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Académie elects first ever Briton

Poet and academic Michael Edwards joins the ‘Immortals’ tasked with watching over the French language

21 February 2013

A POET, literary critic and translator who writes French poetry “with virtuosity” has become the first Briton to be elected to the Académie Française.

After being a candidate in two previous elections to the prestigious body, Michael Edwards, 74, is taking up seat 31, vacant since the death of poet Jean Dutourd.

He is just in time, as, since 2010, there has been an age limit of 75 to join the Académie, aimed at giving a more youthful feel to the group known as “Les Immortels” (on the principle that its 40 seats are always occupied).

Prof Edwards gained 14, 14 and 16 in three voting rounds, beating Jean-Noël Jeanneney, a former minister and president of Radio France.

Born at Barnes, near London, Prof Edwards was a university lecturer in the UK before becoming a professor at the Collège de France, with a joint chair in poetry and (for the first time at the Collège), English literature. He is a specialist in Shakespeare, Racine and Rimbaud.

According to the web magazine of the Académie he also writes poetry, with the same virtuosity whether in English or French and is the author of many books, most recently, Le bonheur d’être ici which the website calls “full of surprises and astonishments”.

He is married to a Frenchwoman, has spent his time between France and the UK since 2006 and has joint nationality; however the rules of the Académie do not require members to be French.

The Académie was founded in the 17th century by Cardinal Richelieu and has responsibility for watching over the French language. It consists of personalities from the world of literature, philosophers, historians and scientists, as well as statesmen, senior military figures and churchmen.

Its tasks include discussing the inclusion of new terms in its dictionary, which stamps a word as being good French.

Photo: LibrairieMollat/Youtube

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