Category Archives: French

French Flash Fiction: Highly Commended Sixth Formers

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we’re continuing to showcase some of the top entries from this year’s French flash fiction competition. Here are some of the highly commended stories from the older category. Well done to everyone!

Les Arbres

Les arbres voient beaucoup de choses que nous ne connaissons pas. Ils gardent des secrets, ils se souviennent du passé, et si on pense assez fort, ils peuvent entendre nos pensées. Avez-vous déjà pensé “Les arbres. Pourquoi sont-ils si étrange?” Si on pourrais communiquer avec eux, révélerait-ils leurs mystères?
Croyez-le ou non, je parle parfois avec les arbres. Je veux les comprendre, donc je leur pose des questions. Le matin, je m’asseoie sous l’arbre dans mon jardin- je le regarde comme un roi ou un montagne majestueux. Chaque matin je demande “À quoi vous pensez?”
J’attends encore une réponse.

(Lily Bamber, Year 12)

Ma mère et moi sommes venus en France il y a cinq mois. On est venus avec l’espoir d’une vie plus heureuse qu’au Congo où il y a la guerre. Nous restons dans une auberge miteuse et pleine d’escrocs. Il y a deux semaines que mes boucles d’oreilles en or de Maman Shungu ont été volées. J’les y laisse sur mon lit et quand je reviens elles avaient été prises sous mon oreiller. Si tu gardes ces bijoux t’aura de la chance elle m’a dit. Je pense que c’est de la superstition. Nous serons coincés ici pour toujours. C’est dommage.

(Ketsia-Patience Kasongo, Year 13)

Le ciel violet

Je le regarde, du coin du grenier. Il s’asseoit parfaitement immobile en regardant le ciel violet. Sa chaise est centrale dans la chambre, le seul meuble là-bas, et il est enveloppé par la nuit étoilée, sa concentration a souligné par le silence. Son visage est assombri par une brume violette. Bien que nous soyons à distance de toucher, nos âmes sont seules, tourmentées par leur isolement. Je ne peux plus y résister. Je me dirige vers lui, mets ma main sur son épaule et je peux sentir son frisson sous moi- il me manque, il me manque. J’aimerais être vivant.

(Emily Bell, Year 12)

En France, il y a de la liberté, de l’égalité, de la fraternité, mais il n’y a pas de mangues. Bon, elles sont là, mais elles sont séchées et ratatinées comme le sein d’une vieille. La lumière de miel de mon enfance ne peut pas traverser la frontière, alors les mangues ici boivent une lumière grise comme les eaux usées. Chez moi, le nectar d’or des mangues brille sur la peau et le goût sucré reste dans la bouche pendant des heures. La douceur de ces mangues me rendait éloquente. Ici, je n’ai pas de mots.

(Blessing Verrall, Year 12)

L’attente

L’attente est un état d’âme permanent. C’est quasiment un acte qui nous accable, tous.
Elle, (la fille) attend son bien-aimé. Elle vie dans l’anticipation aigue d’un signe de vie, d’un texto. Une attente solennelle, angoissante et même sublime. Chaque instant est en stase, pesant et pénible. Son état d’âme est aussi accablant que le néant d’une pièce blanche vide. L’attente provoque des suppositions, de telle sorte que la fille perd tout sens des proportions.
Lui (le bien-aimé) ne l’attend pas. Il ne sait pas qu’il la fait attendre. Il est absent car il l’a oublié.

(Allegra Stirling, Year 12)

Le Cadeau

Elle a regardé le reflet de la poupée. Elle a ouvert la porte et est entré dans le magazine. Elle a établi un contact visuel avec le marchand. Attrapant la poupée, elle a sprinté par la porte et dans la rue. Le commerçant a crié après elle. Elle a tourné le coin et a couru vers son amie. “Joyeux Anniversaire!” elle a chuchoté, en donnant la poupée à la petite fille. Elle a ensuite regardé la fille réveiller sa mère et ses quatre frères, tous qui dormaient sur le bord de la route. “Regardez,” dit-elle avec un immense sourire, “j’ai un cadeau.”

(Harriet Townhill, Year 12)

Il fait mauvais, comme toujours. Deux piqûres d’épingle percent les nuages comme des yeux, qui me regardent comme si je trangressais la loi. Mais non, je fais les courses ! Je m’assure que j’ai mon attestation et ma liste. Je doute que je puisse en cocher la moitié cette fois, mais il faut quand même essayer. J’ai apporté deux sacs, même si je sais que je n’en aurai besoin que d’un. D’ailleurs, j’aurais laissé les pâtes, les œufs, s’ils avaient été encore là ; je suis habituée à être altruiste. Pause terminée… aucune provision. J’entre dans l’hôpital.

(Nikita Jain, Year 13)

French Flash Fiction – The runners up

The competition was stiff in the French Flash Fiction contest this year and we were fortunate not only to have some fantastic winners but also some brilliant runners up. We hope you like them as much as we did.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Alors qu’elle courait, elle s’est sentie exaltée. Elle savait qu’elle ne devrait pas faire ça mais c’était tellement bon. Avec l’herbe sur ses jambes et les étoiles scintillantes au-dessus.
Mais pour une raison quelconque, elle avait l’impression d’être surveillée.
En le regardant, il se sentait inquiet. Doit-il en parler à quelqu’un? Elle serait mise en prison. Cependant, les satellites qu’il utilisait ont été illégalement accédés. Tout d’un coup, il a réalisé quoi faire.
Quand elle est rentrée chez elle, elle a vérifié sur son ordinateur portable pour tout travail scolaire. Pas de travail juste un seul e-mail

«Arrêtez de faire ça» de Absolument personne@froabsolutelorg.pirate

(Dexter Speed, Year 8)

