‘Earthquake’ as Brit joins Académie Française

A Briton was formally admitted on Thursday into the Académie France's top body charged with preserving the purity of the Gallic tongue. Sir Michael Edwards' election to the Académie was jokingly described by a fellow immortal as "an earthquake, a revolution".

'Earthquake' as Brit joins Académie Française
Sir Michael Edwards' election to the Académie Francais is a "revolution, an earthquake". Photo: Patrick Kovarick/AFP

Or so said Michael Edwards during his maiden address to the Academie Francaise, a hallowed body of 40 members known respectfully as "The Immortals".

"By opening the doors of your illustrious establishment, you are welcoming in its heart someone who is worse than a foreigner: an Englishman," said the 74-year-old literature professor from Barnes in southwest London.

"The British would also like to have an institution that defends the English language, especially from Americanisms," he said.

"It's an earthquake, a revolution, a Briton at the Academie," said French writer Frederic Vitoux in jest, while welcoming Edwards.

Edwards got voted into the academy on his third try.

Married to a Frenchwoman, Edwards has written several acclaimed books in French and English.

(Edwards surrounded by fellow immortals at the prestigious Académie Francaise)

He is a specialist in Shakespeare as well as 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud and 17th century French dramatist Jean Racine.

The bilingual academic, who has dual nationality, taught at Britain's Warwick University until 2002 and at France's prestigious College de France in Paris where he was elected to a chair from 2002 to 2008.

The academy's statutes do not contain any restrictions relating to the nationality of its members.

"French is not just another language. It's another way of understanding the world, a way of being, of sensing emotion," Edwards said in an interview after his election.

He said the French felt their language was being "invaded" by English – "a kind of Anglo-American small talk, which isn't really elegant English at all."

The academic said he fell in love with French very early on.

"My first contact with French was when I was 11," he said recalling his school days and adding: "I was gobsmacked."

He said he did not think he would be viewed as "a Trojan horse" in the academy, whose tasks include advising which new words should be entered into the French dictionary and studiously defending French against foreign impurities, especially English.

The Academie Francaise, founded in the 17th century by Cardinal Richelieu, counts several other foreign-origin members, including Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf, Haitian-born Canadian author Dany Lafferiere and Algerian-born novelist Assia Djebar.

After Edwards nomination was accepted last year, fellow immortal Marc Fumaroli told The Local that the appointment of Edwards was good news for the Académie and good news for France.

"Michael Edwards is a francophone of the first order. He has a lot of talent and is very well respected here in France, and well liked," Fumaroli said. "It's not the first time we have appointed a foreigner who has chosen to adopt the French language."

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Screenings of French films with English subtitles in July 2022

Paris-based cinema club Lost in Frenchlation is showing two French films with English subtitles this month before taking a well-earned summer break. Here's what's coming up.

Screenings of French films with English subtitles in July 2022

Two events in July are hosted by Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that offers English speakers who may not be fluent in French the chance to enjoy French films, by screening new releases with English subtitles to help viewers follow the story.

The club has organised two screenings this month – one of them followed by a Q&A with the director, while the other is preceded by a stand-up show – before it takes a well-earned break ready to return in September.

Here are the films you can catch this month.

Friday, July 8th, 7pm

Les Goûts et les couleurs (Not My Type)

Rebecca Marder heads the cast of Michel Leclerc’s smart drama about a talented singer whose dream of recording an album with a 1970s rock icon (a heavily made-up Judith Chemla) threatens to turn sour when the old musician defies phrase and fable and actually dies. 

Her efforts to persuade the old rocker’s closest living relative (Félix Moati) to allow her release the record are complicated by the fact he likes neither his famous kin or her music.

The screening at Club de L’Etoile cinema, on Rue Troyon, will be followed by a Q&A with director Leclerc.

Tickets  (€10, €8 for concessions) are available here

Friday, July 15th, 7pm

Irréductible (Employee of the Month)

Office politics go bad when zealous ministerial inspector Pascale Arbillot reckons without peaceful civil service worker Jérôme Commandeur (who also directs) in this laugh-out-loud comedy. 

Her job is to cut waste and costs; his is to enjoy as quiet and comfortable a career as possible. Unable to get him to leave his ‘job for life’, she transfers him to some of the least hospitable places on Earth she can find… Chaos, as the best movie billings should say, ensues.

The film, at cinéma L’Arlequin, will be preceded by a stand-up show and the chance to enjoy a cocktail or two.

Tickets (€15, €13 for concessions) to the screening and the comedy show are available here