Thursday, November 14, 2013

Womanly Skills: A Foreign Language

Just as American school system promotes the idea that having a smattering of a foreign language is a necessity for every citizen, so were well-off women in the 18th and 19th centuries expected to be able to read, write, and converse in another tongue. It allowed them to read foreign literature and converse with visitors from abroad. Most women studied French, as I did, because it was the language of the arts. Despite years in the classroom, my French is pretty miserable, due to lack of actual real-life exposure.  It has stood me in good stead in stock-piling a large mental list of Latin root words, reading street signs in Quebec and much of Canada, and a fun session assisting Khmer carpenters work up a supply list for a new pavilion they were constructing at my old school in Cambodia.

Dolly and Minerva's cousin Geneviève learned French and see how it opened doors for her! Who wouldn't want to hob-nob with Sir Percy Blakeney, the famed Scarlet Pimpernel, and listen first-hand to his thrilling tales of how heSir Andrew Ffoulkes, and the other members of The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, rescued innocent victims of the French Revolution. Give Sir Percy a few glasses of wine and he'll likely have his guests rolling on the floor laughing with his famous "They Seek Him Here" ditty. Geneviève gets to meet all sorts of interesting people with impeccable manners and a most fastidious sense of fashion. What's more, many of them have handsome sons.

On the other hand, Dolly and Minerva have been subjected to a rigorous study of Latin and Greek, due to the interests of Father, an enthusiastic member of the Society of Antiquaries of London. It has become increasingly apparent to the girls that anyone likely to converse with them in those languages has been dead for centuries, if not millennia. 

Translation: Father: Honey, I'm home!
                     Mother: Hello, James. What's new?
                     Dolly: Whatever is said in Latin sounds more profound.
                     Minerva: As if!
                     Dolly: Everyone's doing it!
                     Minerva: Get a life!


  1. Like Amelia Peabody Emerson, another Fictional Friend, I prefer my foreign languages dead.

  2. Ha ha! At least you don't have to keep up on the latest slang!