Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, July 25, 2016

"II Plce:r Dō Mō koe:r" a short story by Hortense Calisher (first published September 1, 1956, in The New Yorker)

A Story about a New York City College woman's semester in Paris, in 1956

"Certainly, Hortense Calisher’s stories take their place in that central line of narrative that runs from Henry James and William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton through Scott Fitzgerald and Hortense Calisher’s contemporary, the late John Cheever."  - John Hollander, from his Introduction to The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher.

Hortense Calisher (1911 to 2009, born and died in New York City) published twenty books in her life, mostly novels but some memoirs also.  My knowledge of her work is limited to a few of her short stories I have so far read and posted upon.  The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher, a world class literary treasure, will appeal to those who like the New York Stories of Edith Wharton and Henry James.  My quick research found no visits to Paris in her life history but in the educated affluent circles she lived in and wrote about many had been there.  Young women often spent a college term there to polish their learned in Americs French.   "

"II Plce:r Dō Mō koe:r" is about a young Female New York high school student  who is enrolled in a class in French being taught by a phonetics expert.  They are not initially taught grammar, word meaning, just how to make the sounds.  The instructor uses a phonetic alaphabet to represent the sounds, it is used in the story title.  Here is the class description:

"I was taught to speak French with tears. It was not I who wept, or the other girls in my high-school class, but the poet Verlaine—the one who wrote “II plœ:r dã mõ kœ:r.” Inside forty slack American mouths, he wept phonetically for almost a semester. During this time, we were not taught a word of French grammar or meaning—only the International Phonetic Alphabet, the sounds the symbols stood for, and Verlaine translated into them.

The story title is meant to be the International Phonetic Alphabet transcription of a line from Verlaine.b

In a few years, midterm in college, she goes to Paris to enroll in a language class.  Paris was still recovering from the war and such classes, which included room and some board, were common.  At first she is concerned the French, who she sees a snobbish, will laugh at her accent but the teacher tells her she speaks beautifully.  She does a tourist walk of the city but she cannot really understand the citizens.  

This is not a story with a big plot or dramatic turns.  Just an elegant account of one young woman's experience in Paris in the 1950s.

So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

6.  "Love Under the Roof" by Emile Zola

7.  "The Purse" by Honore de Balzac 

8.  Favored Stranger:  Gertrude Stein and Family by Leslie Warren

9.  "Czarist Emigres" by Joseph Roth

Mel u 


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