THE BLOG
09/24/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Plus Ca Change

2014-09-23-220pxAnton_Chekhov_and_Olga_Knipper_1901.jpg

Punctuating pieces of writing with French phrases is a charming affectation that was more prevalent in previous ages. The idea of course is the English or American writer can evince a certain level of cultivation and/or sophistication through his knowledge of French. Who knows if this even goes as far back as the Norman conquest of England in l066. Chekhov's feckless provincials exhibit this tendency in the Russian context when they employ French locutions. In the case of l9th century Russia, the obsession with French derives from Peter the Great whose attempts to Europeanize his country resulted in making French the language of the upper classes. Chekhov's strivers dream of going to Moscow, where the elegant cosmopolitian (as opposed to rural aristocracy) conversed in French. Naturally there are still writers, primarily those who might have been educated in the '60s and '70s, when such pretensions were still in vogue, who evidence such Francophilia and it's particularly interesting since the French during those decades were going through an equally and opposing xenophobic tendency in rejecting the cultural invasion of American consumer culture with its concomitant linguistic repertoire of expressions. American psychobabbleese with is catchy short cuts was undoubtedly another offender. In any case for every Big Mac or Whopper that landed on French soil, there was the American intellectual with his faute de mieux or his plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, Latin might have been a sine qua non for those who wanted to sport their classical educations, but having a carte blanche with French conferred a cachet that was always apropos.

photo of Anton Chekhov and his wife, the actress, Olga Knipper

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture)