I was reading still more late 18th century mail yesterday. This correspondence is almost entirely in French, and went on between an American man and a French woman. These two, shall we say, seriously fancied each other.
One thing that struck me is how his French is proper and relatively easy for an American reading French to follow. (It’s accessible even to one like myself whose French is not what it had been “20 years” ago.) In comparison, it being her native language, her French is more airy, romantic (although that could also have partly been due to her personality) and not nearly as “school textbook” as his. Yet you also get a vibe at times that she’s perhaps writing down to his fluency level: keeping it “simpler.”
Gut-wrenching is what happens to them during one year of the French Revolution in the 1790s. It’s a scary moment. Reading it even now is unsettling.
Living elsewhere in Europe, he had learned from someone else that she had been briefly arrested by revolutionary authorities. However, thanks to information he later obtains, he is subsequently informed she is home. In fact, she had been imprisoned – so slowly did news then travel and so unreliable often were sources.
So naturally receiving no answer to that letter he’d written to her, he wrote her again a few months later. Again no reply. In yet another, he is now starting to sound very uneasy about her silence. (Up to then, she’d probably written more letters to him than he’d written to her. He writes that he’s aware letters from abroad are distrusted by French authorities.) However, yet again he receives no answer.
A month or so later, he writes her again….
….And recently having been released, she writes him a long letter back. It’s emotional and gripping. You actually feel personally for them.
You can easily put yourself in his shoes – worry rising in him as the months go by and unable to find out what happened to her. How relieved he must have felt when her letter arrived and he discovered that she was well. What must have been going through his mind during the long months with no word given the known capriciousness of revolutionary authorities and the murderous “reign of terror” of the times.
Back to reading more of them later. An old academic joke suddenly comes to my mind: Reading living people’s mail without their permission is called “an invasion of privacy,” but reading the mail of those who’ve left us is called “research.” 😉
Have a good weekend, wherever you are reading this in the world. 🙂