Les Horloges

Elles sont accrochées aux murs, regardent l’heure et regardent tout: Naissance de bébés
Enfants qui grandissent
Jeunes qui se disputent
Et les horloges sont toujours accrochées, regardant l’heure

Les jeunes adultes partent à l’université
Et puis reviennent, mais pas seul
Jeunes couples, partent
Les adultes seuls reviennent
Et le temps passe encore

Les couples repartent
Naissance de bébés
Et ainsi le processus se répète à nouveau
Et le temps passe

Horloges, elles sont accrochées aux murs
Disent d’heure à tout le monde
Mais tout ce qu’elles ont vu pendant toutes ces années
Si seulement elles pouvaient se souvenir

(Ben Whiting, Year 10)

Un Vrai Supplice

La chaleur monte en moi comme le lierre grimpant. Il y a un mille-pattes avec ses minuscules pieds d’enfer qui danse sur mon cuir chevelu. Les muscles derrières mes genoux sont coupés. Le sentiment est viscéral. Pas loin, il y a un froissement de papier. Un bonbon. Les voix douces me parviennent comme le murmure d’un ruisseau.
Pas loin, les gens se détendent. Pas loin, les gens attendent.
Une main me serre à la gorge. Les mots – viendront-ils? Personne ne sait.
Un moment de silence.
La lumière se baisse.
Le rideau se lève.

(Ella Hartley, Year 12)

French Flash Fiction Competition 2020 – Results!

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

The French Flash Fiction Competition launched in December and ran until the end of March. During that time, we received more than four hundred entries across the two age categories. A huge well done to every who submitted a story to us – we were blown away by the imagination and linguistic inventiveness on display. We’re pleased to announce the winners today, and we’ll be featuring some of the runners up, highly commended, and commended stories on this blog in the coming weeks.

In the Years 7-11 category the winner is Yohann Godinho, in Year 10, and the runners up are Dexter Speed, in Year 8, and Ben Whiting in Year 10. The judges highly commended eleven entries: Davina Balakumar, Year 9; Georgia Clarke, Year 10; Isaac Timms, Year 9; Jamilya Bertram, Year 11; Joanna Kazantzidi, Year 7; Katy Marsh, Year 11; Megan Beach, Year 11; Ruby Watts, Year 10; Toby Greenwood, Year 8; Tom Clapham, Year 10; and Yuvraj Kambo, Year 9. A further eleven entries were commended: Aiden Politiek, Year 10; Carla Lubin, Year 7; Clémence Buffelard, Year 9; Hannah Uddin, Year 9; Harriet Preston, Year 9; Jonathan Stockill, Year 7; Kairav Singh, Year 9; Lara Hardy-Smith, Year 11; Riya Mistry, Year 9; Ryan Kwarteng, Year 7; and Silvia Rossi, Year 10.

The judges said: “In the younger age category we were absolutely spoilt for choice. So many of the stories demonstrated narrative flair and ingenuity, from the intertextual tales that offered a new take on familiar stories to the historical narratives, from quiet reflections on the state of the world to hard-hitting insights into the climate crisis. In the end, the winning story was one which married a refreshing stylistic simplicity with a moving sense of comfort and reassurance, perfectly encapsulating the current moment.”

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Zoe Prokopiou, in Year 12, and the runner up is Ella Hartley, in Year 12. Highly commended are: Allegra Stirling, Year 12; Bethan Mapes, Year 13; Blessing Verrall, Year 12; Emily Bell, Year 12; Harriet Townhill, Year 12; Ketsia-Patience Kasongo, Year 13; Lily Bamber, Year 12; and Nikita Jain, Year 13.

The judge said: “There were so many outstanding flash fiction entries in our Years 12-13 category this year. It was a pleasure to read them, and a real challenge to pick the best. I was very heartened by the amazing creativity and enthusiasm to express yourselves in a second language, conjuring up vivid feelings, colourful characters and sometimes whole worlds in just a few lines of text. In picking the winners I’ve paid more attention to the imagination on show than the strict grammatical accuracy, although the quality of French was very high throughout. I’ve also leaned a little more towards those entries that somehow managed in that tiny space to tell a whole story over those that were a little more like an essay or character portrait. And in choosing the overall winner, I was definitely influenced a bit by the fact that it managed to bring a tear to my eye in only ninety-four words. You’ll see why.”

Congratulations to all the winners, runners up, highly commended and commended entrants! The selection process was a tough one because so many of the stories we received had merit: we would like to underline the fact that writing a short story in another language is far from easy and that everyone who entered deserves to feel proud of their efforts.

Here are the two winning stories, and more entries will be featured over the weeks and months ahead…

Yohann’s story:

Je me suis réveillé. Je suis descendu les escaliers et ouvrit le frigo. Le frigo était vide. Je n’avais plus de lait ! Je suis parti de ma maison. Le soleil se a leva doucement au-dessus de l’horizon. Les trottoirs étaient déjà chauds, de prélasser à ses rayons. La brise tranquille a fait tiède. L’herbe a émis son parfum fraîchement coupé. Les arbres ont bruissé pendant que leurs résidents ailés se ont bavardé. C’était tous les signes d’espoir, qu’aujourd’hui serait un jour meilleur, plein de lait somptueux. Je suis entré dans le magasin. J’ai vu le lait.

Zoe’s story:

Elle a fermé la porte derrière elle et elle a respiré profondément. L’air frais a coulé dans ses poumons pour la première fois depuis un certain temps. Le ciel était bleu clair, peint avec des nuages blancs, et le soleil brillait. En commençant à marcher, elle a remarqué que le manque de gens dans la rue et le silence auxquels elle s’était habituée, avaient été remplacés par un nouveau bruit. Les trottoirs étaient pleins de gens qui souriaient. Elle pouvait sentir le soulagement commun de chaque personne que le monde revenait à la normale.

Why should we read translated texts?

This week, we’re back to the Linguamania podcast, produced by the Creative Multilingualism research programme. The third episode in the podcast series explores the question ‘Why should we read translated texts?’ and features two of our brilliant Modern Languages tutors: Prof. Jane Hiddleston, Tutor in French at Exeter College, and Dr Laura Lonsdale, Tutor in Spanish at Queen’s College.

In this episode of LinguaMania, we’re exploring what we lose or gain when we read a translated book. Are we missing something by reading the English translation and not the original language version? Or can the translation process enhance the text in some way? Jane Hiddleston and Laura Lonsdale from the University of Oxford discuss these questions and also look at what fiction and translation can tell us about how languages blend with one another and interact.

Listen to the podcast below or peruse the full transcript here.

A Writer’s War

Last week we brought you news of an exciting new podcast from Creative Multilingualism. This week, we have another new podcast to share with you – this one produced by some of our academics in collaboration with the wonderful Year 10 students at Oxford Spires Academy. The podcasts are available to listen to here.

The Oxford Spires Academy’s project “A Writer’s War” was designed to examine how writers from the UK, France, and Germany responded to the First World War in poetry and prose. Students were encouraged to draw parallels between texts in three languages, and examined the respective authors’ experiences of the war, as well as cultural and artistic reactions to war. To this end, students were encouraged to ponder whether war, for the writers in question, was seen as a patriotic endeavour, or as a time of suffering, or as something altogether quite different. Students were shown archive documents sent from the trenches or diary entries from those at home.

The students were also taken to Magdalen College, where they examined various memorials such as that commemorating Ernst Stadler, a German Expressionist poet, Rhodes scholar, and Magdalen alumnus. Stadler was killed in battle at Zandvoorde near Ypres in the early months of World War I. Stadler was not named on the Magdalen War Memorial as he was a foreign combatant, but later received a separate plaque on Magdalen’s grounds. This opportunity enabled students to examine the politics of commemoration and the question of post-war reconciliation. Students were encouraged to think about such issues beyond the case of WW1.

Royal Irish Rifles ration party Somme July 1916 . Via Wikimedia Commons.

Organised by the Head of Languages, Rebekah Finch, students at the Oxford Spires Academy engaged in research-led workshops with interventions from Professor Toby Garfitt, Professor Ritchie Robertson, and Andrew Wynn-Owen (a current Ph.D. student and published poet) on the literatures of the three linguistic areas. The students also enjoyed a creative writing workshop with Andrew Wynn Owen, where they wrote their own poems about war.

Catriona Oliphant of Chrome Media presented a skills workshop on creating podcasts, after which each pupil made a short podcast about the project and experience, discussing what they had seen, read, thought, or written.

Professor Toby Garfitt, Professor Ritchie Robertson, Andrew Wynn-Owen, Professor Santanu Das (a specialist of WW1 and the Indian sub-continent) and Professor Catriona Seth also recorded podcasts on the topic.

The students enjoyed studying parallel and diverging literary traditions, and gained a greater awareness of various literary genres, the politics of commemoration, gendered reactions to war, and war as the subject for literary texts.

Cilck here to access the podcasts. There are nine episodes:

  1. Dulce et Decorum Est. In the first four podcasts, we hear from Year 10 students at Oxford Spires Academy.
  2. Fête. This is the second of four podcasts, in which we hear from Year 10 students at Oxford Spires Academy.
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front. This is the third of four podcasts in which we hear from Year 10 students at Oxford Spires Academy.
  4. In Memoriam. This is the last of four podcasts in which we hear from Year 10 students at Oxford Spires Academy.
  5. Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! In this podcast, we hear from Prize Fellow and poet Andrew Wynn Owen and Senior Research Fellow Prof. Santanu Das of All Souls College about the British response to the First World War.
  6. Art, Adventure, Love. In this podcast, we hear from Prof. Toby Garfitt, Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College, about the response in France to the First World War.
  7. Storm of Steel. In this podcast, we hear from Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature and Fellow of The Queen’s College, about the German response to the First World War.
  8. From Across the Seas They Came. We conclude this group of podcasts with a discussion about responses to the First World War in former colonies of the British and French Empires. Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature and Fellow of All Souls College, chairs a conversation between Prof. Santanu Das, Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, and Prof. Toby Garfitt, Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College.
  9. President Warren at Home. In the final podcast in our series, we visit the archives of Magdalen College to hear from archivist Dr Charlotte Berry and archives assistant Ben Taylor about some of the items in the College’s First World War collection.

A New Year’s Gift

In this last blog post before Christmas, we take a look at a festively themed quatrain written by the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 1896. One of a group of poems called ‘Dons de fruits glacés au Nouvel an’ [Gifts of glazed fruits at the New Year], these four lines commemorate the turning of the year in a single crystallised image:

Le temps
                nous y succombons
Sans l’amitié pour revivre
Ne glace que ces bonbons
A son plumage de givre.

[Time
                we succumb to it
Without friendship to relive
It glazes only these sweets
With its feathers of frost.]

Stéphane Mallarmé

A very brief bit of background about Mallarmé…

Stéphane [Étienne] Mallarmé was born in Paris in 1842 and died in 1898 in Valvins, near Fontainebleau. He is one of the most famous French poets of the second half of the nineteenth century and is often linked to the Symbolist movement, although Mallarmé himself resisted this categorisation to a degree. The Symbolists were broadly interested in pursuing the ‘Idée’ and adopted Mallarmé’s attempt to ‘peindre, non la chose, mais l’effet qu’elle produit’ [paint, not the thing itself, but the effect it produces]. They sometimes took an avant-garde approach to poetic form, and were amongst the earliest writers to experiment with vers libre and prose poetry. Mallarmé himself produced poetry in both verse and prose, as well as critical work and the long experimental poem Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. His poetry is known for its syntactic playfulness and linguistic precision, each poem representing a challenge to the reader and opening up a space for potentially limitless interpretation. Blank space, nothingness, the void – these become the source of artistic creation as the poet sought to bring something out of nothing, striving to evoke no one flower but, rather, ‘l’absente de tous bouquets’ – the ideal flower that cannot be found in any real bouquet.

