then diving into lessons.