The “Gauloise Curtain”
by Don Webb
As of issue 213 we have at least four Scandinavians among our esteemed contributors: Ásgrímur Hartmannsson, Cecilia Wennerström, A. R. Yngve, and now, Bertil Falk — all of them writers we not only enjoy but can learn from.
I’ve lost count of the number of our Spanish-language contributors: they are many, and they, too, are very good. And you know what’s funny: we have more contributors from India, Russia, and Poland than from France or French Canada.
Danielle Parker and I got into a discussion recently about a review she’d sent of Yves Meynard’s The Book of Knights. In the introduction, Danielle referred to a “Gauloise curtain” that seems to separate French science fiction and fantasy from that of the English-speaking world. Danielle has a point.
I teased Danielle that Gauloises is a brand of cigarettes popular in France but available only as a luxury item in North America. Maybe she was referring to the impenetrable blue haze those smokes give off? Whatever, it’s sounds better than the Canadian term for it: “the two solitudes.”
Science fiction and fantasy are alive and very well indeed in France and French-speaking Canada. I’ve tried to make contacts, but with limited success. The fact remains that we have no French-language contributors.
I believe it’s cultural. The Russians and the Spanish-speaking writers are fearless, and English plays a big part in Scandinavian schools. However, the French see things a bit differently. It takes training to develop an acceptable pronunciation in French as a second language, and the French, as a rule, don’t like to speak English because they’re afraid they’d sound bad. No, they wouldn’t. But just saying so is cold comfort.
The French also figure — from hard experience in school — that it’s impossible to write French acceptably as a second language. To that I answer: Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco; and how many more could be named?
But I will make some concessions: it’s much easier to acquire intermediate proficiency in English than in French, but it’s also much easier to acquire advanced proficiency in French than in English. Perhaps that explains the impenetrable haze; I’m not sure.
In any event, the very idea that a webzine like Bewildering Stories would be open to literature written in English as a second language is simply not part of the French world view. “Translations, okay, if you want. But writing stories in English? What an idea.”
More’s the pity: as CBC’s international news program Dispatches signs off: “We bring you the world.”
Copyright © 2006 by Don Webb