So what about the poem itself?

This quatrain is an example of what Mallarmé called ‘vers de circonstance’: circumstantial poems, written for a particular occasion or in response to stimuli he encountered in his everyday life. For instance, in addition to writing a number of poems around holiday times to mark the Christmas, New Year, and Easter periods, he wrote toasts to be given at special dinners, birthday poems for his friends, and even snippets of poetry to his correspondents when he sent them letters, the poems a playful way of representing the recipient’s address.

These vers de circonstance are often amusing but they can also gesture towards some of the more serious themes within Mallarmé’s wider work, a more lighthearted way for him to reflect on the deeper questions he had explored elsewhere. Let’s dive deeper into this example…

Close reading

The opening words of the poem reveal its central concern: time and the effect of time on personal relationships and on the writing process. We are told that ‘nous succombons‘ – we succumb – to time, thereby personifying it in an image that suggests oppression or temptation and yielding. Time is also the subject of the verb ‘glacer’ and the possessor of a ‘plumage de givre’: two icy images of an abstract temporal figure.

And yet, there is someone else also present in this poem: the speaker. And the speaker is not isolated and solitary, but speaks in the first person plural, ‘nous succombons’. Who is this ‘nous’? With whom is the speaker interacting? We don’t know exactly, but what we do know is that the poem accompanies a ‘don de fruits glacés au nouvel an’, a gift of glazed or candied fruits, or bonbons, to commemorate the new year. We might therefore assume a degree of friendship between the speaker and the addressee as they are close enough to exhange this gift. The bonbons are an illustration of intimacy and this is also true of the poem itself, where that ‘nous’ acts as a link binding two people, a textual representation of their friendship.

Speaking of friendship, that ‘sans amitié’ might feel out of place at first (this is one of the challenges of reading Mallarmé!). Who, we might ask, is friendless? We are tempted to assume it is the person most recently referred to in the line above – the speaker and his nameless addressee. But this does not make sense, because we know that the speaker and his addressee are exchanging a festive gift and that neither of them can therefore be thought friendless. The only other option is that time itself must be friendless. The personification of time, together with the icy imagery, suggests that time is a lonesome figure, which can only freeze the world around it, whereas the speaker and his addressee have the warmth of companionship.

Candied orange slice.

But it’s not all solitude and misery because there’s an element of humour at work in this poem as well. Immediately, our eye is drawn to the split first line: by breaking the line in this place and indenting ‘nous succombons’, Mallarmé offers us a visual pun on the verb ‘succomber’ as the second half of the line submits to the first by continuing below it.

Moreover, the more oppressive tone of ‘succombons’ is offset by the fact that it rhymes with ‘bonbons’. The reference to sweets lightens the mood: we may be talking about submission but we are also talking about candy. Putting aside the possibility of some nightmarish Willy Wonka vision, the bonbons add a dose of characteristic Mallarméan playfulness to a serious reflection on our relationship to time. In this reading, time might appear less as an oppressor exerting pressure, and more as a temptation to which we might reluctantly give in – and it is difficult not to hear the echo of ‘temps’ in ‘tentation’.

Besides the succombons/bonbons pairing, there is another important rhyme in the poem: revivre/givre. ‘Givre’, meaning frost, is a reference to the sugar which coats the fruit offered in the poem. If we speak of ‘une orange givrée’, we mean a candied orange, with ‘givré’ in this sense a synonym for ‘glacé’. If you picture a slice of candied orange, it is easy to see how the sugar resembles frost. But this is no accidental allusion to frost, just as ‘glacer’ is no accidental allusion to ice: winter imagery is common in Mallarmé’s poetry and is a means for him to think about the creative process. In his earlier poetry, this is a way of figuring sterility, an anxiety about writing in the fin de siècle (the late nineteenth century) when Mallarmé would write in another poem, ‘Brise marine’: “La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres” [The Flesh is sad, alas! and I have read all the books]. Creativity has been exhausted and time, that icy figure, has rendered poetry infertile.

In this sense, the winter imagery of this quatrain is in dialogue with some of Mallarmé’s other, more extensive texts. We might think particularly of his text ‘Hérodiade’, a dramatic poem related to the story of Salomé, and which centres around a virgin princess who frets over her own purity. Sterility is a central theme in this text, and Hérodiade expresses this with reference to both coldness and her mirror: ” la froideur stérile du métal,/ […]/ Assez! Tiens devant moi ce miroir./ Ô miroir!/ Eau froide par l’ennui dans ton cadre gelée […]” [the sterile coldness of the metal,/ […]/ Enough! Hold this mirror before me./ O mirror! Cold water frozen by ennui in your frame […].].
This alignment of the mirror with coldness recalls the double meaning of ‘glace’ as both ice and mirror. Thus, when this new year’s quatrain refers to time’s ability to ‘glacer’ the bonbons, we might consider that time is not only glazing the fruit but is also mirroring it or rendering it double. Where might we look for the reflection or double of the fruit? Perhaps to the poem itself, which acts as the fruit’s double, a glazed offering of friendship as a riposte to temporal suspension.

