Dreaming in French

Dreaming in French

The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis

Book - 2012
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A year in Paris . . . since World War II, countless American students have been lured by that vision--and been transformed by their sojourn in the City of Light. Dreaming in French tells three stories of that experience, and how it changed the lives of three extraordinary American women.

All three women would go on to become icons, key figures in American cultural, intellectual, and political life, but when they embarked for France, they were young, little-known, uncertain about their future, and drawn to the culture, sophistication, and drama that only Paris could offer. Yet their backgrounds and their dreams couldn't have been more different. Jacqueline Bouvier was a twenty-year-old debutante, a Catholic girl from a wealthy East Coast family. Susan Sontag was twenty-four, a precocious Jewish intellectual from a North Hollywood family of modest means, and Paris was a refuge from motherhood, a failing marriage, and graduate work in philosophy at Oxford. Angela Davis, a French major at Brandeis from a prominent African American family in Birmingham, Alabama, found herself the only black student in her year abroad program--in a summer when all the news from Birmingham was of unprecedented racial violence.

Kaplan takes readers into the lives, hopes, and ambitions of these young women, tracing their paths to Paris and tracking the discoveries, intellectual adventures, friendships, and loves that they found there. For all three women, France was far from a passing fancy; rather, Kaplan shows, the year abroad continued to influence them, a significant part of their intellectual and cultural makeup, for the rest of their lives. Jackie Kennedy carried her love of France to the White House and to her later career as a book editor, bringing her cultural and linguistic fluency to everything from art and diplomacy to fashion and historic restoration--to the extent that many, including Jackie herself, worried that she might seem "too French." Sontag found in France a model for the life of the mind that she was determined to lead; the intellectual world she observed from afar during that first year in Paris inspired her most important work and remained a key influence--to be grappled with, explored, and transcended--the rest of her life. Davis, meanwhile, found that her Parisian vantage strengthened her sense of political exile from racism at home and brought a sense of solidarity with Algerian independence. For her, Paris was a city of political commitment, activism, and militancy, qualities that would deeply inform her own revolutionary agenda and soon make her a hero to the French writers she had once studied.

Kaplan, whose own junior year abroad played a prominent role in her classic memoir, French Lessons , spins these three quite different stories into one evocative biography, brimming with the ferment and yearnings of youth and shot through with the knowledge of how a single year--and a magical city--can change a whole life. No one who has ever dreamed of Paris should miss it.
Publisher: Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press, [2012]
Copyright Date: ©2012
ISBN: 9780226424385
Branch Call Number: 944.36108 KAP
Characteristics: x, 289 pages :,illustrations ;,24 cm


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May 13, 2018

How does isolation in a foreign language, culture, and social behavior prepare people for better living ? A study year in Paris influenced Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis. Alice Kaplan packs three biographies, formative years before they knew how it was going to turn out. Could I stand Bouvier's breathy blandishments ?
Meant to teach culture and sophistication, this perk for the moneyed often wound into grand tour and status brag. Many rose to the challenge, turned school French into fluency, immersion into curiosity, self reliance, and often later, character transformation.
Without cavil or hardship, Jackie groomed as ornament of the republic, for trophy marriage and later the Camelot White House. Subsidized above everyday demands, she was parachuted into publishing. She wrote little beyond fond notes, yet her estate clamped all material and any bio.
Kaplan finds Claude de Renty, her host companion of Paris years. Like Jackie, she skipped from success to prestige without salary negotiation or references. Impromptu didn't fit their regime. Even their road trip through France felt chaperoned by determination for destiny.
Sontag and Davis lacked ivy league connections. Sontag chased her retreating lover, too self involved to learn French or discover the turmoil, political, social and economic reported in the press. In 1959, their expat cocoon fled Paris fearing political street action. Later, presenting advanced philosophies in the US, she cultivated French perspectives. Remarkable that in 1993, she produced Waiting For Godot in Sarajevo under Serbian siege and daily barrage.
Odds make Davis' story the liveliest. In their teens, Angela and sister Fania practiced French to prat the color bar in Birmingham, Alabama. Pretending to be foreigners, exempt from Southern discrimination, they were served in a whites only store downtown. When Angela headed to New York for university, she read Fanon, Sartre, Camus. In Paris, she discussed complex issues and practical philosophical explanations. She extended her reading to Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, the moderns.
Though recent terrorist attacks had swept France, the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham near her parents' home shocked all with the murders of four little girls.
Although she was treated respectfully, Angela soon found that the French discriminated against Algerians and colonial immigrants as harshly as southern Americans condemned blacks. Both used menial work and prisons as extensions of slavery and colonial oppression. Although Angela meters her public comments, her intelligent analysis invites controversy. She and others have not been purchased into quiet.
Kaplan interviews room mates and French home stay providers. Is it ironic that the progressives were housed by right wing regressives hungry for the extra income ?
Filtering scenes experienced then, she polishes meanings for us. She's a writer gifted with understanding.

May 24, 2014

I didn't like this book because it wasn't fiction.

fairboy Sep 19, 2012

This went completely over my head.

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