Monday, April 29, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 6: Randolph Bourne, Mon Amie (#59)

Randolph Bourne, "Mon Amie" (1915) from Americans in Paris:
Randolph Bourne sounds like a character out of a Robert Chambers story, like "The Yellow Sign": disfigured in face (thanks to doctor's forceps during birth) and hunchback (thanks to youthful spinal tuberculosis), large hands that could play piano, a genius, a cape-wearer. The headnotes to this piece note that his relationship with "mon amie" (my friend) sounds intellectual rather than romantic perhaps because of his handicaps.

Though it doesn't sound exactly chaste when he notes that her mind "became the field where I explored at will"; or that what he had with her was either a flirtation or an "intellectual orgy." For all this piece is supposed to be a paean to his female friend--a 19-year old who responded to his note at the Sorbonne--what comes out of this is a pretty flat and objectified view: woman as symbol of France.

No surprise that this was printed for an American audience in the Atlantic, with its ooh la laing over French life: oh, this woman is all of France; and like all of France she is modern and a feminist, wanting to live her life (vivre sa vie) and permitting herself all sorts of luxuries, including refusing to marry and wanting a free life. By contrast, Bourne says, American girls are "so pedantic and priggish." Honestly, this seems like the 1910s, middlebrow version of sex tourism, as Bourne describes the young woman's modern views on love.

But for all my distaste at the subject and subtext, Bourne does a good job of dealing with French language, translating or contextualizing--and not overusing any French to emphasize foreignness.

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