Besides ‘Herodiade’, the other clear intertextual reference is to Mallarmé’s sonnet ‘Le vierge le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui’, which focuses on the image of a swan trapped on a frozen lake, unable to fly. Traditionally, swans have been a metaphor for poets, and the fact that Mallarmé’s swan is grounded indicates we are once again dealing with the question of poetic sterility. This poem alludes to many of the things mentioned in our New Year’s quatrain, evoking in particular “Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre/ Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui!” [This hard, forgotten lake which is haunted beneath the ice/ By the transparent glacier of flights which have not taken off!] and also referring to the swan’s ‘plumage’. The fact that ‘plumage’ appears again in the New Year’s quatrain reinforces the suggestion that this quatrain was written with Mallarmé’s earlier sonnet in mind. In the quatrain, the word ‘plumage’ gestures towards the fronds of sugar on the candied fruit which may resemble feathers, but it also alludes to a ‘plume’, a feather or quill, and is therefore a nod to the act of writing. By reading this quatrain alongside Mallarmé’s other writing, we see the themes of sterility and writing come to light.

So it becomes clear that this is a poem about poetry: about what it means to write and the frustrations of the creative process, which can feel sterile or infertile. Nonetheless, while the Mallarmé of the 1860s, who wrote ‘Hérodiade’ and ‘Le vierge le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui’, was anxious about sterility, we should bear in mind that Mallarmé’s later poetry moved away from this preoccupation and towards a different way of understanding the bare white space of winter: as a blank canvas waiting for the writer and reader to bring it to life. The mirror’s surface, the icy lake, the blank page: these become a space of endless potentiality. The New Year’s quatrain, written in 1896, may be more reflective of this later Mallarmé than the early Mallarmé. This is why it is important that ‘givre’ rhymes with ‘revivre’: there is room here for renewal and creative hope. What’s more, the ghost rhyme latent in a poem such as this must surely be ‘livre’, another reference to writing. In this light, time may offer potential for renewal as opposed to a sterilising of creativity, and we might indeed read that ‘succomber’ as an indication of temptation rather than oppression.

This lighthearted quatrain, therefore, is more than simply a few trite lines composed on the occasion of sending a friend a gift of candied fruit. The poem itself is a present, an embodiment of friendship, and it is also a comment on the writing process. Permanence, the act of creation across the blank page, fin-de-siècle stasis and renewal: all are encompassed in this small text. Poetry thus becomes a way of submitting to, but also resisting, time. It is a new year’s gift to us, as readers, an offering of renewal.

We hope you enjoyed that reading of a festive quatrain in our last post before Christmas. We’ll be back on 8th January and all that remains to be said is Happy New Year – or bonne année!

Flash Fiction Competitions Launch

It’s the time of year again when we launch our annual competitions in French and Spanish! If you are learning French and/or Spanish in Years 7-13, you are invited to send us a very short story to be in with a chance of winning up to £100. Read on to find out more…

What is Flash Fiction?

We’re looking for a complete story, written in French or Spanish, using NO MORE THAN 100 WORDS.

How short can it be?

Well, candidates for the World’s Shortest Story include a six-word story in English by Ernest Hemingway:

‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

Or a seven-word story in Spanish by Augusto Monterroso, called El dinosaurio:

‘Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.’

You don’t have to be as brief as that, but anything from six to a hundred words will do. Just not a single word more.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

What are the judges looking for?

We’ll be looking for imagination and narrative flair, as well as your ability to write in French or Spanish. Your use of French or Spanish will be considered in the context of your age and year group: in other words, we will not expect younger pupils to compete against older pupils linguistically. For inspiration, you can read some of last year’s winning entries and runners up for French here, or for Spanish here.

What do I win?

There are two categories: Years 7-11 and Years 12-13. A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning entry in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. The winning entries will be published on our this blog, if you give us permission to do so.

How do I enter?

The deadline for submissions is noon on Tuesday 31st March 2020.

If you would like to submit a story in French please do so via our online sumission portal here.

If you would like to submit a story in Spanish please do so here.

You may only submit one story per language but you are welcome to submit one story in French AND one story in Spanish if you would like to. Your submission should be uploaded as a Word document or pdf.

The online page will ask you to fill in some details, which are used for the purpose of administering our outreach activity. To understand how your data is used for this purpose, please read the Privacy Policy. Please note that, because of GDPR, teachers cannot enter on their students’ behalf: students must submit their entries themselves.
If this is the first time you have entered a competition with us, you will be sent an automated email (check your spam folder if you can’t find this), which will include a link to verify your email address. Please click this link, which will take you to the Modern Languages Faculty website (you will be given an option to sign up to the newsletter. You do not have to sign up to the newsletter in order to enter the competition, although you are welcome to do so). Once you have clicked the confirmation link in the email, your entry has been submitted.
If you have entered this competition before you won’t receive an automated email as it is simply to check that the email address you’ve submitted works so that we can email you the results.

If you have any questions, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Good luck! Bonne chance! ¡ Mucha suerte!

Paper Frenchmen: Francophone Indian literature

In late November, Oxford welcomed the writer Ari Gautier and his translator into English, Prof. Blake Smith, for a discussion about Francophone Indian Literature and about Gautier’s writing in particular. Part of the ‘World Literatures’ strand of the Creative Multilingualism programme, this event was convened by Prof. Jane Hiddleston and Sheela Mahadevan. Here we reflect on a few highlights…

Currently based in Oslo, Ari Gautier spent his childhood in former French colony Pondichéry, India. He is the author of Carnet Secret de Lakshmi and Le Thinnai, two novels which creatively intersperse Tamil, Hindi, Créole and English with French, reflecting the multilingual identities of those living in Pondichéry. His works give an insight into the impact of the French rule on the lives of Pondichéry citizens, their constantly vacillating identities, the multicultural aspect of the city, the Indian caste system, and the history of Pondichéry.

The ‘World Literatures’ strand of Creative Multilingualism is interested in texts where multiple languages brush up against one another, prompting questions about the boundaries of what a language is. This research wants to explore how worldliness and cultural transfer is present within a text from the moment of its inception, and how multilingualism speaks to multiculturalism. The research aims to expose interactions between different languages within a text, not just by examining the different languages in which a text is written, but also seeking out the traces of other languages through allusions to them or even by the notable absence of certain languages in a text. Gautier’s novels, with their interspersing of at least five languages, therefore seem like a perfect fit.

Prof. Smith gave a useful overview of the status of Francophone Indian Literature. To begin with, he acknowledged that it’s not necessarily something the general English reader will be aware of. When we think of Francophonie, we perhaps automatically think of certain countries in West Africa, Canada, or French-speaking East Asia or Oceania. However, France had a colonial presence in India from the seventeenth century. That said, Francophone Indian Literature was only really published from the late nineteenth century onwards and, during the twentieth century, French acted as a secondary language for many writers who were primarily writing in other languages. Academic interest in the French colonial legacy within Indian writing is fairly recent, and Prof. Smith recommended an anthology of Francophone Indian short stories for anyone who wishes to explore further: Écriture indienne d’expression française, edited by Vijaya Rao (Yoda Press & La Reunion par Le GERM, 2008).

Photo by Muhammed Jiyadh on Unsplash

The panel then turned to a discussion of how multilingualism operates within Gautier’s writing. Here is an extract from Gautier’s novel, Le Thinnai:

— Gilbert, va m’acheter un Suruttu à la boutique. Il te reste encore de la monnaie, n’est-ce pas ?
Voyant Gilbert fouiller désespérément ses poches, mon père lui dit d’aller chez Karika Bhai et d’acheter un paquet de Suruttus sur son compte.
— Oh, je suis à la retraite depuis une bonne dizaine d’années. J’ai fait le strict nécessaire sous les drapeaux pour pouvoir bénéficier de la retraite et je suis retourné au pays, répondit mon père après s’être allumé une cigarette.
— Pourquoi vous n’y êtes pas resté ? Vous ne vous plaisiez pas en métropole ?
— Ce n’est pas une question de s’y plaire ou pas. J’avais juste envie de revenir parmi les miens. Même si je m’étais fondé une famille là-bas, il me paraissait tout à fait naturel de rentrer chez moi.
— Mais la France, c’est aussi chez vous ! Vous êtes citoyen français.
Papa laissa échapper une bouffée de fumée ; il tapotait la cigarette sur le bord du cendrier et parut réfléchir.
— Oui, je suis français. Mais je suis indien en même temps. C’est ici que je suis né, mes ancêtres sont d’ici. Mes racines sont là. Même si j’ai vécu en métropole pendant quelque temps, il m’a paru normal de rentrer chez moi. Il n’y a aucune différence entre moi et un Breton ou un Normand qui aurait envie de retourner chez lui après avoir passé du temps en dehors de sa région natale. Sauf que moi, c’est un peu plus loin… Il marqua un temps d’arrêt pour tirer une bouffée. Mais vous connaissez aussi bien que moi l’histoire de notre pays ; surtout, l’histoire de Pondichéry. Ma famille est française depuis deux générations et je fus le premier à partir en métropole. Jusqu’ici nous n’avions que le statut de Français sur les documents ; mais nous étions profondément indiens. Enfin, nous le sommes toujours. Comment pouvez-vous vous sentir français, sans avoir jamais mis les pieds dans ce pays. Mes parents viennent d’un milieu modeste et n’ont pas eu accès ni à la langue ni à la culture française. L’univers français nous était totalement étranger. La seule chose qui nous rapprochait des Européens était le culte de la religion catholique. À part ça, nous vivions dans deux mondes différents. Notre allégeance à la France se trouvait enfermée dans une vieille malle en ferraille dans l’espoir qu’un jour, un des descendants l’ouvrirait et utiliserait ce morceau de papier. Pendant longtemps, nous ne fûmes pas considérés comme citoyens français ; nous n’étions que des sujets de la nation.
—Mais, toute ces années passées dans l’armée française n’ont pas su éveiller en vous un sentiment d’appartenance à ce pays ?
Mon père écrasa la cigarette au fond du cendrier et se versa une nouvelle rasade. Il se leva pour aller servir le vieil homme et vint s’asseoir sur le petit thinnai. Il tenait le verre de whisky dans sa main droite et regardait les bulles de soda qui remontaient à la surface du verre. Il reprit la parole en se passant la main gauche sur les cheveux d’avant en arrière ; geste qu’il avait l’habitude de faire quand il réfléchissait longuement.
— Je ne connais pas votre histoire, l’ancien, mais vous avez l’air de quelqu’un qui connaît la vie. Vivre en exil est une énorme malédiction. Certes, mon éloignement fut volontaire ; mais à mon époque, nous n’avions pas beaucoup de choix. Partir était le seul moyen d’échapper à une vie indigente. Nos parents et grands-parents qui avaient opté pour la nationalité française avaient fait de nous une génération d’immigrés dans notre pays qui était la France. Indigènes de la nation, nos vies n’ont connu que les tranchées, les coups de feu et les rations militaires. Inconscients et aveugles ignorants, nous sommes partis combattre nos frères malgaches, indochinois et algériens. À aucun moment, la notion que nous étions coupables de complicité involontaire aux massacres d’un pouvoir colonial ne nous a effleurés. Nous nous battions contre des ennemis de notre Mère patrie. Nous en étions fiers. Mais malgré notre fidélité envers elle, l’idée du retour fut plus instinctive. Après tout, nous n’étions que des indigènes des Troupes Coloniales ; la France n’a jamais été notre patrie. Cet attachement ambivalent que nous avons envers elle est une anomalie de l’histoire.  

And here it is in Prof. Smith’s English translation:

 “Gilbert, go buy me a suruttu at the shop. You still have money, don’t you?”
Watching Little Gilbert fumble despairingly in his pockets, my father told him to buy a suruttu from Karika Bhai, and add it to the soldier’s account.
“Oh, I’ve been retired for twelve years now. I did the absolute minimum to earn my pension, and now I’m back.” My father answered, lighting a cigarette.
“Why didn’t you stay? You didn’t like it in France?”
“It wasn’t a question of liking it or not. I just wanted to come back to my own people. Even if I started a family there, it seemed natural to come back home.”
“But France, that’s home too! You’re a French citizen.”
My father exhaled a puff of smoke. He tapped the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and seemed to think it over.
“Oh, I’m French. But Indian, too. I was born here. So were my ancestors. My roots are here. And after spending some time outside their own province, even a Breton or a Norman wants to go home. It’s the same with me. But my home is a little farther… you must know the history of Pondicherry as well as I do. My family has been French for generations, but I was the first one to go to France. Until then we were just paper Frenchmen; really we were Indians. Really we still are. How can you feel French, if you’ve never set foot there? My parents came from nothing; they didn’t know French or French culture. The only thing that connected us to the Europeans was the church. Besides that, it was two different worlds.”
“But all those years in the French army, didn’t they make you feel like you were part of the nation?”
My father crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and poured another drink. He got up to fill the old man’s glass and sat back down. He held his whisky in his right hand, watching the soda bubbles rise to the surface. He ran his left hand through his hair, which he always did when he had to think hard about something.
“I don’t know your story, old one, but you seem like you know a thing or two about life. Living in exile is a curse. Sure, I chose it, but back then there wasn’t much to choose from. Leaving was the only way out of poverty. Trenches, gunshots, and rations, that was all we knew. We fought our brothers in Madagascar, Indochina and Algeria. We never thought we might be guilty of anything. We felt nothing, saw nothing, understood nothing. We fought the enemies of the motherland. We were proud. But in spite of our faithful service, we wanted to come home. We were just colonial soldiers. France was never our country. What we had with it was just a quirk of history.”

The question of French culture and how far it can coexist alongside an Indian identity is central to this passage, a fact that is emphasised and complicated by the fact that the novel is written largely in French. But, of course, this passage is not entirely in French. What about that reference to a suruttu? A suruttu is a cigar, what we would call in English a ‘cheroot’, from the French cheroute, which itself comes from the Tamil curuttu/churuttu/shuruttu/suruttu. In this way, a single word, referring to an everyday item, can illuminate a complicated multilingual interaction.

Similarly the reference to the Tamil word thinnai is an example of what we might think of as an untranslatable word. A thinnai is a raised platform built adjacent to the main entrance of a house. It is common in Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India. Traditionally, it was a place where elders could rest to talk to neighbours and friends, and where strangers could stop for respite when passing through the town. Thus, in a text written mostly in French we see how a reference to another language can evoke a whole set of cultural values – hospitality, community, conversation. The porous borders between languages can facilitate and reveal the coexistence of multiple cultures.

Gautier talked about his own multilingual background, explaining that he spoke French with his father but Tamil with his uncle. Growing up in Pondicherry, he said that every street seemed to have its own language and he moved around a lot: his universe evolved with languages. When asked about the fact that his first novel included footnotes to explain Tamil words to non-Tamil speakers, but his second novel did not, Gautier confirmed that this was a deliberate decision. Footnotes could be seen as a form of linguistic colonisation – an attempt to make the Tamil words fit more comfortably within a French-language text. By deciding not to explain the Tamil in his second novel, Gautier refused to compromise Tamil. He said that using footnotes made him feel alien to his own language.

The wide-ranging discussion moved on to cover many aspects of Gautier’s writing, including its cinematic quality, the role of received memory in constructing his narratives and the question of mythology. While we don’t have room to touch on all those topics here, we will end by mentioning one further question that was raised, and which again highlights the porous potentiality of multilingualism: the use of Creole in Gautier’s novels.

Le Thinnai includes a character called Lourdes, a servant who speaks in Creole. One of the important roles Creole plays in a novel written largely in French is to recognise a community that has been overlooked. Gautier explained that in Pondicherry there is a problematic hierarchy between what is known as ‘haut-créole’ and ‘bas-créole’. Someone who is ‘haut-créole’ is of mixed French and Indian descent, whereas someone who is ‘bas-créole’ is not of French descent but nonetheless speaks a creolised form of French. The character Lourdes is ‘bas-créole’. She insists that she speaks French but other characters think she is speaking in Creole. The inclusion of Creole in this novel therefore performs the difficulties of thinking about translingualism: how far is it a language in its own right? How far is it a corrupted form of French? Might we think of it as an enhanced form of French?

These are just a few of the questions raised by the notion of multilingualism and translingualism in World Literatures. You can dig a little deeper into Francophone Indian literature by reading Prof. Smith’s piece ‘Indian Literature speaks French‘ or follow Ari Gautier on Twitter.

FRENCH FLASH FICTION: THE SIXTH-FORMERS

Our final post from the 2019 French Flash Fiction competition: here are some of the highly commended stories from our Year 12 and Year 13 entrants. As well as some excellent command of the French language, you’ll see some extraordinary creative imagination here, all expressed in a hundred words or fewer. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy their stories.

La Pianiste

Là, dans la presque noirceur, je me sens vivante. La pianiste caresse le clavier et les notes tombent- un filet de bulles en verre qui semblent flotter dans l’air avant de se fracasser en éclats scintillants qui transpercent mon coeur. Deux mains, dix doigts; des centaines de notes qui m’entourent. Les mélodies se mélangent; les ruisseaux qui deviennent les fleuves qui deviennent les vagues- déferlant sur ma tête et me laissant trempée avec des larmes et de l’extase.
Les doigts du pianiste s’immobilisent. Elle a perdu ses eaux, et je suis renée.

— Jemima, Year 12, The Henrietta Barnett School

Photo by Kai Dahms on Unsplash

Connaissez-vous les nuits glacées? Ces nuits qui font mourir les feux et font danser les fantômes au-dessus des lacs glacés? Les nuits qui peuvent faire frissonner le diable, les nuits tellement silencieuses qu’on peut entendre les morts soupirer?
C’était dans une telle nuit que j’ai rencontré mon amante. Elle s’est tenue au milieu d’un champ enneigé, avec un visage gelé et des cheveux stalactites.
Elle m’a tendu sa main bleue et noire et elle a soufflé: Ne sais-tu pas qu’il fait trop froid pour les vivants? Viens. Danse avec moi.

— Hannah, Year 12, Bryanston School

 

Être Libre

D’ici, le monde en dessous semble petit. J’observe les humains et j’essaie de les comprendre. Mais ce n’est pas facile. Avec mes vastes ailes de plumes noires, qui reflètent la brillance du soleil et me font glisser dans l’air, je surveille la ville chaotique. Je n’aime pas trop m’approcher. Il y a des oiseaux qui s’installent sur les lampadaires, et même des moineaux qui flottent entre la jungle de pieds, pour qu’ils puissent trouver à manger. Mais moi je suis libre et sauvage, entre les nuages. Les enfants me montrent du doigt, mais ils ne me toucheront jamais.

— Juliette, Year 12, St Helen’s School

 

Il s’est rendu compte de la chaleur cette journée-là, comme dans une ruche agitée. Tous portaient des grandes lunettes de soleil, pour cacher leurs yeux bulbeux.
En regardant autours de lui, il a entrevu des milliers de corps errants, des milliers de cages thoraciques, piégeantes les torses comme des exosquelettes.  
Il a essayé d’ignorer tout, mais le fredonnement du lot s’est transformé en bourdonnement violent à telle enseigne qu’il ne pouvait plus le bloquer.
Sur son bras, une abeille mourante était assise, sa piqûre enfoncée dans la chair. L’abeille le suivait avec ses yeux d’insecte, ses grandes lunettes de soleil.

— Camille, Year 12, The Latymer School

 

Sous le ciel nocturne de juillet, le chaos se déroule. Le rouge, le blanc et le bleu du drapeau de notre nation sont partout ; ce sentiment d’espoir est tangible. La Bastille autrefois si puissante- se mit à genoux face à la foule qui marque l’histoire. Coups de feu ! Fumée ! Des soldats à perte de vue ! Personne ne comprend la signification de cette journée. Personne ne se rend compte que cette attaque sur la Bastille marquera le reste de la Révolution Français –
Un coup de fusil !
Ma vie prend fin… la révolution commence.

— Katie, Year 12, Skipton Girls’ High School

 

“Prends-le, ça ne vous fera pas de mal”, murmura-t-il dans mon oreille de sa voix douce. Je plaçai la substance bienheureuse sur ma langue et fermai les yeux. La terre tournait dix fois plus vite sous mes pas; j’ai ressenti de la chaleur, mais je tremblais de froid en même temps. Il y avait des teintes magnifiques dans tout ce que je voyais et la ténèbre était absente de le bonheur dans mon esprit. C’est tout ce dont je pourrais me souvenir avant mon réveil: les lumières crues de l’hôpital m’éblouissant de leur regard.

— Vikita, Year 12, St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School

 

Assis sous un cerisier, on voit la vie en rose. L’ébène de l’arbre est derrière soi – on est incapable de broyer du noir. Tout est bleui, bleuâtre, mais on n’est ni triste ni solitaire. Les nuages veloutés d’azur s’enroulent comme des feuilles couvertes de givre. Le ciel bleu lavande, presque violet, se consomme. On n’a nulle part où être mais ici. On respire et le paysage soupire aussi. Les pétales rougissants, crémeux, caressent le visage, comme pour dire, « Tout va bien. Tout ira bien. On n’a pas besoin de s’inquiéter. » Et on ne s’inquiète pas.

— Ella, Year 13, South Hampstead High School

Career Profile: publishing and graphic design

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we bring you a career profile with a difference. Samantha Miller, who studied French and Italian from scratch at Somerville College and graduated in 2011, began her career in the publishing world before changing course and becoming a graphic designer. Here she tells us about her career route and how a languages degree from Oxford prepared her for the working world…

I studied French and Italian at Somerville, graduating in 2011. On my year abroad I got a job at a literary agency in Paris, which I had enjoyed, so after graduating I was keen to work in the publishing industry. After doing an internship at another literary agency in London, I landed a job at a large independent children’s book publisher working in the Foreign Rights department. Rights isn’t an area that many people outside of publishing have heard of, but it’s a really excellent choice for languages students. Basically, you are selling the translation rights to books to foreign publishers around the world. It gives you a broad insight into lots of areas of the business, and usually has good opportunities for foreign travel to international book fairs and to visit other publishing houses around the world.

After staying in the role for over five years, I decided I wanted a job with more creativity and flexibility. I did a three-month intensive graphic design course which taught me how to use design software, and more importantly how to generate ideas and solve design problems in a structured way. I got a job as a junior designer shortly after finishing the course. I now work at a small design and brand consultancy working on projects for large international corporate organisations in sectors such as law, insurance and property. The work is varied and challenging, although the hours are not as forgiving as in the publishing world!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Although I have rarely used any knowledge from my degree directly at work, the skills you gain from presenting your ideas in tutorials, navigating a year abroad, and processing large amounts of information quickly are invaluable. Clear communication and an international outlook are vital components of so many roles, and a languages degree gives you these. Most importantly, Oxford teaches you how to learn. Although it took me a long time to work up to courage to leave my job in publishing and retrain completely, I have found that much of my previous experience is transferable and employers do take this into account when considering candidates who have had career changes.